POSTSCRIPT / August 23, 2020 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Cure, don’t cover up, Duterte’s ailments

POWERFUL rulers also get sick, and even so-called strongmen waste away when their expiry dates catch up with them. So why should assistants of President Duterte hide it when he, like everybody else, is visited by some virus or malady?

The question is aimed at the President’s handlers who are busy tamping out reports that his health condition so deteriorated that he had to be flown to Singapore last week for treatment of a disease rumored to be COVID-19.

But as we write this, we have neither heard nor seen any verified report confirming Duterte’s alleged airlift for emergency treatment.

When the 75-year-old chief executive gets sick like everybody else, the wise thing to do is to have him treated immediately and, to reassure the people that their president is getting proper care and attention, issue a medical bulletin on his condition.

Unfortunately, Duterte’s state of health as a medical matter has been colored by politics. With skeptics pressing their offense, his handlers made some defensive moves that have fueled rather than quelled more negative speculations.

When his spokesman, for instance, said the President was going into “perpetual isolation,” he conjured up a long-term, possibly permanent, period of his being unable to function with others. To many partisans, “perpetual isolation” of the President amounts to permanent disability triggering movement in the line of succession.

Then an aide posted on Facebook a “proof of life” photograph of a haggard Duterte having dinner with his partner Honeylet, displaying an Aug. 16 issue of the Manila Bulletin, and their daughter Kitty. That was supposed to prove he was in Davao, not Singapore, on that date.

Many self-proclaimed experts pounced on the photo saying it was a montage of old pictures. They pointed to blown-up rough edges that they said showed not-so-deft photo-editing, proving that Duterte was just added to one side of the dining table.

The skeptics went on: If the “perpetual isolation” line and the “proof of life” photograph are true and correct, the President must be hale and hearty. If so, why the need to throw a smokescreen using photoshopped pictures? Why the need to lie? What are they hiding?

With the planting in the public mind of the notion of the President’s “perpetual isolation” after he was long noticed to be apparently ailing, the next point rears its ugly head: What is Duterte really sick of? We demand full disclosure!

The public is not reassured by the continuing absence of the President from public view, especially after his trusted aide gave out early on pictures of his boss curled in bed under a mosquito net. That snoozing image of his has stuck in the public mind.

In fairness, the President has admitted suffering from some ailments. He is entitled not only to recuperative rest but also to the best professional services and medicines that the billions under his control can buy. Denying or hiding his ailment/s will not cure him.

Another claim was made by his spokesman that every time Duterte flies to Davao he brings with him loads of documents to study and act upon. That tests our credulity. If he cannot even spot typos in one-pagers, what more the bigger errors hidden in voluminous documents?

The President’s intermittent visibility has given the impression that his work has been reduced to appearing in a two-hour televised meeting every Monday night basically to (1) unburden himself of whatever bothers him, then to (2) read aloud the papers handed to him.

For the past several weeks, these papers have been mostly the recommendations of his military-dominated task force advising him and implementing the quarantine rules for fighting the COVID-19 menace.

When given a chance to ramble on in his speeches, Duterte often ends up talking frankly about his aches and pains and what he does with them.

He has admitted that he has, among other things, Buerger’s disease and Barrett’s esophagus, and that he has been having occasional headaches and spinal pains that he attributes to a motorcycle accident when he was 68 years old.

He has revealed his taking sleeping pills and the highly addictive Fentanyl as well as having myasthenia gravis —an autoimmune disease that destroys muscle receptors and can result in the drooping of eyelids, or overall weakness.

We think he should not be afraid, like some of his handlers are, to admit it when he is not well. He should just submit to medical care – not to political or PR pressure – and let God do the rest.

 DFA now more assertive on SCS issues

THE Department of Foreign Affairs has fired another diplomatic protest over the harassment by the Chinese coast guard of Filipinos fishing in the Scarborough (Panatag) shoal some 240 kilometers from Masinloc, Zambales, and 960 kilometers from Hainan island, the nearest Chinese landmass.

Filipinos complained that Chinese patrols last May forcibly took their catch, confiscated their gear, and barred them from the shoal which is a traditional fishing ground of nationals of neighboring countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, and China.

In its protest filed Aug. 20, the DFA also questioned China’s challenging Philippine vessels passing in the open sea lanes, and its aircraft flying above, that Beijing has enclosed in its nine-dash line that it unilaterally drew as the boundary of the area it claims.

The right of Filipinos to fish in Scarborough was upheld in 2017 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in its award favoring most Philippine submissions against China’s claiming some 88 percent of the South China Sea, including some Philippine maritime areas.

There has been more persistent protesting lately by the Philippines against Chinese abuses in Philippine waters. Manila should include other issues such as payments for environmental damage and the use of artificial islands that it has built.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 23, 2020)

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