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Duterte: I have no cancer

HEALTH ISSUE President Duterte answers reporters’ questions about his health amid public concern at a press conference in Malacañang on Tuesday night. —JOAN BONDOC

President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday night that recent cancer tests came back negative, just days after sparking speculation when he disclosed that doctors were checking him for the disease.

Talking to reporters after the oathtaking of the new officers of the Malacañang Press Corps, the President also said he was tested not for cancer of the colon but of the esophagus at Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City last week.

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The President suffers from Barrett’s esophagus, a serious complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, where the normal tissue lining the esophagus changes to tissue that resembles the lining of the intestine.

The condition could lead to cancer of the esophagus.

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The President said his esophagus was “badly eroded” because he had started to drink again, having three shots of brandy before going to bed.

But his tests came back negative, he said.

“They (doctors) had a suspicion so they had this specimen taken out from both the esophageal tube and here,” he said, pointing to his butt.

“They just wanted a retake. Nothing serious actually,” he said.

No checkup in Hong Kong

The President also denied that it was for a medical checkup that he traveled to Hong Kong during the weekend.

He said he went to Hong Kong to shop for clothes to replace old ones that he could not wear anymore because he had put on weight.

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Earlier on Tuesday, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año told reporters that the President had informed his Cabinet officials that his tests came back negative.

The public has been clamoring for information about the President’s health after he missed two official events last week.

“He disclosed to us that the result of the tests was negative,” Año told reporters on the sidelines of the Anti-Red Tape and Ease of Doing Business forum in Quezon City on Tuesday.

Disclosure

He said the President disclosed the result of the tests during a Cabinet meeting on Monday night.

“In the middle of the Cabinet meeting, the President said: ‘By the way, I have [the results of] my tests.’ And he said the test was negative. We all clapped, [told him], ‘Congratulations, Mr. President,’” Año said.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo also told reporters that the President informed his officials during the meeting that his tests showed he was negative for cancer.

The 73-year-old President disclosed on Thursday that he went to a hospital the day before and underwent endoscopy and colonoscopy for the second time in three weeks for an investigation of a growth in his digestive tract.

“If it’s cancer, it’s cancer. If it’s third stage, no more treatment. I will not prolong the agony in this office or anywhere,” the President said in a speech to members of the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association Inc. in Malacañang.

Año said the official confirmation of the state of the President’s health should be done by the President’s physician, the President himself, or at least his spokesperson, Harry Roque.

Confidential matter

Año, however, said he took the President’s word for it.

“I believe him. I know him officially and personally,” Año said.

“I’m not a doctor. It’s not really my authority and competency, but I’m with the President almost twice or thrice a week. He’s OK. From what I’ve seen of him from even before he was President [up to] now, he’s still the same. I’ve seen his condition is OK,” he said.

Roque, who returned to his job on Tuesday after going on leave for a day, refused to confirm or deny the statements of Año and Panelo, saying he was “not privy” to the information.

“What the President, I think, said yesterday was he wants his medical information to remain confidential,” Roque said.

“The decision was the President will comply with the constitutional provision, that unless he has a serious illness he wants to treat his medical condition as being private and covered by confidentiality,” he said.

Under the Constitution, the public should be made aware of the state of a sitting President.

Succession

If the leader dies in office, is permanently disabled or removed through impeachment, the Vice President succeeds to serve the remaining years in a six-year, single term.

Vice President Leni Robredo, a leader of the political opposition, was elected separately in 2016 and could fuel uncertainty in the succession process given the highly polarized political climate.

The President’s health was a constant source of speculation after he disappeared from public view for a week last year but his aides dismissed rumors that he was ill.

Over the weekend, the President was in Hong Kong with his partner and young daughter on an unannounced trip, with his special assistant, Christopher “Bong” Go, posting pictures of the family on social media. —With reports from the wires

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