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Why Should the President’s Health Status Be Publicly Disclosed?

The 1986 Philippine Constitution mandates every president to inform the public of the state of his health, especially when it is a serious illness.

For the past two weeks, President Rodrigo Duterte has been missing in action (MIA) and hasn’t been seen by the public. Many were quick to speculate that his disappearance might be related to his health, with rumors even saying that the president had been brought to Singapore for hospitalization— which is why his eldest daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, flew to the country last week.

As a response, first-term senator Christopher ‘Bong’ Go stepped in and squashed the rumors by posting photos and videos of the president at the Malacañang Palace. In the social media posts, the president can be seen jogging and walking with a mask and face shield on, and even biking at one point.

Mga kababayan ko, malungkot at mahirap ang maging Pangulo sa panahong ito. Suportahan natin si Tatay Digong, ang taong totoong nagmamahal,” the senator’s caption said. (Read: Fact Check: Things President Duterte Said During His ‘Meltdown’)

But despite the photos and videos, the public is still wary of the 76-year-old president’s health — especially because he previously disclosed that he has Barrett’s esophagus, Buerger’s disease, and experiences back pains and migraines. Still, Duterte cleared in his most recent address that he isn’t suffering from any illness that can hinder his abilities to run the country.

Public Disclosure

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President Rodrigo Duterte (Photo from CNN Philippines)

Duterte is right to disclose his illnesses and diseases, as it is mandated by the law that the president must inform the public of the state of his health, especially when it comes to serious illnesses (Article VII, Section 12).

According to the law, the president’s health is a national concern, as illnesses and diseases can hinder the official from performing their duties and responsibilities — a concern that very much echoes the public’s sentiments these days.

In a survey Social Weather Stations (SWS) recently released, 65% of those they surveyed said that the president’s health is a public issue. (LIST: The Government Officials Who Resigned From Their Posts This Year)

“The view that the President’s state of health is a public matter has always been dominant in the SWS surveys. The latest figure is 4 points above the 61% in December 2019 and September 2018,” SWS said.

Presidents in History

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SICK. A hospital bed allegedly used by then-president Ferdinand Marcos was found inside the presidential bedroom in Malacañang in the aftermath of EDSA People Power in 1986. (Photo from Presidential Archives/Inkl)

This isn’t the first time that a president got called out by the public for not disclosing their health status. In 1981, dictator Ferdinand Marcos faced rumors that his health was deteriorating, as he had lesser and lesser public appearances over the months. (Read: Today in 1998, Imelda Promised to Give $800 M if Elected President)

It wasn’t until 1984 that labor minister Blas Ople disclosed that Marcos has been “undergoing certain vicissitudes, problems.” In 1985, his personal physician was quoted to say that the dictator underwent kidney transplants in 1983 and 1985.

On the other hand, President Fidel Ramos underwent surgery for a “significant carotid block.” On the same day, they announced it to the public. The health issue was very life-threatening that his vice president, Joseph Estrada, was actually told to prepare just in case.

Lastly, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was hospitalized for acute diarrhea in 2006, and once again hospitalized in 2009 for a lumpectomy. The lumpectomy was only announced through a medical bulletin two weeks after the procedure had already been done.

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