By Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.
President Rodrigo Duterte did not hold his regular “Talk to the People” address last week.
His spokesperson Harry Roque said last Wednesday that the President’s address was re-scheduled “in light of the rising number of active COVID-19 cases.”
“The physical safety of the President remains our utmost concern. In addition, the preparation for the ‘Talk to the People’ address entails a number of staff complement and we also take due consideration of their well-being,” Roque explained.
In a separate statement, Senator Bong Go said the President’s engagement last week was postponed because several members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) caught the coronavirus. PSG Head Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III admitted in a radio interview that there were 45 active COVID-19 cases among his men.
The explanations offered by spokesman Roque and Senator/Personal Aide Go for the President’s failure to address the people last week raised several questions. How can the rising number of active COVID-19 cases threaten the physical safety of the President and of the staff complement that sets up the regular “Talk to the People” address when they are a safe distance from the people the President addresses?
And so what if 45 PSG men caught the coronavirus? As Gen. Durante clarified, most of the infected PSG personnel were those who manned Malacañang gates, not the President’s close-in security detail.
It should also be recalled that in a public address in late December, President Duterte said, “Almost all soldiers have been inoculated. The reason why is that they have to be in good health all the time because they are responsible for the law and order of this country.” Is the vaccine, which the President said was donated by China, administered to the PSG personnel not that efficacious that as many as 45 of them tested positive for COVID-19?
The apparent irrelevance of the explanations offered for the President’s absence from public view by his loyal deputies gave rise to the rumors that he is seriously ill. He was last seen by the public on March 29, when he met with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF). Among those who attended the meeting was Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who revealed on April 6 that he tested positive for COVID-19.
People speculate that Secretary Lorenzana could have transmitted the virus to the President. The speculation gained strength when the President’s daughter Sara flew to Singapore, supposedly for personal health management. Management of her own health or management of her father’s medical treatment, people ask? It should be noted that former Senator Bongbong Marcos sought medical care in Singapore when he contracted COVID-19.
But last Thursday, Mr. Roque assured the public that the President remains “fit and healthy” and he continues to discharge his functions as head of the government. Gen. Durante asserted that the President is free from any flu-like symptoms and is in Malacañang working. Mr. Go shared photos of the President seated at a table cluttered with files of documents and newspapers of that day as proof of life. He said, “To those wishing ill of the President, don’t celebrate yet. He is here, inundated with work.” However, netizens immediately reacted by demonstrating on social media how easy it is with the available technology to superimpose elements on a photo without the alteration being discernible.
Granting that the photo presented by Mr. Go as proof of life is authentic, people ask: why is the President alone with Mr. Go when he is supposed to be continuing to discharge his function as head of government? The government is confronted with two crises: the pandemic and the growing aggression of China.
If he is working out a solution to the pandemic, should he not be working with the IATF? If he is addressing the problem of Chinese aggression, should he not be formulating strategy with Foreign Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin, Defense Secretary Lorenzana, and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. at least, if not with Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff Cirilito Sobejana, and Chief of the Navy Giovanni Bacordo?
Or, as former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV claimed, the President is not sick, he is just lazy. Last Saturday, Mr. Go, who seems to have also taken the role of Presidential Photographer, posted a video showing the President jogging at night, apparently in Malacañang Park, as proof that the president is fit and not sick.
Some people think that the President has finally come to the realization that he is inutile when it comes to the two issues — the pandemic and foreign policy — and decided to leave the resolution of the issues to his subordinates while he enjoys to the hilt the perks of the presidency.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.