Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque tried to quell alarm over President Rodrigo Duterte's claim on Monday, August 24, that his doctor told him to stop drinking liquor because his Barrett's Esophagus was "nearing stage 1 cancer".
Roque, on Wednesday, August 26, said this medical warning was given to Duterte even before he became president, and that there is no need to worry because the Chief Executive heeded the advice.
"I think people are putting too much meaning on that statement. I think that advice was given to him a long time ago when the President was still drinking. He has since stopped drinking, and as far as I know, since he became President, he has not resumed drinking," Roque said in an interview with CNN Philippines' Pinky Webb.
"So you're talking of a medical advice that happened many years ago, even prior to the presidency," added the Duterte spokesman.
But back in October 2018, the President himself admitted to enjoying liquor, brandy to be exact, before going to bed.
"I was told to stop drinking years ago. But of late, bumalik kasi ako (I returned to the habit)," Duterte told a group of reporters in Malacañang on October 9, 2018. Read the official transcript here.
"I don’t know, for one reason or another, I just like to drink. Brandy boy ako eh. Iyan ang totoo. And before I sleep, even if I’m alone, nag-three shots ako bago matulog (I'm a brandy boy. That's the truth. And before I sleep, even if I'm alone, I take 3 shots before I sleep)," he said then.
A few days before Duterte made those remarks, he had already admitted to being tested for cancer related to his Barrett's Esophagus.
"No, it’s not the colon. It’s my Barrett. It's here. It’s badly eroded," Duterte had told reporters two years ago.
He said he had undergone an endoscopy and colonoscopy in Davao City but that his doctors in Cardinal Santos Medical Center wanted to take their own specimen from his esophageal tube.
"A month ago, I was telling you the truth that I had a colonoscopy and endoscopy in Davao City. The plates [of samples] were taken in Davao. They were brought here. Apparently, my doctors here were not really convinced so they had a retake [a specimen]," said Duterte in the same media in interview in October 2018.
"Tapos okay naman (It was okay). Okay, as in, okay. And I will show you. I will drink again. Maniwala ka diyan sa doctor (You believe the doctor)," continued the President then
Duterte then claimed at the time that the "growth" in his esophagus was not cancerous.
It's not clear if Duterte has already stopped drinking brandy. But Roque gave assurances that the President will comply with the constitutional requirement that he inform the public if he has a "serious illness."
"If it is cancer and if it is a serious illness, he will be reporting it to the people," Roque said on Wednesday.
Amid demands for Malacañang to release a medical bulletin to once and for all end speculation on Duterte's state of health, Roque said Duterte's virtual public appearances should be enough to quell rumors.
"I think people should appreciate and base their appreciation of the President's health as they saw him every week, and the latest being last Tuesday," said Roque.
Since his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27, the public has had to make do with videos of Duterte aired hours after he actually gave his speech and with many portions edited out.
The President has also not returned from his hometown of Davao City for 3 weeks, the longest he has been outside Malacañang and the capital region of Metro Manila.
Despite Roque's assurances that Duterte, as a lawyer, would readily "divulge" a serious medical condition to the public, the President gave a different interpretation of this rule back in 2018.
In the same interview about his cancer tests two years ago, Duterte was asked what he thought of this requirement.
" Actually, it is not for public consumption. The Constitution says that you must let the people know. But the procedure is not go direct to the people," said Duterte back then.
"The Cabinet should be the one to decide if you are fully incapacitated to discharge the functions of your office," he continued.
But Section 12 of Article VII in the 1987 Constitution is clear.
“In case of serious illness of the President, the public (emphasis ours) shall be informed of the state of his health. The members of the Cabinet in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shall not be denied access to the President during such illness.”
The only time the Cabinet enters the picture is when the President himself cannot inform Congress of his inability to discharge his duties. In that situation, a "majority of the Cabinet" would have to declare the President's inability in a written letter sent to Congress leaders. The Vice President would then automatically become acting president.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.