Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has now been in his hometown of Davao City for 3 weeks, failing to return to COVID-19 epicenter Metro Manila on the week of August 17, as originally planned.
Duterte has been in Davao City since August 3 and has been holding pandemic-related meetings with government officials from there, including his most recent meeting, held on Monday evening, August 24.
One meeting, the one held on August 17, was done virtually, with only Duterte’s longtime aide Senator Bong Go, physically beside the President. This was because Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a top coronavirus task force official, again tested positive for COVID-19.
For the August 24 meeting, Cabinet officials like Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque flew to Davao City to report to the President.
This is the longest period of time that Duterte has spent in Davao City during his presidency. Before, his prolonged visits there were during holidays like Holy Week or the Christmas season. (READ: LIST: Duterte’s skipped events, long absences)
Duterte was supposed to have flown back to Metro Manila on the week of August 17.
Roque had said so during a virtual press briefing on Tuesday, August 18.
Asked on Tuesday, August 25, if there is a new date for Duterte’s return to the capital, the spokesman told Rappler, “No date given. Supposed to be last week.”
Asked to explain the Chief Executive’s prolonged stay in the south, Roque said, “He has Panacañang there. He can discharge his function anywhere.”
By Panacañang, Roque was referring to the Presidential Guest House in Panacan, Davao City, where Duterte sometimes holds official meetings. Often referred to as the “Malacañang of the South,” it was built during the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
However, Duterte frequently holds official functions, not in Panacañang, but in the clubhouse of Matina Enclaves, a private residential building owned by the Escandor family, who is close to the President. (READ: Inside the clubhouse where Duterte holds court)
The Escandors are also behind the Royal Mandaya Hotel which had also hosted Duterte and his campaign staff during the 2016 presidential elections.
Duterte’s August 24 meeting with coronavirus task force officials was held in Matina Enclaves.
No live appearances for a month
The country has also gone almost a month without seeing Duterte live in an official event.
The last time was on July 27, during his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA), which was broadcast live and where he was seen by multiple government officials, not just select Cabinet members.
Since then, the public has had to make do with watching edited speeches, aired hours after Duterte delivered them.
All of Duterte’s “messages to the people” related to the pandemic are edited by Malacañang communications staff and then aired hours after – either within the same night or early the following day.
One possible exception was a minute-long live video aired by Senator Bong Go on Facebook right before Duterte’s virtual meeting with Cabinet members on August 17.
The video showed Duterte, wearing a mask and shield, telling viewers that he has been in Davao City “all along” to dispel rumors that he was flown to Singapore on a medical plane days before.
One of Duterte’s eyes was noticeably much smaller than his other eye. Duterte has claimed to have the rare muscle disease myasthenia gravis which causes drooping eyelids and general weakness of the body.
Before this most recent stay in Davao City, Duterte had been stuck in Metro Manila for two months due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
He flew back on the day Metro Manila entered into a slightly less restrictive lockdown classification, modified enhanced community quarantine.
Since then, he had been taking days-long trips to his hometown, returning to the capital for meetings. This is the longest of such trips.
Flying back to Davao City is no walk in the park. Duterte’s eldest daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, has required all plane passengers arriving in the city’s airport to undergo a swab test. No exemption was made for the President.
According to a well-placed source, this Davao City travel requirement is the reason why Duterte has been getting tested, fairly regularly, for COVID-19.