President Duterte said he was not an inutile leader because if he were the military would not have allowed him to remain in power.
Mr. Duterte made the remark on a prerecorded appearance on national television on Monday night, ending his nearly two-week absence from the public eye which fueled rumors that he was sick.
He said he made himself scarce on purpose, but his absence was criticized as he was not seen or heard from while the country was being ravaged by a surge in COVID-19 cases.
"When I was missing for several days, I did that deliberately," he said in Filipino. "Like a child, the more you pick on me, the more I am encouraged."
He explained that during that time, he was busy studying whether a directive pertaining to agriculture which he eventually signed was legal.
He said the military would have moved against him had he not been doing his job.
AFP sees it as 'trust'
"Let's be frank. Would I have lasted this long in this son-of-a-bitch position if I were inutile? Will the military allow me to govern if that is how I run things—that I'm not doing anything?" he said.
Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, on Tuesday said the President's statement was "an affirmation of his high level of trust and confidence to the men and women of your Armed Forces."
"The President is our Commander in Chief who holds the highest position in the Chain of Command. We, therefore, submit to his wisdom," Sobejana told the Inquirer when asked whether he agreed with Mr. Duterte's statement that his fate was in the hands of the military.
The President is keenly aware of the military's record of staging mutinies and coup attempts against his predecessors and had developed strong bonds with the uniformed services by providing them with financial benefits such as higher pay and government appointments for retired officers.
In October 2016, just a few months into his presidency, Mr. Duterte challenged the military to remove him from office.
"You want to oust me? You want to use the CIA? Go ahead. I said I put at stake my honor, my life, and the presidency. What happens to me is really a part of my destiny. If I am ousted, then that is part of my presidency," he said a day before his first 100 days in office.
About two years later, he said he received "assurances" of protection from Chinese President Xi Jinping with whom he grew closer as he turned away from the United States, the country's treaty ally.
"We will not allow you to be taken out from your office, and we will not allow the Philippines to go to the dogs," the President quoted the Chinese leader as telling him.
A year later, he said he wasn't scared of a coup. "If you want me out, tell me," he said in a speech during a thanksgiving party for his longtime aide, Sen. Bong Go.
During his absence, Go showed on his Facebook page pictures of the President at his desk in Malacañang. He later added more pictures showing the President jogging, playing golf and riding a motorcycle in the dark on the Palace grounds.
The President defended these activities, saying he only did them at night, sometimes at past midnight, which is "not taking the people's time."
"If you say I am sick, I have an illness. But if you say that I have an illness that would prevent me from exercising the powers of the presidency, I do not," the President said.
Addressing his critics who wish him dead, he said: "If you want me to die early, you must pray harder."
Turning to De Lima
Mr. Duterte focused his ire on his staunchest critic, detained Sen. Leila de Lima, whom he accused of disrespecting him. He repeated his allegations that she was involved in the illegal drug trade, claims which she had strongly denied.
"You keep on talking and saying that I cannot handle things anymore. Why? Were you the one who elected me? Did you elect me as President? I got my votes, substantial one, to make me a credible president," he said.
De Lima fired back, saying the country "will not and will never recover" from the pandemic if the President and his lieutenants continue to "sleep on their job" as the country grappled with the COVID-19 surge.
"Mr. President, have pity on the people. Their loved ones are dying and you're still treating me as your problem?" she said.
The former justice secretary said the President's "sycophants" should stop "nonsense photo ops just to prove that Mr. Duterte can still breathe or jog after two weeks of absence."
"The country needs leadership, not photos," she said.
Instead of attacking her, she urged Mr. Duterte to "focus on doing his job as President."
"The outcome of Duterte's failed leadership is obvious. While the President is in some corner doing photoshoot while having snacks, jogging, playing golf and any other pastime, hundreds are losing their lives every day, and many are orphaned—mother, father, sibling, friend, relative, coworker, loved ones," she said.
'Disappearing act' not new
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the President's "disappearing act" was nothing new and Sen. Risa Hontiveros mocked Go's pictures of Mr. Duterte.
"The people aren't looking for proof of life but proof of good and authentic leadership, especially in this pandemic," she told reporters in a Viber message.
"Filipinos want to feel we are cared for by this government and, unfortunately for the President, his presence and availability for photo ops can never substitute for clear, coherent, empathetic and compassionate leadership," Hontiveros said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, in a post on Twitter, said he hoped it would be the last time Mr. Duterte played with the public's feelings just to score points against his critics.
"He says it was deliberate. May this be the President's last 'hide-and-seek' because many are worried about him," he said.
"That said, the health condition of any sitting president should be the concern of every Filipino. Even Vice President Leni Robredo had the moral decency to say that she was praying for him," Lacson said.
A Social Weather Stations mobile phone survey conducted in September 2020 and released on Monday found that 65 percent of the respondents believed the President's state of health should be disclosed to the public.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, MELVIN GASCON AND DJ YAP INQ
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