MANILA — Last seen on June 20 visiting in Cagayan de Oro some soldiers wounded in the fighting in Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte has again become the subject of speculation from quarters concerned about his health, especially after Vice President Leni Robredo made a high-profile visit to Marawi evacuees on Monday.
Duterte is working and attending to paperwork, his presidential aide Christopher “Bong” Go told Phil. Star.com on Monday, as people openly wondered where Duterte – who in the past takes pains to make several visits to the troops – had been the past six days.
“Working. Paperworks,” Go told Philstar.com when asked about any updates on Duterte who has been said to be resting for six days now.
The last time he disappeared for days, Go had released photos showing the 72-year-old President at work in his study, poring over some documents.
Last June 20, when he reappeared, Duterte shot down reports he had been in “in coma,” adding jokingly he was “in kama [in bed],” resting after doctors read him the riot act for straining himself with so many public engagements, many of them out of town.
He said people should not be too concerned about his health, since there is no succession problem, as the vice president is there.
His first absence from June 12 to 16 [he missed the Independence Day rites] had sparked calls from opposition figures for a full disclosure of his health, given the President’s known illnesses, including chronic pain from a past motorcycle accident that he once said he had to ease with Fentanyl.
Addressing evacuees in Iligan on June 20 before he visited soldiers in CDO, Duterte had begged for understanding. “I hope, in the soonest time, you will find a new heart to forgive my soldiers, the government, even me for declaring martial law. I did not have any choice. They are destroying Marawi.”
The trip by Leni Robredo Monday to an evacuation center in Balo-i for residents who escaped a month-long conflict in nearby Marawi City added to speculation about the health of Duterte, whose absence this month from the public eye is the longest since he took office a year ago.
Known for a packed public schedule and marathon speeches several times a day, Duterte’s disappearances during what has been the biggest crisis of his presidency will add to frequent rumors he is in poor health, which his office denies.
Robredo made no mention of Duterte during her visit, when she said she hoped life for the nearly 250,000 people displaced by fighting between troops and rebels allied with the Islamic State group could soon return to normal.
“All of us are hoping that the fighting will soon end so the people can go back to their respective homes,” she told reporters. “The government has been doing everything that we can. We can only hope that this will end soon.”
Duterte’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on his lengthy absence.
Salvador Panelo, a longtime friend of Duterte’s and his top legal advisor, said the president was as “strong as a bull” and would attend a public event and meet cabinet members on Tuesday.
Duterte was last seen on June 20 in two cities close to Marawi, when he met 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 show in public for Independence Day on June 12.
His office has said he has been experiencing fatigue, and his 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.