When the President is AWOL » Manila Bulletin News



Jose Abeto Zaide

By José Abeto Zaide


It’s when you are not around, that they start talking about you. Especially if you are the top honcho and are not visible for an extended time.

The presidency is a 24/7 job. Pundits were quick to feast on the empty chair in Malacañang. Even the mild–mannered presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella sometimes varied from the sublime to the ridiculous in explaining the no-show of the President. He assured that the President was not suffering from any illness; only that he was just tired and needed to recharge his batteries after the grueling pace including the quick return flight from Moscow.

The President’s calendar is chock-a-block with a punishing regimen of meetings, speeches, receiving supplicants, meeting with power brokers, etc. The Palace appointments secretary cancelled all activities for the week. The continued absence from public view fed rumors in social media sites that PDu30 had been rushed to a hospital in Manila and even worsening conjectures.

Malacañang tried to diffuse the speculations and one major daily carried a photo of the President going over documents sent by Special Presidential Assistant Christopher “Bong” Go, the only official with access to the President’s “private time.” Secretary Abella tried to be cute with a dash of humor by suggesting the President’s workload is different from that of his predecessor, “It’s just different workloads. Some people, you know, they play PlayStation, whatever, but some people are just busier,” Asked to comment on Abella’s statement, Abigail Valte, spokesperson of former President Aquino, parried the thrust, saying that there was no need to issue a counterstatement “because we do not feel alluded to.”

The rumors about PDu30’s health kicked into high gear when he was conspicuously absent at the Rizal Park for the June 12 Luneta Independence Day Ceremony. (The annual vin d’honneur with the diplomatic corps was also canceled – a decision apropos, considering that a toasting would be in contretemps while Marawi was burning). But this June 12th was supposed to be PDu30’s first flag–raising ceremony on our Independence Day. He would have hoisted the flag on a 150-foot pole (46 m) which was built on our Centennial at a cost of P7.8 million. To put the flag in perspective, the brass ball that appears as a speck on top of the flag pole is the size of an official–size baskeball.

In his stead, Vice President Leni Robredo had the privilege of hoisting the Philippine flag at Rizal Park, assisted by DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano. The Vice President is a heartbeat away from the presidency. But after her short term on the Duterte cabinet, the highest and the second highest officials of the land are seen to be not on the same page. The distance between them fed rumors and speculation during the interim of the President’s absence. And speculations and conjectures were made about how much and how well informed she was about the state of health of the President.

It brings back the question – if the Vice President is the next in line in succession to the highest office – why do we elect him or her separately. Remember when President Carlos P. Garcia (NP) had nothing to do with his Vice President Diosdado Macapagal (LP)? (It was a little better during the term of President Fidel Ramos, who had the good humor to give his Vice President Joseph Estrada the job as crime-buster.) Doesn’t it make sense to have the same team and vote the President and Vice President on a buy-one-take one ticket? The US avoids a strained situation by electing both the President and the Vice President from the same party.


Because we had left a day earlier for our annual “apostolic mission,” we missed the celebrations yesterday (Sunday, June 25) of Fr. Bert Ampil, SJ, at the Ateneo Grade School Singson Hall on his 50th year as an ordained priest (15 June 1967) and his 60th year as a Jesuit (30 May 1957). He was and continues to be English teacher to many, some of whom write.


FEEDBACK: joseabetozaide@mail.com

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