Stirring a hornet’s nest – Manila Standard


What is it about President Rodrigo Duterte that gets his dander up whenever questions about his health arise? During his speech before the anniversary of the Presidential Security Group at Malacañang this week, Mr. Duterte deviated from written remarks to single out former senator and now Manila Times columnist Francisco “Kit” Tatad.

Tatad must have stirred the hornet’s nest when he wrote that the President had been absent from the public eye for four days because he went to China for medical consultation. Tatad said he sourced his information from a Palace official whom we would not name lest he lose his job. For writing about it in his column, Tatad fueled further speculation that the President is sick. Word going around is the President could be cancer-stricken. We are not going to add to this unconfirmed diagnosis. Even the “doctor” in the House, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, is unusually quiet about it.

Usually, Alvarez who practices psychiatry without license would quickly label those critics as crazy and say they should be committed to a mental hospital. This he did with detained Senator Leila de Lima.

The President’s health is the paramount concern of the Filipino people particularly the 16 million who voted him to the presidency. Should he not come clean with a medical certificate attesting to his health? This he should do instead of going ballistic and taking it out on journalists who also have a duty to serve their readers.

Instead, the President, using his most colorful language, lashed at Tatad, saying the former Marcos press secretary knew about the hospital in China because this was where Tatad went to correct a flawed circumcision.

I asked Kit whether he saw and heard Digong’s diatribe. He laughed it off, his way of telling me he’s not going to stoop to the level of a former Davao mayor who is out of his depth as president of the republic.

Another Palace “doctor,” Secretary of Miscommunications Martin Andanar came out with his own diagnosis that “the President is in the pink of health.” Coming from Mr. Paandar, that statement is as just about as credible as his claim that he speaks for the President. According to Palace sources, Andanar has been told to shut up and let Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella to do the talking.

Abella, with his deep and somber voice, is more acceptable to Malacañang reporters. They know whereof he speaks as he enjoys the President’s confidence. Abella, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno are three of the President’s most able Cabinet members.

Heard in the grapevine is that Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade could be on way out. Lest we are accused of purveying fake news, let me be clear that this story is still being verified and the President, we are told, would make an announcement sometime this week on whether Tugade will be kept or sacked.

Nearing the delivery of his State of the Nation Address to a joint session of Congress on July 24, Duterte who will complete his first year as President is expected to talk about his accomplishments and challenges in the next five years of his term.

To be fair, Duterte can be credited for his war on illegal drugs despite allegations of extrajudicial killings of suspects. The people, according to both Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia surveys, are behind Duterte’s drug war, brutal as it may be. The President’s issuance of an executive order on freedom of information is also a feather in his cap.

The administration, however, can be faulted for not dismantling the onerous contractualization of workers. After so much hemming and hawing, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello admitted it cannot be done this year and the workers will have to wait another year. But Filipino workers cannot wait another year to bring food to the table for their families. Many of them are filing job applications overseas.

This of course works to the advantage of the administration. Jobs overseas provide an outlet for the easing of a social volcano from erupting. Foreign currency remittances of these “new heroes” help prop up the economy.

Big business, a source of political campaign funds, will be left untouched. Continuation of the profitable “contractualization” scheme means they won’t have to pay for workers’ benefits like social security, retirement and separation pay, Philhealth and 13th month bonus. The business establishments under this status quo setup do not have to deal with a pesky labor unions.

With this, nearly everybody would be happy—big business, the administration and the politicians. That is, everybody, but the workers.

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