The people have a right to know
And just like that, “myasthenia gravis” entered the political lexicon and the national consciousness last week when President Duterte revealed that he was suffering from the illness — the latest in a long line of ailments that he says he has, and that he’s been casually admitting in his speeches (the “myasthenia gravis” revelation was made before the Filipino community in Russia during the President’s state visit to Moscow).
Is this true? We only have Mr. Duterte’s word for it. Over a week later and not one government doctor has officially elaborated on his claim; neither has Malacañang released a health bulletin.
Already the country’s oldest president at 74, Mr. Duterte is known to be afflicted with a range of ailments that include Buerger’s disease, Barrett’s esophagus, debilitating back pains from a motorcycle accident that he said prompted him to take the addictive drug Fentanyl, as well as migraines and headaches that have kept him from attending numerous domestic and even major international engagements.
That’s a lot of ailments, as Inquirer columnist Solita Monsod observed in her Oct. 12 column, where she asked the question many have been asking for the past three years: What’s the truth about the President’s health?
It’s a question that demands to be answered. As Chief Executive of all civilian offices and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the President has to be sound both physically and mentally to steer the nation capably and make important decisions on behalf of the people and the state; as such, his health condition at any given time is of paramount public interest, and a national security concern that his administration has the constitutional duty to inform the public about.
Myasthenia gravis — “a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles,” according to the US National Institutes of Health — sounds worrisome enough. How does it aggravate the President’s health, given all the other ailments he says have plagued him all these years? The people have a right to know these facts.
But it is this right that this administration continues to undermine and ignore, by allowing the President himself to disclose, in piecemeal and typically disjointed manner, his health problems whenever he feels like it, and by refusing to provide a comprehensive medical bulletin on the Chief Executive’s health.
No doctor or hospital has come out so far with official medical updates following any of the President’s hospital visits. No annual medical reports have been released, no medical experts given a podium in Malacañang to explain the President’s frequent health-related absences or hospital procedures undergone.
All this time, it’s the smooth-talking presidential spokesperson and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo who has been assuring the public that his boss is “very much okay.” After all, according to Panelo, “he is still cursing.” Yee-ha.
Yet the various ailments have evidently affected Mr. Duterte’s day-to-day schedule, as shown by the many instances when he has missed or skipped Cabinet meetings, public events, state ceremonies and foreign engagements. In its annual tracking of Mr. Duterte’s schedules, Inquirer Research noted in a July 2019 State of the Nation Special Report that the President “further cut back on his public appearances in his third year in office, enjoying more private weekends and snubbing official functions.”
Per the report, Mr. Duterte showed up at 421 events from July 2018 to June 2019, down from 753 in his first year and 493 in his second year in office. Further, he was recorded to have spent 24 no-work weekends compared to 14 in his first year and 22 in his second year. There were many disappearing acts as well, the longest of which was seven days after the May 2019 elections, sparking rumors of a heart attack.
Then there were the highly publicized last-minute no-shows during his foreign trips, which are unprecedented in recent memory.
In 2016, he missed the gala dinner and traditional “class picture” at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru, as he was reportedly “sick at that time.” He skipped several events at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Laos in 2016 due to a “bad headache,” and at the Asean summit in Singapore in 2018 because he was taking “power naps.”
These past few months at home, he was nowhere at the change of command ceremony of the Armed Forces, supposedly due to a fever, and at the National Heroes Day rites at Rizal Park because he was “indisposed.”
Exactly what ails the President? This administration owes the people a clear, straightforward, no-bullshit answer.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.