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The Philippines

‘If it’s cancer, it’s cancer’: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hints at health problems after undergoing medical tests

The president is required under the country’s constitution to disclose any serious illness to the public, and will be replaced by the vice-president if he decides to step down

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 October, 2018, 11:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2018, 4:47pm

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will let the public know if he has a “serious illness”, his spokesman said on Friday, a day after the leader said in a public address that he had gone to a hospital for tests.

Rumours of Duterte’s health woes re-emerged after the 73-year-old president, known for a busy schedule and long speeches, missed two official events on Wednesday, including a meeting with the cabinet.

In a televised speech on Thursday night, Duterte told top security officials he went to a private hospital for a procedure as his doctors wanted to get more tissue samples.

He did not elaborate but said in the same speech: “I will tell you if it’s cancer”.

“The result of the examination, whether or not it can be made public will depend on what they find out,” Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque told a news briefing, citing a provision in the Philippine constitution on public disclosure of the president’s health conditions.

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“The president is not inclined to hide anything about his health. I assure the public, the president will not hide anything. If it is serious, he will inform the nation.”

Roque said he was kept “in the dark” about the president’s trip to a hospital, which he said was for an endoscopy procedure.

“Endoscopy was recommended, from his own words, because they wanted to be sure that there was a growth and they wanted to know more about the growth”, Roque said. “That is the context of why he said ‘if it's cancer’,” he said.

When asked whether the president was dying, Roque said: “I don’t think so”.

The president is required under the country’s constitution to disclose any serious illness to the public, and will be replaced by the vice-president if he decides to step down.

Vice-President Leni Robredo, leader of the opposition Liberal Party, is facing an electoral protest from former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jnr, the son of the former dictator.

Duterte, whose six-year term is expected to end in 2022, also said in his speech on Thursday night that he thinks Robredo is too “weak” to handle the presidency.

“I do not mean to offend the lady. She’s very good. She’s gentle, but she’s really weak. She’s not necessarily weak intellectually, because she’s a lawyer, but strategically weak,” he said

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The frequent disappearances by Duterte have fuelled rumours he is in declining health and that the government is trying to keep that under wraps.

After a trip to Israel and Jordan last month, Duterte said his skin was burned by his long exposure to desert sun when the public noticed discolouration in his face.

Before addressing Congress in late July, Duterte also made a routine check at a hospital and his aides were quick to say there was nothing wrong with his health.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg