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Duterte remains fit, healthy, Palace says after events canceled

PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo R. Duterte remains fit and healthy for his age, the presidential palace said on Thursday, a day after the 76-year-old leader canceled his events this week event amid a fresh surge in coronavirus infections.

“We thank the Filipino people for voicing their concern and wishing the chief executive’s strength and good health during this time of COVID-19 pandemic as he continues to discharge his functions as head of the government,” his spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said in a statement.

Mr. Duterte’s regular address was canceled twice this week “in light of the rising number of active coronavirus cases.”

The President tested negative for the coronavirus during Holy Week, his close friend Senator Lawrence Christopher T. Go told reporters in a Viber group message.

The President last appeared in public during his address on March 29, when he was joined by Cabinet officials including Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, who got the coronavirus this week.

“The President is critical for communicating what’s happening, especially with our political culture that is so personality-oriented,” Ibon Foundation Executive Director Sonny A. Africa said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“Showing leadership to a beleaguered and anxious population is the least he can do,” he said. “There had been a leadership vacuum from the very beginning.”

“It is only natural for his prolonged absence to bring uncertainty in our minds,” Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a senior research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center, said in a Messenger chat.

He added that Filipinos want to be assured that the country’s top leader is “still competent and capable” of leading the country during the pandemic.

“Citizens are suffering so much these days that they want to know if this administration still has the wherewithal to bring the country out of this terrible crisis,” he added.

Mr. Yusingco said people want to see that the President is still at the helm of the government’s pandemic response. “Whether we like it or not, without him visibly in charge can undermine the entire government effort.”

John Paolo R. Rivera, an economist at the Asian Institute of Management, said effective economic planning requires coordination “under a unifying leader from an institutionalized command center.”

“In good times, visibility is necessary but not sufficient. But in bad times like this, we cannot afford any vacuum,” he said.

Mr. Rivera said government response during the pandemic need not be affected by the President’s absence “if systems are in place.”

“It should move as initially planned. However, if the system is not in place, then it will be problematic.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Roque said a poll showing Mr. Duterte’s 65% approval rating sends “a clear message that our people are generally happy with the leadership and performance of the President.”

Mr. Duterte’s approval rating slipped 5 points in March from 70% in December, according to a poll by Publicus Asia, Inc.. The President also got a trust rating of 55%, lower than his 62% score in December.

“This strong public confidence would certainly motivate and inspire the President, along with the members of the Cabinet, to work harder to serve the people, especially during this time of global health crisis,” Mr. Roque said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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