President Rodrigo Duterte gave no explanation for “intentionally” avoiding the public for two weeks as the country continues to be crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the row with China in the West Philippine Sea.
The chief executive delivered his address to the public that was supposed to be aired last week but was postponed twice.
“Noong nawala ako ng ilang araw, talagang sinadya ko ‘yon, ganoon ako eh. Pagka-kinakalkal mo ako lalo akong—‘yong parang bata. Pagka lalo mo akong kinakantyawan eh, mas lalo akong gagana,” Duterte said in the beginning of his speech aired on Monday night.
“The people must know that I am a resident of Davao City. I never pretended to be a resident of Sampaloc or Sta. Ana. Sinabi ko ang my residence is the City of Davao. And if I want to go home there on reasonable basis, I can because that is my home,” he added.
Duterte said that his airfare is not shouldered by the government so he can “go home just to be there and come back the following day.”
He was supposed to deliver his weekly address to the nation about the government’s COVID-19 response on April 5 but it was postponed without explanation.
The Palace said it would air on April 7 instead but it was also canceled then.
Sen. Christopher Go, Duterte’s former aide-turned-lawmaker, bared that several members of the Presidential Security Group had contracted the virus but they were not in direct contact with the chief executive.
Duterte’s last public appearance was on March 29, when he personally welcomed the arrival of additional Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines from China. His weekly speech was also aired that night.
Duterte’s absence has prompted hashtags such as “#NasaanAngPangulo” and “#PatayNaBa,” to gain traction on social media, leading Filipinos to speculate about his health condition.
Go later on shared pictures and videos of the president as “proofs of life,” with the latest showing him playing golf, riding a motorcycle and jogging in Malacañang.
These were not received well by some Filipinos, including celebrities.
In a national crisis
As Duterte shrugged off his two-week absence in his latest recorded speech, some Filipinos reminded him of his duties and responsibilities as a head of the state and the country’s situation amid the still raging COVID-19 pandemic.
“Sinadya mong mawala, ibig sabihin, sinadya mong pabayaan ang Pilipinas na dapat mong pinamumunuan!” a Twitter user exclaimed in response to the president’s comments.
“In the midst of NATIONAL EMERGENCY, you chose to act like a child? That was an option?” another online user questioned.
“In the middle of a national crisis you decided to act like a child????” a different Filipino commented.
“You left your post and a country where people are dying by the day,” a Twitter user likewise said in response to Duterte’s comments.
The country is currently in a state of calamity until September 2021 due to the prevailing threats of COVID-19.
During Duterte’s non-appearance, the Philippines has been seeing a continuous rise in COVID-19 cases, along with a higher number of deaths.
Military vessels from China have also been seen inside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), specifically near Palawan, since last month. It also harassed a news team that was covering Filipino fisherfolk affected by the arrival of the foreign vessels.
Duterte, as the acting head of the state, is expected to lead the country, according to GOV.PH.
He is the “leader of the national government” and the “Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines.”
The president is also constitutionally mandated “to serve and protect the people,” being elected by the Filipinos themselves, according to late constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas in a newspaper column.
He is expected to oversee the “maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty and property, and the promotion of the general welfare” of the nation, Bernas added.
A professor of leadership and organizational psychology noted that leaders have to be proactive especially in times of crisis like a pandemic.
“What leaders have to realize is that when a crisis hits, you can’t just rest on your laurels and think that everything will move along normally,” Ronaldo Riggio, Ph.D. said in an interview.
“You need to train, prepare and execute,” he added.
“People want the leader to project compassion and an understanding of how the situation is for those concerned, and to project the hope that together we can manage the crisis, even though we don’t know everything about the present situation,” Ira Helsloot from Crisislab said in another interview.