Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ president, attends an event. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

Duterte Signals His Readiness to Step Down If He Has Cancer

(Bloomberg) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he was uncertain if he’s still physically fit and signaled a readiness to step down if he has any serious illness such as cancer.

Duterte Signals His Readiness to Step Down If He Has Cancer

“I don’t know where I am now physically but I have to wait for the results” of the tests, the 73 year-old leader told graduates of the Philippine Military Academy on Thursday, acknowledging he had gone to a hospital for digestive tract tests, which his aides have denied.

“But I would tell you that -- if it’s cancer, it’s cancer. And if it’s third stage, no more treatment. I will not prolong my agony in this office or anywhere,’’ Duterte said, according to a transcript of his speech. The president is awaiting the findings on “a growth” and is only required to disclose the results if these indicate a serious illness, his spokesman Harry Roque said.

The controversial leader, who’s presiding over a deadly drugs war that has killed thousands since he took office in June 2016, has long complained of suffering from Barrett’s esophagus -- an inflammation of the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach -- from alcohol use when he was younger.

He has also acknowledged having daily migraine and spinal issues, in addition to an illness affecting the blood vessels called Buerger’s disease caused by smoking.

Duterte said on Thursday that his acid reflux has gotten worse. Three weeks ago he had an endoscopy and colonoscopy and, on Wednesday, he canceled appointments so he could go to hospital after his doctor ordered more tests. A few hours before his admission, his spokesman Roque denied that the president was being hospitalized.

The spokesman denied on Friday that he had lied and said he didn’t know about Duterte’s medical schedule. He said he can’t continue with his role as spokesman after he was caught unaware about what was happening with the president. Duterte offered him another role and he hasn’t decided whether he will accept it, Roque said.

The president is required under the country’s constitution to disclose any serious illness to the public, and will be replaced by the vice president if he decides to step down.

The incumbent vice president, Leni Robredo, the leader of the opposition Liberal Party, is facing an electoral protest from former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the former dictator.

Duterte, whose six-year term is scheduled to end in 2022, also said in his speech Thursday night that he thinks Robredo is too “weak” to handle the presidency.

“I do not mean to offend the lady. She’s very good. She’s gentle, but she’s really weak. She’s not necessarily weak intellectually, because she’s a lawyer, but strategically weak,” he said.

Robredo released a statement in response, urging Duterte to rein in inflation and stamp out corruption instead of attacking critics. "Nobody wants the president to get sick, but one shouldn’t use an illness as an excuse to malign me again," she said.

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