President Rodrigo Duterte has dismissed reports that he was airlifted to Singapore over the weekend purportedly to seek emergency treatment in the city state.
“If I want to go to Singapore, I will go to Singapore. If it is a private undertaking, or if I want to attend the burial of a friend, I will go there, fly in, fly out,” he said during one of his late-evening meetings on Monday with his ministers. But he said no such trip occurred.
“I don’t have to keep it a secret because I will not be using government funds… I am under no obligation to travel in secret and not telling the Republic at all,” he said.
Rumours swirled over the weekend that an air ambulance flew the 75-year-old from Davao City, his home turf where he has been staying since early this month, to Singapore on Saturday for a medical emergency.
His spokesman Harry Roque and the head of his security detail said Mr Duterte had never left Davao. On Monday, Senator Bong Go, who remains his chief aide, released a photo of the President dining with his wife and daughter in Davao.
Mr Duterte said if he has to leave the country for an emergency, he would first designate his chief minister or defence minister as caretaker.
He has never handed the reins of the government to his Vice-President, Ms Leni Robredo, who leads the opposition party, whenever he leaves for official trips abroad. “If things are not quite good, if it’s all topsy-turvy and I have to leave, then I’ll leave it in the hands of the military,” he said. “But otherwise,” he added, “a leader will always stay during a crisis.”
Mr Duterte’s health has been a recurring source of concern among lawmakers and his critics because it calls into question who will succeed him. He has declared that Ms Robredo is not fit to run the country.
Several disappearances from public view have fuelled rumours about his declining health. But the government has repeatedly dismissed any suggestion of a problem.