President Duterte and his health

Diliman Way

With Homobono A. Adaza

“ It’s nobody’s business, if I go to Singapore.” – President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

It is everybody’s business, if President Duterte goes to Singapore. Why? The reason is simple – he is President of the Philippines, not private citizen Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Every minute of his life as President, he is accountable to the people, more than any other public official.

Being the head of government, he is responsible to what will happen to the country and the government during his watch. He is not the mayor of Davao City or head of his political party.

He is the President of the Philippines, not a governor of a province of China. As governor of a province of China, he is only responsible and accountable to President Xi Jin Ping. But we are not a province of China, so he is responsible and accountable to the Filipino people. That is why some people asked him why he was going to Singapore.

Constitutional provisions: There are several constitutional provisions which involve the issue of the health of a President. The first involves the duties and responsibilities of a President. Section 5, Article VII of the President, other than preserving and defending the Constitution, executing our laws and to do justice to everyman, it is his bounden duty “to consecrate myself to the service of the nation.”

The word is consecrate – it simply means sacred dedication to the service of the country; it does not say sacred dedication to the person of Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

The other provision is embedded in section 1, Article XI of the Constitution which states that – “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

This provision is very clear. The President is a public officer and, therefore, he is bound by this provision. This provision does not provide for an exception. So he must answer questions about his health. He must answer question on where he is going and why. As President and public officer, he is at all times, and there is no exception to this also, accountable to the people. If he does not want to be accountable to the people, then he should cease being President so nobody will bother him about his health and on where he is going except his wife and his children.

As President, he should be transparent because if he is not, he violates this provision. His behavior on this matter is not acting with “utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, efficiency, patriotism and justice.” It is culpable violation of the Constitution and breach of public trust.

Specific constitutional provisions: There are two constitutional provisions directly involving the President’s health – specifically, sections eleven and twelve of Article VII of the Constitution.

Section 11 envisions several situations. First, when the President himself sends a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice-President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office, as Acting President” …”until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary.”

The second instance is “when the majority of all Members of the Cabinet transmit to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the power and duties of his office, the Vice-President shall immediately assume the powers and duties as Acting President.”

When after the Cabinet’s majority written declaration, the “President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall reassume the powers and duties of his office.” However, after he reassumes the power and duties of his office, when the “majority of all the Members of the Cabinet transmit with five days to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Congress shall decide the issue.”

How does Congress decide the issue? Third paragraph of Section 11, Article VII of the Constitution provides the answer. “For that purpose, the Congress shall convene, if it is not in session, within forty-eight hours, in accordance with its rules and without need of call.”

Then, what will the Congress do after it receives the last written declaration of the majority of all the Members of the Cabinet? Section 12, Article VII of the Constitution gives us the definitive answer: “If the Congress, within ten days after receipt of the last written declaration, or, if not in session, within twelve days after it is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses, voting separately, that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice-President shall act as President, otherwise the President shall continue exercising the powers and duties of his office.”

The present situation: Nobody really knows for sure the present status of the health of President Duterte – nothing is clear. Contributing to the confusion triggering a number of speculations is the statement of Harry Roque, the presidential spokesman – the President is in a state of “perpetual isolation”. Anybody who knows and understands English can only draw the following rational conclusions – that the President is sick of an infectious or debilitating disease; that he will be isolated for an indefinite period which could be defined as permanent; that he is unable to perform his powers and duties as President.

If the speculations are accurate, then it is the duty of the Cabinet or whoever is tending to the President to inform the public of the state of health of the President under section 12, Article VII of the Constitution. It is the duty, under this provision, of the Secretary of National Defense, Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to visit President Duterte – to determine his state of health and inform the Cabinet of the state of health of the President. That’s their constitutional duty. They should do it now. Otherwise, if they cannot do their job, they should resign so somebody else could be appointed to their positions, persons who are able to perform their constitutional duty.

Evaluation: Judging by his words and actions, will President Duterte inform the Cabinet and the country that he is sick? Of course not! What about the people attending to him? With more reason, they will not. If the Members of the Cabinet know for certain that President is sick and unable to perform his powers and duties, will the majority of all the Members of the Cabinet send that written declaration to the head of both Houses of Congress about the President’s inability to perform his powers and duties? Of course not! They are afraid of President Duterte and of losing their jobs. Most of all, they are all loyal to Duterte and themselves while their loyalty to the country and our people has yet to be found.

Will the Secretaries of National Defense and Foreign Affairs as well as the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines go and see President Duterte to verify the state of health of President Duterte? It is more possible for them to go to the summit of Mt. Everest or for the DFA secretary to cry in national television or show his infamous dirty finger sign than to determine the state of health of the President.

So, where do we go from here? Failing in almost everything, the remedy is in the Constitution. It is not difficult to find it.

Importance of President’s Health: The situation in the country is bad enough when he is physically healthy, how much more if he is not? Who will run the country in his absence – being in perpetual isolation? If the Members of his Cabinet cannot properly perform their duties when the President is healthy, how much more if he is not and not around?

If graft and corruption flourishes when the President is healthy, how much more if he is not and not around? If the police is abusive when the President is healthy and around, how much more if he is not and not around? If other officials in government misbehave when the President is healthy, how much more if he is not and not around?

If China is abusing us in the West Philippine Sea when he is healthy, how much more if he is not and not around? If China keeps on sending the Chinese POGO workers together with the Chinese Wuhan corona virus to the Philippines when the President is healthy, how much more if he is not and not around?

If the insurgents continue with their illegal activities when the President is healthy, how much more if he is not and not around? If the terrorists are active when the President is healthy, how much more if he is not and not around?

We can fire a lot of questions of the same significance on the importance of the health of the President but it is needless to do that as all questions are rhetorical.

Jolo trip: Duterte fanatics may contradict Harry Roque, the presidential spokesman, and insist that the President is not in perpetual isolation because he went to Jolo kissing the ground where the soldiers had fallen. But the usual Duterte dramatics are meaningless if you see what’s happening to the country today.

The pictures on the Jolo trip generated further speculation. Some people are saying Duterte did a Marcos, one of his idols. Complete with pictures, a netizen compared the real right ear of President Duterte to that of the man who kissed the ground in Jolo. There are noticeable difference in the size and shape of the ears of both persons. Are they one and the same person? As MacBeth would have it – that is the question.

Settle the issue now: The question of the President’s health is simple. Is he healthy? If he is not healthy, can he still ably perform his powers and duties as mandated by the Constitution? If he loves this country, and he claims he does, why does he not tell the country the truth about his health? If he tells the truth, it is good for the country and for him. If he does not tell the truth, it is bad for the country and for him. It is only good for the crooks, the grafters, the abusive, the misbehaving public officials, the oligarchs and their kind, if he does not tell the truth. It is about time he acts as President instead of acting like a small time city mayor.

American precedent: President Woodrow Wilson, one of the most brilliant intellectual Presidents of the United States of America, suffered a paralytic stroke during his second term. Like our present situation in this country, there was also a lot of speculation about his fitness to continue in office.

However, his able and competent First Lady, Edith Bolling Wilson, was able to manage Wilson and his presidency till the end of his term. The Wilson situation is well documented in Gene Smith’s book –When The Cheering Stopped. If President Duterte is really in “perpetual isolation” and unable to perform the powers and duties of his office as mandated by the Constitution, can Honeylet do an Edith Bolling Wilson? That is the interesting and intriguing question? HOMOBONO A. ADAZA

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