It was a combination of somewhat unrelated events that were misinterpreted when rumors swirled around closed chat groups that President Rodrigo Duterte left the country to Singapore.
The chatter was fueled by Malacañang spokesperson Harry Roque’s statement that the president is on isolation and undergoing regular swab testing to check for SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Some people thought the president might have contracted the deadly novel coronavirus from Interior Secretary Eduardo Año who tested positive of the disease for the second time last weekend.
The speculations were compounded by a video clip showing an emotional Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin who, in tears, expressed his gratefulness toward the chief executive before an audience of repatriated Filipinos from Lebanon at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
To quell the rumors, Sen. Bong Go, who was also the former presidential aide, released a photo on Facebook on Monday, August 17 showing Duterte with his wife Honeylet Avanceña and daughter Kitty Duterte in Davao City.
Go also slammed critics whom he alleged were spreading fake news against the chief executive.
“Sa mga nagpapakalat ng fake news, makonsensya naman kayo. Ang Pangulo ay nasa Pilipinas lamang at handang mag-serbisyo sa kapwa Pilipino!” Go said.
Go also shared a video clip where Duterte assured Filipinos that he’s alright.
Col. Jesus Durante III, commander of the Presidential Security Group, likewise confirmed to ABS-CBN that they are currently in his hometown.
“Andito kami sa Davao. Mamaya makikita niyo, mag-address siya. Regular naman yun,” Durante said.
Duterte is scheduled to provide a televised national address every Monday.
What triggered the rumors?
At a press briefing on August 17, when asked on the possibility of Duterte acquiring the deadly disease from Año, Roque said that Duterte is in “perpetual isolation” to protect him from COVID-19.
Roque also countered claims that he left the Philippines for Singapore.
“The president is in perpetual isolation because no one can come close to him. I think sinabi ko na sa inyo na whenever we meet with him, there is a velvet rope that keeps him at least six feet away from everyone else. So, no one can really come close to the President,” Roque said.
“So, I guess my answer is he’s in perpetual isolation in the sense that PSG has done a very good job in making sure that no one really comes close to the President,” he added.
However, Roque’s “perpetual isolation” remark further fueled speculations that Duterte might be seriously ill, and therefore rendered incapable of running the country.
Is he gone forever?
— The Professional Heckler (@hecklerforever8) August 17, 2020
This was pointed out by Pilo Hilbay, former solicitor-general and senatorial candidate, citing the worsening economic and health crisis in the country.
“’Perpetual isolation’ in the midst of a pandemic is an incapacity to perform the functions of the office. a true leader will not selfishly hide while the nation is suffering,” Hilbay said.
Veteran writer Philip Lustre Jr. suggested that Vice President Leni Robredo should be prepared to take her oath any time.
“IT goes without saying that Leni should be prepared to take her oath if something untoward happens to Rodrigo Duterte. That’s in her job description,” Lustre said.
Historian Manuel L. Quezon III, meanwhile, pointed out that this is different from “reclusion perpetua,” which refers to the sentence of imprisonment of 30 to 40 years.
As expected, online Filipinos resorted to their characteristic humor and were quick to share memes.
JUST IN: annabelle visits president duterte while in perpetual isolation. pic.twitter.com/LdtZ1PlWmK
— mark geronimo (@markgeronimo_) August 17, 2020
Duterte at 75 years old who also has underlying health conditions makes him vulnerable or among the individuals at high-risk in acquiring the new pathogen, according to the World Health Organization.