Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte admitted that he has a chronic condition called Barrett's esophagus may eventually lead to cancer—raising questions about his health and his capacity to lead the country amid a worsening coronavirus pandemic.
In a pre-recorded address that aired on Tuesday, August 25, Duterte revealed that his doctor told him to watch his diet due to his condition.
“You have money but you can’t eat. The doctor said don’t eat fatty food or you’ll die,” he said. “You, Duterte, stop drinking because your condition is nearing Stage 1 cancer.”
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told CNN Philippines on Wednesday, August 26, that what Duterte revealed was medical advice given to him “many years ago,” assuring the public that the president remains “fit and healthy” for his age.
Duterte’s public discussion of his chronic ailment comes amid growing speculation that his health may be deteriorating. Earlier this month, it was rumored that Duterte was airlifted to Singapore for emergency medical treatment, which he has denied.
Roque last week gave an explanation for Duterte’s prolonged disappearance, saying that the president was in “perpetual isolation” due to COVID-19. On Monday, August 24, Roque apologized for his comments, acknowledging that it only fueled further rumors about Duterte’s health.
The 74-year-old president has a long list of ailments, according to Rappler. He has previously complained about getting daily migraines and has also said he has a rare blood vessel condition called Buerger's Disease, an autoimmune neuromuscular disease called myasthenia gravis and spinal issues stemming from a motorcycle accident.
In addition, he has previously admitted to taking Fentanyl, a highly-addictive drug that is given to treat severe pain.
It has been a month since Duterte last appeared on live television in a state of the nation address on July 27. His weekly late-night ramblings on national television have since been pre-recorded.
Some on social media have called on the Philippine president to step down in light of his recent comments regarding his health.
Manila-based political scientist and academic Antonio La Viña said that lingering speculation on Duterte’s health is due to the lack of transparency from the administration.
“We have a government, in which there seems to be no one in control,” La Viña told VICE News. “We know that during this pandemic, Duterte has not been as big a presence as you would expect of a president given the nature of the crisis.”
Duterte’s absence, La Viña observed, prevents the “government from responding to a big crisis like the coronavirus pandemic as effectively as it should.”
La Viña suggested that Duterte’s health admission on Tuesday has only furthered questions about his physical wellbeing.
“I don’t even know if the president is still able to function quite honestly. I don’t know how sick he is, I don’t know the state of his health, I don’t know if he’s dying or not,” he said.
“I can only speculate like everyone else, but certainly I don’t believe what’s coming from Malacañang (the presidential office) because there’s no transparency,” he added.
Duterte’s office has not publicly provided access to his health records. The Philippine constitution requires the president to disclose his health status in the event of serious illness.
This constitutional requirement was put forward because of the country’s experience with former president Ferdinand Marcos, whose health issues were concealed for many years.
In May, the Philippine Supreme Court tabled a petition brought forward by a lawyer that would require Duterte to disclose his health status. Siding with Duterte, the court said his frequent TV addresses are proof “that the president has been actively performing his official duties.”