Philippines’ Duterte return to duty eases health concerns

duterteMANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte returned to public duties Saturday after nearly a week of absence that sparked speculation over his health as government forces battled Islamist militants in the biggest crisis of his rule.

Duterte, 72, attended a ceremony commemorating the founding of a province and later met with troops in Butuan city, both in the southern region of Mindanao.

Responding to questions from reporters, a jovial Duterte said: “My state of health is — what you see is what you get,” he said, adding that his last medical examination was last year.

Asked if he had any surgery or blood transfusion during his absence, he joked that he had had a “circumcision”.

“What’s your problem? There’s a vice president,” he added.

Duterte had not been seen in public since Sunday as security forces trid to drive Islamist militants from Marawi city in Mindanao.

His spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said Thursday that Duterte withdrew from public duties to “rejuvenate” after a punishing schedule, which included regular provincial sorties.

Duterte was last seen on June 11 in the southern city of Cagayan de Oro, visiting soldiers wounded in the fighting with Islamic State group-styled gunmen in Marawi.

He missed a scheduled appearance the following day at annual Independence Day celebrations in Manila.

Duterte imposed martial law over Marawi and the rest of Mindanao, home to 20 million people, on the day the fighting erupted on May 23 to head off what he said was an attempt by IS to carve out its own territory there.

Duterte had repeatedly denied during last year’s presidential election campaign that he suffered from cancer.