His Palace apologists can say what they want, but it has become increasingly clear that something is very, very wrong with President Rodrigo Duterte, healthwise.
That much was obvious over the weekend when the president finally appeared in public after an absence of nearly two full weeks. At the annual Philippine Military Academy graduation rites where the president traditionally appears and delivers a speech, all was not well.
Duterte arrived two hours late, brought to the site by an Air Force helicopter. From what I have gathered, he was picked up at the Cardinal Santos Memorial Hospital by that chopper and flown straight to the PMA grounds.
He not only looked extremely unwell, he also acted as if he could barely walk. The entire ceremony was covered by all news organizations and not a single newsman could agree with Duterte’s spokesman that the chief executive was simply tired from overwork.
He had a deathly grey pallor and could not walk straight. And for the first time ever, this president did not personally hand out the diplomas to the 200-plus graduates of PMA.
Instead, the defense secretary distributed the document after Duterte could only hand out two. He then sat and fell in and out of sleep.
Even the speech that the president delivered was exceptionally short, no more than eight minutes.
So what gives?
I make no secret of my dislike for Rodrigo Duterte, but I certainly do not wish him ill. If he is indeed seriously sick, the Filipino people should know. They should know if he is still capable of governing with a sound mind.
Right now, we have no idea on who is actually in charge of the day-to-day workings of the executive department. In his nearly two weeks out of the public eye, who was giving orders in his behalf? Was it the executive secretary? Was it a cabal within the Cabinet? Was it his daughter Sara?
The situation now is no different to the time that the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ailing with lupus. Malacanang back then was on auto pilot, but it is believed that Imelda Marcos was more or less in charge, with the likes of General Fabian Ver always at her beck and call.
Because the effects of lupus come and go, Marcos would appear in public every so often, sometimes looking healthy, other times not so much.
What ails Duterte, on the other hand, is very likely not lupus as he is very often ill and rarely appearing hale and hearty. His situation is the best reason that a law must be crafted that requires all candidates for president to pass a physical and mental test, and that the president’s health status must be made public at all times.
One valid fear of the anti-Duterte forces is that if his closest advisers are aware of his real medical condition, and if that condition is bad, they they may as well make hay while the sun has not yet set. They will pad their pockets with as much funds as they can get their hands on, while still taking steps to assure that a “friendly” person takes over the reins of government.
The law is clear. Only Vice President Leni Robredo may take the place of Rodrigo Duterte if the president is indeed no longer able to perform his duties. Anyone else who takes over will do so in an illegal capacity, and a good many countries may not recognize that pretender to the presidency.
The next few weeks should clarify the status of the incumbent president of the Philippines. If he continues to absent himself from the public eye, then the probability is strong that his condition is deteriorating.
If he is still of sound mind, then he should pave the way for Robredo to assume the presidency. If he fails to do so, then there will be chaos.
I’d like to think that whatever his shortcomings, Duterte still loves his country enough to accept the inevitable and take the right course of action. If he does take the best option, he may yet have a respectable place in the history books as a leader of many faults, but who exited Malacanang via a transition that proves that democracy is alive and well in the Philippines.
He can also exit with a clear conscience and his head held high.
As for me, he may hate the Catholic Church which I recently rejoined, but I will continue to go to the nearest chapel as often as I can and pray for the Philippines and its president.