Duterte's public absence fuels speculation

Rumours over President's health swirl in Philippines despite govt reassurances

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has not made any public appearances for close to two weeks now, fuelling speculation that his health is declining, with some even claiming that he has died.

His aides and sources have dismissed the rumours: One was that he had suffered a mild stroke and was taken to Singapore where he purportedly died; another was that plans were being drawn up for a military junta to run the Philippines.

Adding to the fog was a disclosure that his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, Davao City mayor, flew to Singapore last week.

Senator Christopher Go, Mr Duterte's closest aide and confidant, has been posting photos and short clips that show himself and the President in good health and working in his office in Manila.

"Nothing to worry about. In fact, we are together, and he continues working," said Mr Go.

Photos taken by Mr Go of Mr Duterte walking and sitting on a motorcycle were shared on social media yesterday.

The President's spokesman Harry Roque said Mr Duterte would be addressing the nation tomorrow.

Sources also told The Sunday Times Mr Duterte was never in Singapore, much less died there.

But the photos showing "proof of life" and reassurances by his aides and ministers have failed to tamp down persistent rumours that his health may be failing.

The last time Mr Duterte was seen in public was on March 29, when he was on hand to receive the shipment of a million doses of Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine.

The President then went on hiatus for the Holy Week.

He was expected to resurface on Wednesday for his weekly televised address, but it was abruptly cancelled following reports that more than 100 of his bodyguards had tested positive for Covid-19.

That same day, Ms Duterte-Carpio confirmed she had flown to Singapore a day earlier with her son, a nanny and a bodyguard, but declined to say why she was there.

This sparked speculation that Mr Duterte himself could be in Singapore after suffering a mild stroke.

Purported photos of an air ambulance that supposedly flew Mr Duterte to Singapore surfaced, and the hashtag #nasaanangpangulo (Where is the President?) trended on social media.

By yesterday, the nation was abuzz with rumours that he was already dead.

Mr Duterte has disappeared from public view before, each time rekindling talk about his declining health.

His known ailments include back problems and Barrett's oesophagus, which affects the throat. He also has Buerger's disease, which can cause blockages in the blood vessels.

He has admitted to suffering from an autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness.

Former senator Antonio Trillanes, one of Mr Duterte's harshest critics, said in a post on Twitter he believes Mr Duterte is not sick.

"He's just lazy," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 11, 2021, with the headline 'Duterte's public absence fuels speculation'. Subscribe