Duterte tells Cabinet medical test results came back 'negative'

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte told his Cabinet that his medical test results came back "negative" for cancer, said two sources present at the Cabinet meeting held on Monday, October 8.

On Tuesday, Department of Interior and Local Governent (DILG) officer-in-charge Eduardo Año confirmed what the sources said.

"Duterte told us during the Cabinet meeting that his test results returned negative for cancer," he said in an interview with reporters.

Duterte himself brought up the issue of his health in the middle of the Cabinet meeting during a lull in the discussions.

He had spoken of "having something checked" and that the test results for it had come back negative, said one source. The two sources both said the word "negative" was used to describe recent medical test results. But Duterte's remarks had also struck one source as "not straightforward," as if he was playing a "guessing game" with the Cabinet.

Despite this, no Cabinet member ventured to ask Duterte for further clarification on what medical tests he was talking about or what exactly the supposed results say.

The President kept the discussion largely general but also mentioned his other ailments.

'Polyp, not tumor'

In a meeting with senators on the coconut levy bill on Monday, Duterte revealed that he had a “benign” growth – a “polyp.”

“Sabi ni President, may polyps daw siya, may growth sa intestines. Wala naman daw, its benign it’s a polyp (The President said it was a polyp, a growth in the intestines. So it’s nothing, it’s benign, it’s a polyp). It’s not cancer and he was in high spirits. He was very happy yesterday cracking a lot of jokes,” said Senator Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was at the Palace meeting.

Previously, Malacañang said doctors found a "growth" during Duterte's endoscopy or colonoscopy. The President himself admitted doctors took "samples" from him, indicating a biopsy was performed. Duterte had said he would inform the public if it was found he had cancer.

Another high-ranking official also at the meeting said the President was in "good spirits" as he assured Cabinet members that "there's nothing serious enough to worry about his health."

Doctors Rappler spoke to said that results of a biopsy could be available within a day if medical staff worked quickly, or in 4 working days. Duterte had said samples had been taken from him on Wednesday, October 3, or 5 days before the Cabinet meeting. (READ: 'Growth' found in Duterte's endoscopy? Doctors explain what it means)

Cabinet members' take on medical bulletins

Before the Cabinet meeting, Rappler sought key Cabinet members' take on whether or not Malacañang should start issuing medical bulletins to inform the public about the state of Duterte's health.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said that, outside the recent military-police command conference where Duterte first spoke of undergoing medical exams, he and the Chief Executive had not spoken about his health issues.

"No. I am not his doctor. Anyway, it’s a yearly thing," he said in a message.

Medialdea does not think now is the time to issue medical bulletins.

"I don't think so," he said, declining to elaborate.

The 1987 Constitution states that the President must disclose the state of his health if he has a "serious illness." (READ: President's health: Touchy topic for Duterte, public concern for Constitution)

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra pointed out that this term is hard to define.

"Serious illness is a relative term," he told Rappler.

Asked what cases would warrant mandatory public disclosure, he said, "We'll have to take each case as it comes. Cataract surgery should not be a public concern, I guess."

But he said one possible parameter for "serious illness" is if the health condition is "threatening his ability to govern." 

But Guevarra said the President himself would have to be the one to make the call on whether the situation has come to that.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, meanwhile, declined to respond to Rappler's question.

"Those matters are beyond my authority to talk about," he said.

Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr also did not wish to issue any statement on the matter.

Earlier on Monday, Speaker Gloria Macapagap Arroyo, a former president, said the public should only be concerned about Duterte's health "only if he [himself] says it's serious." – with reports from Lian Buan and Camille Elemia/Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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