As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on in the Philippines, with over 800,000 recorded cases and over 14,000 deaths, President Rodrigo Duterte is nowhere to be found.
Malacañang on Wednesday, April 7, had announced that Duterte would not be holding his weekly public address about the pandemic that evening, and that he would deliver it the following week instead. This is the first time since the New Year holidays in January that the President has not given a pandemic-related address for the week.
Duterte’s last public address was on March 29, the same day he was seen welcoming the arrival of one million Sinovac vaccine doses.
Longtime Duterte aide Senator Bong Go said the postponement was due to fears the President would contract COVID-19 after a number of members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) tested positive for the virus. Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, on his end, said the sudden change in schedule was due to “the rising number of active cases” and for the protection of Malacañang staff, but made no mention of the PSG.
The President being a no-show drove Filipinos to speculate on his whereabouts, with #NasaanAngPangulo trending on Twitter in the Philippines on Wednesday.
#PatayNaBa also trended on Wednesday over rumors concerning his health. Duterte’s health has been a long-standing issue during his presidency, as he has previously missed many official engagements during his term.
He is also the country’s oldest president upon assumption of office, and has spoken about his many ailments even before he was inaugurated. (LIST: 'Migraine every day' and Duterte's other ailments)
Despite this, the government has not been transparent about the state of his health. In 2020, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition which would have compelled Duterte to release health records, citing the constitutional need for the public to be informed about the President’s condition.
This drove netizens to demand transparency regarding Duterte’s health, as this determines the Chief Executive’s capability to fully exercise his duties.
#PatayNaBa also sparked a conversation on empathy and sensitivity, as the hashtag prompted Duterte supporters to jump to his defense. Netizens pointed out the cognitive dissonance in his supporters getting testy over a hashtag about his death, while they turned a blind eye to death threats from the President himself along with the many killings under his administration. ([EDITORIAL] Ang kulturang kill, kill, kill)
Go also sent reporters a photo of Duterte in Malacañang in an attempt to dispel rumors.
Netizens poked fun at the President’s “proof of life.” They pointed out that if Duterte was in good shape, then he should’ve been able to deliver his weekly address, while others laughed at how orchestrated the set-up was.
And of course, Filipinos continued to demand accountability from the government in the most creative way they knew how – with an abundance of memes, funny tweets, and viral posts.