It is not the first time President Rodrigo Duterte disappeared from the public eye. He had periods of absence in his five years in Malacañang for one reason or another.
This time, the reason for his absence is to keep safe while the National Capital Region is on enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) because of the current rise in coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) infection cases. That was the explanation given by Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque in reaction to questions of #NasaanAngPangulo.
People turned to social media to ask for the President’s whereabouts and his health after Duterte postponed his regular public briefings twice. He also did not have a public event to mark the Araw ng Kagitingan on April 9, 2021.
Roque said the President had to keep himself safe following several Covid-19 cases among his staff and Presidential Security Group members.
But it does not take much these days to hold meetings, get updates from the ground, show the public you are still in charge. With online conferencing tools such as Zoom and the holding of virtual meetings, the President could have continued his regular meetings with the Cabinet or the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. He does not have to call them to Malacañang. A live address to the nation from the safety of his Malacañang office will do to assure the public he is on top of the situation and he knows about the hardship and the loss of lives.
He has done that in the past. He had his executives present in most of those televised meetings but their presence is not required at all in holding a conference with them.
If these were not possible, then regular bulletins should have been issued by his communications officials to let the public know what the urgent matters are for the President and what directives he has issued to his Cabinet or the Covid-19 task force. There were none. All the public got were Roque’s dismissive statement to those who questioned the President’s whereabouts and Senator Bong Go’s photo and video of Duterte.
Go’s photo of Duterte working and video of him jogging and walking at night in Malacañang were not enough to answer #NasaanAngPangulo. There were claims that the photo was altered but Roque dismissed these as “noise” from the “usual detractors.” “Let them be,” Roque said.
It is not out of ill will or of wishing the President was unwell that people are asking for Duterte to go public or show up in a meeting. His presence will help address the anxiety of people still under ECQ.
We hope the President is well and he is not exposed to the virus that causes Covid-19. Precautions have to be taken to keep him safe. But he has to end his absence from the public eye to show that everything is under control.