Philippine President Duterte returns to public duties with a joke about his ‘circumcision’
Duterte’s absence sparked speculation over his health
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte returned to public duties Saturday after nearly a week of absence that sparked speculation over his health as government forces battled Islamist militants in the biggest crisis of his rule.
Duterte, 72, attended a ceremony commemorating the founding of a province and later met with troops in Butuan city, both in the southern region of Mindanao.
Responding to questions from reporters, a jovial Duterte said: “My state of health is - what you see is what you get,” he said, adding that his last medical examination was last year.
Asked if he had any surgery or blood transfusion during his absence, he joked that he had a “circumcision”.
“What’s your problem? There’s a vice president,” he added.
— Joseph Morong (@Joseph_Morong) June 17, 2017
Duterte had not been seen in public since Sunday as security forces tried to drive Islamist militants from Marawi city in Mindanao.
His spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said Thursday that Duterte withdrew from public duties to “rejuvenate” after a punishing schedule, which included regular provincial sorties.
“I’m saying that there’s nothing to worry about in terms of sickness,” he said.
“The president is well.”
Duterte was last seen on June 11 in the southern city of Cagayan de Oro, visiting soldiers wounded in the fighting with Islamic State group-styled gunmen in Marawi.
He missed a scheduled appearance the following day at annual Independence Day celebrations in Manila.
Duterte imposed martial law over Marawi and the rest of Mindanao, home to 20 million people, on the day the fighting erupted on May 23 to head off what he said was an attempt by IS to carve out its own territory there.
Duterte had repeatedly denied during last year’s presidential election campaign that he suffered from cancer.
However he said last December that he used to take fentanyl, a highly addictive synthetic opioid, to ease the pain of a spinal injury that he suffered in motorcycle accidents many year earlier.
Duterte said then his doctor made him stop using it on learning he was “abusing the drug” by using more than the prescribed amount.
Duterte’s fentanyl comments attracted controversy as he has led a war on drugs in which thousands of addicts and users have been killed.
Under the constitution, the separately elected vice president shall act as president if the incumbent dies, is permanently disabled or removed from office.
One of Duterte’s aides later released photos which he said were taken on Thursday evening, showing the president standing up and looking healthy.