Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte reappeared in public on Tuesday after an absence of a week, his longest disappearance from the spotlight as president, amid concerns about his health that the government insists are baseless. Duterte gave a speech at the presidential palace of about 25 minutes late on Tuesday, during which he railed at Islamist militants for their bloody occupation of a southern town, but made no mention of why he had been absent from the public eye.
Known for a busy schedule and lengthy speeches often several times a day, the 72-year-old Duterte’s low profile this month has fuelled rumours he is in declining health and that the government is trying to keep that under wraps.
What has created most intrigue is Duterte being largely missing during what is the biggest crisis of his year-old presidency, as the military battles for a sixth week to defeat Islamic State-linked rebels currently occupying Marawi City on his home island of Mindanao. Answering queries from reporters about Duterte’s long absences, his spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said he was well and running the country as normal.
“He is very well, he’s just busy doing what he needs to do,” he said. “As you’ve seen he’s been very much in the public eye but being out of the public eye, that is when he is able to do office work, he signs papers, he reads, he consults, he’s actually very busy.
“The thing that is very important to note is that he is on top of every situation, he is aware of what’s happening, he’s updated regularly, he reads, he listens and he’s quite aware. This is just his working style.” Duterte was last seen on June 20 in two cities close to the violence-torn Marawi, visiting soldiers and evacuees.
That followed a three-day absence after a speech in which he said his health was “immaterial”, amid raised eyebrows about his failure to appear in public for Independence Day on June 12. Duterte’s known ailments include back problems, migraines due to nerve damage after a motorcycle accident and Barrett’s oesophagus, which impacts his throat. He also suffers from Buerger’s disease, caused by his heavy smoking in younger days, which can cause blockages in the blood vessels.
His office has recently said he has been experiencing fatigue. His closest aide, Christopher “Bong” Go, on June 15 posted images on social media of Duterte signing documents and standing in front of a television showing a news bulletin, adding further fuel to rumours that something was wrong.