Wenceslao: Show of strength

Candid Thoughts

WE DO not wish anything bad to happen to President Rodrigo Duterte. I am sure that even his worst critics, while they curse some of his acts, do not want to see him weakened by illness. Those critics are, after all, Christians who are steeped in values like forgiveness and charity. Still, they have a right to ask what is the state of his health.

I am not a Duterte fan but I have accepted the reality that a big chunk of the populace adore him like a portion of the populace did with Noynoy Aquino when he was president. Surveys by Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations show that. Since we are in a democracy, we have to learn to accept political reality. After all, the majority rules.

In the recent Philippine Military Academy graduation rites, it was obvious that the President was not his robust self. He had to be propped up by aides a number of times while Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had to distribute the diplomas instead of him. The sight added fuel to speculations he is ill.

Malacañang, through presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, said the President was merely sleepy after spending time signing papers and browsing documents the previous night. The President only had two hours of sleep prior to the event.

Before that, the President was not seen in some official functions. There were rumors he was confined in a hospital, something that senator-elect Christopher “Bong” Go, a long-time Duterte aide, countered by having a picture with the President holding the day’s newspaper in his residence. That effectively stymied the rumor spreaders.

But chief executives refusing to divulge to the public the state of their health is not new. It only shows where the President derived his style of governance. He is in a way a strongman at a time when strong leadership is enjoying a resurgence of sorts globally. Vladimir Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping in China. And strongmen always want to portray an image of strength.

In 1986, the then dictator Ferdinand Marcos called a snap presidential elections and had to contend with a younger opponent in Cory Aquino, the widow of former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. Unknown to many, Marcos was at that time afflicted with lupus that affected his kidney. He was also suffering from diabetes. An obviously weak Marcos followed the campaign trail and hid his illness.

In 1966, Chinese strongman Mao Zedong was already 68 years old and frail of health. But he and his communist party propagandists came up with a stunt that was ridiculed around the world yet helped strengthen his hold on power and unleash the so-called Cultural Revolution in China. Mao swam the Yangtze river with aides in what his propagandists reported was record speed, prompting critics to say he should have swum in the Olympics.

The President still has three years left in his term. While the 1986 Constitution is clear on the line of succession in case something happens to him, Vice President Leni Robredo is not a party mate and is ideologically different from him. That may not be an ideal situation for him on the matter of transfer of power, thus the continued show of strength.


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