Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted that life is taking its “toll on my health”, as speculation swirls over the 74-year-old’s prolonged absences from the public eye.
Duterte cut short a trip to Japan last month because he was suffering from “unbearable pain” in his spine after a recent motorcycle accident, and has not spoken publicly for two weeks.
The accident came just 10 days after he revealed in early October that he has myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness and can result in drooping eyelids and blurred vision.
“If you ask me… ‘Are you in the best of health?’ Of course not,” Duterte told GMA News television in an interview on Friday.
“All of the ailments, I have them because I am already old… Life has begun to take its toll on my health,” said Duterte.
The recent incidents have intensified speculation about his capacity to lead, although his spokesman Salvador Panelo has repeatedly said there is no need to issue medical bulletins on the president’s health.
Duterte has opted to work from his hometown Davao City, on the southern island of Mindanao, over the past week to get some rest, his spokesman has said.
The oldest Philippine leader elected, Duterte last week passed on the running of his signature anti-narcotics crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives to Vice-President Leni Robredo, an arch-critic.
Duterte has not given public remarks since he attended a regional summit in Thailand that ended on November 4, shortly after he cut short his trip to Japan, having attended the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito with the aid of a cane.
Duterte had also previously said he suffers from migraines and Buerger’s disease, which is characterised by inflammation of blood vessels, usually due to smoking.
The Philippine constitution requires the handover of power to the vice president if the leader cannot perform his duties due to disability, resignation, or death.
The vocal critic that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has named to a lead role in his deadly drug war called on Friday for revamping the crackdown and ending its “senseless” killing.
Opposition leader Leni Robredo has regularly attacked Duterte’s internationally condemned initiative, prompting the president to appoint her this week to a post supervising it.
Critics have warned that the job to co-lead the committee overseeing the crackdown may be a trap to tarnish Robredo, but she has voiced hope that it is an opening for change.
“It’s time to think about a new campaign which is more effective, but no one is dying senselessly,” she said ahead of her first meeting with the body, that includes top law enforcement officials.
“I believe that in all police operations, anything can happen, but we oppose deliberate and planned killings of innocent people” added Robredo, who is vice president but was elected separately from Duterte.
Duterte rose to power in 2016 on a pledge to eliminate the nation’s drug problem by killing thousands of drug dealers and users.
Since then narcotics agents claim to have gunned down just over 5,500 suspects who fought back, though watchdogs claim the true number is at least four times higher.
The campaign has drawn fierce international criticism, especially from rights groups that allege the crackdown could amount to crimes against humanity.
‘Global pressure having effect’
International Criminal Court prosecutors have launched a preliminary probe and the UN’s top rights body has voted to conduct an in-depth review.
Robredo told a press conference after the meeting that she plans to dig into the details of the crackdown, and believes any misconduct should be confronted by the Philippines.
“I would rather that we take care of whatever we have to take care of,” she said. “There are a lot of things that happened that should not have happened.”
Duterte bristles at any criticism of his drug war, with public opinion polls saying he as the overwhelming backing of the Philippine people.
Robredo said she saw her appointment “as a signal that the president is open to listen to a fresh perspective about the entire campaign”.
“Drugs are the enemy here. We are not at war with our countrymen,” she added.
Amnesty International also took a supportive view of Robredo’s new post, calling it proof “global pressure is having an effect, and that the public mood in the Philippines is turning against the flawed approach of the so-called ‘war on drugs'”.
Duterte has previously vowed to continue the drug war until the end of his term in mid-2022, often deriding Robredo’s capability to potentially lead the country, which she would have to do if the president dies or cannot function.
But in a turnaround labelled by critics as a trap, Duterte said in a speech last week that the drug situation has “worsened” with the police on the “brink of surrendering”.
“It’s beyond my competence, but maybe she will do better,” Duterte told reporters last week.
Rights groups on Sunday condemned what they called a “massacre” of 14 farmers by police in the central Philippines as authorities defended the incident as a legitimate operation against suspected communist rebels.
Police say the 14 men on Saturday shot at officers with search warrants for illegal firearms, prompting them to return fire. But rights groups insist the men were “farmers asserting their rights to land”, the latest victims caught up in a violent crackdown under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte’s government has cancelled peace talks with communist rebels — who are waging a 50-year-old insurgency that has killed thousands — and has ordered his troops to “destroy” them.
The latest violence occurred in three separate incidents in Negros island, the centre of the nation’s sugar industry and home to some of the country’s wealthiest landowners as well as some of its poorest farm workers.
Authorities say the operation was a response to communist rebel attacks in Negros, adding one policeman was wounded.
“They fought back against our operating units. We were forced to fire back. Some of (the 14 men) are farmers but we cannot confirm how many,” provincial police spokesman Edilberto Euraoba told AFP.
Police arrested another 12 men while they recovered various firearms from those killed, Euraoba added.
However rights and peasant groups said the 14 men killed on Saturday were farmers, some elderly, citing witness accounts contradicting the police’s statement.
“They were defenceless. It’s clear that it was a massacre. They are tagged as members and sympathisers (of communist rebels) but they are farmers asserting their rights to land,” Maria Sol Taule, legal counsel for rights group Karapatan, told AFP.
“President Duterte is attacking his critics including people fighting for their rights. It’s an all-out attack on all they suspect to be enemies, whether farmers or lawyers.”
Rows over land have become increasingly common as Manila faces criticism for its slow-moving programme to redistribute farmland to millions of sharecroppers — tenant farmers who give a part of each crop as rent — who remain mired in poverty.
The Federation of Agricultural Workers condemned the latest deaths, saying it highlighted growing rights violations on Negros island.
The nation’s rights body said it would investigate Saturday’s incident, expressing “grave concern” over what it called a rising number of killings in the country.
Taule added that the incident was the latest in a series of attacks on farmers, following the killing of nine farmers by gunmen also in Negros in October.
Farm workers account for about 20 million people, a fifth of the Philippine population, who live on less than two dollars a day, the government says.
Pope Francis strongly condemned Sunday’s bombing of a Catholic church that killed at least 18 people on the southern Philippine island of Jolo.
“I reiterate my strongest reprobation for this episode of violence who is once again plunging the Christian community into mourning,” Francis said during an Angelus message as he wound up World Youth Day celebrations in Panama.
At least 22 people died from a storm that swept through the central Philippine islands at the weekend, authorities said Sunday, with rescue operations underway in flood-inundated communities.
The death toll rose from four a day after the storm brought heavy rain to the Bicol and Eastern Visayas regions, causing massive flooding and landslides, the government’s office of civil defence said.
Many of the deaths were due to landslides and drowning, it added, saying floods had yet to recede even as the weather disturbance known locally as “Usman” weakened into a low-pressure area.
“Most of the (affected) areas are underwater. We are sending troops and rubber boats to rescue families. In some areas the floods have reached the roofs of homes,” Claudio Yucot, head of the Bicol region’s office of civil defence, told AFP.
At least 16 people died in Bicol while six others were killed in Eastern Visayas, civil defence officials said.
More than 22,000 people fled their homes ahead of the storm, which destroyed rice and corn crops and left some roads and bridges inaccessible, according to regional disaster officials.
Government forecasters said Sunday that heavy rain would continue over the next 24 hours in the northern Philippines.
An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty.
The most powerful was Super Typhoon Haiyan which left more than 7,360 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in 2013.
A Philippine lawmaker fiercely critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war was arrested Tuesday on previously dismissed charges, a move condemned by watchdogs as persecution of the government’s opponents.
Senator Antonio Trillanes was taken into custody and then posted bail shortly after a court-issued warrant forced him from the Senate building, where he has holed up for weeks to avoid arrest.
Trillanes is the secondsenator critical of Duterte’s drug war to be detained. Leila de Lima has been behind bars since February 2017 on charges she says were concocted to silence her.
The order for Trillanes’ arrest stems from Duterte voiding earlier this month an amnesty granted eight years ago to the senator, an ex-navy officer, for his role in two coup attempts in the mid-2000s.
“They twisted the law so our democracy and institutions failed,” Trillanes told reporters. “This (case) has nothing to do with anything except for the vengeance of Duterte and his underlings.”
Duterte issued a decree earlier this month ordering Trillanes’ arrest on allegations he did not complete the requirements of filing an official application for amnesty and admitting guilt.
The case has prompted concern in the Philippines where critics have questioned whether presidents have the power to undo amnesties, a repeatedly used tool in a nation plagued by insurgencies and military rebellion.
Sociopath and hitman mindset
“The arrest… is part of the persecution of critics of the Duterte administration, the latest in the relentless campaign to silence those who dared to challenge the president’s murderous ‘drug war’,” said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch Philippines.
Bigger legal trouble could still await Trillanes because he could be arrested on another charge, stemming from a separate coup attempt, that does not have the possibility of bail.
The Philippines’ creaking legal system is notoriously slow and defendants can remain behind bars for years before they get their day in court.
Along with De Lima, Trillanes is Duterte’s loudest critic telling AFP last year: “This man is a sociopath and he has the mindset of a hitman.”
Trillanes last year appealed to the International Criminal Court to investigate killings in Duterte’s war on drugs and had repeatedly accused the president of being a mass murderer and holding secret bank accounts.
Last year Trillanes also had the president’s eldest son Paolo brought before a Senate inquiry to face allegations he was involved in drug trafficking, which the younger Duterte denied.
Trillanes had faced rebellion and coup d’etat charges for being among military officers who rose up against then president Gloria Arroyo over alleged corruption and mismanagement.
He led scores of junior officers in taking over part of a main district of Manila in 2003 and seized a posh Manila hotel in 2007 along with several armed followers as they demanded Arroyo’s resignation.
The ousted top judge of the Philippines will appeal against the decision to sack her, after she battled with President Rodrigo Duterte over his deadly drug war, her spokesman said Saturday.
Maria Lourdes Sereno’s colleagues voted on Friday to remove her as Supreme Court chief justice in an unprecedented decision that has sparked a legal firestorm.
“She will file MR (motion of reconsideration),” her spokesman Carlo Cruz said in a message to AFP without elaborating.
Duterte had openly called for Sereno’s removal from the court, calling her an “enemy” after they clashed over his bloody war on drugs and alleged abuse of power.
Sereno’s expulsion came due to a petition by the chief government lawyer — a Duterte appointee — who argued that she was not qualified for her position and accused her of not filing statements of assets and liabilities in previous years — accusations she categorically denied.
Legal experts, including other Supreme Court judges, have argued that Sereno’s sacking is a violation of the constitution, which says a justice can only be removed through impeachment in Congress.
In opinions released Saturday, dissenting judge Marvic Leonen called the move “a legal abomination” while fellow justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa said, “this case marks the time when the Court commits seppuku (ritual suicide) – without honour”.
Pacifico Agabin, an expert in constitutional law at the University of the Philippines College of Law, told AFP Sereno’s appeal was unlikely to succeed, saying: “I don’t think any one of the justices will have a change of mind”.
Sereno, who has urged her supporters to “fight for justice and demand accountability”, is the latest high-profile critic of Duterte to be targeted after speaking out against the president.
Other Duterte critics have also been ousted, punished or threatened, including Senator Leila de Lima who has been jailed, the Commission on Human Rights and an anti-corruption prosecutor who investigated allegations that Duterte has hidden wealth.
Duterte has faced global criticism for human rights abuses particularly related to his bloody campaign against illegal drugs which police say has claimed the lives of around 4,200 suspects in nearly two years. Rights groups allege the actual number is three times higher.
Ten people were killed when a small plane crashed into a house just outside the Philippine capital on Saturday, police and aviation officials said.
The twin-engine aircraft crashed shortly after taking off in Plaridel town, killing all five aboard as well as three children, a mother and a grandmother from the family in the house, said Superintendent Julio Lizardo.
“We had to dig through the rubble to find the bodies,” he said, explaining why the toll rose from an initial figure of seven dead.
Officials declined to say what may have caused the crash of the Piper PA-23 Apache, operated by a local charter company.
Landslides triggered by Tropical Storm Kai-Tak have killed 26 people and 23 more are missing in the eastern Philippines, authorities said Sunday.
The deaths were reported in the small island province of Biliran, a day after the storm pounded the east of the archipelago nation.
Kai-Tak tore across the major islands of Samar and Leyte on Saturday, toppling power lines in 39 towns or cities and damaging roads and bridges, the national disaster agency said.
Some 87,700 people were forced from their homes in the region. But the previous death toll had stood at just three.
“There is a total of 26 people dead from landslides in four towns of Biliran. We have recovered the bodies,” Sofronio Dacillo, provincial disaster risk reduction and management officer, told AFP.
Gerardo Espina, governor of the island province just east of Leyte, gave the same figure for deaths in an interview on ABS-CBN television. He said 23 people were missing.
The national disaster risk reduction agency could not immediately confirm if the 26 deaths in Biliran included the initial three fatalities it reported on Saturday.
Kai-Tak weakened on Sunday afternoon, with gusts of up to 80 kilometres (50 miles) an hour, and was reclassified as a tropical depression, state weather forecasters said.
But disaster officials warned that more floods and landslides were possible and said 15,500 passengers were stranded because ferry services remained suspended in parts of the region.
“I’ve been stranded for three days, sleeping in the bus, and I just want to get home to my family for Christmas,” Eliaquin Pilapil, a 55-year-old farmer, told AFP from a port in the town of Matnog in the eastern province of Sorsogon.
The Christmas holidays are a busy travel season in the mainly Catholic Philippines, with people heading home to the provinces.
The nation is battered by about 20 major storms each year.
Samar and Leyte bore the brunt in 2013 of Super Typhoon Haiyan which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing.
In the Leyte city of Tacloban, Saturday’s storm brought flash floods of up to 1.5 metres (five feet) and strong winds that left the city without power and water, according to its disaster office chief.
“The storm moved so slowly that it brought so much rain to our city. The floods resulted from four days of rain,” Ildebrando Bernadas, head of Tacloban’s disaster risk reduction office, told AFP.
Bernadas said 82 percent of Tacloban’s districts were flooded.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he stabbed a person to death as a teenager, in a defiant speech to promote his drug war ahead of a summit of world leaders in Manila.
Speaking to the local Filipino community in the Vietnamese city of Danang on Thursday, Duterte also threatened to slap a UN rights rapporteur if he met her, and used obscene language to hit back at critics of his deadly drugs crackdown.
“When I was a teenager, I would go in and out of jail. I’d have rumbles here, rumbles there,” said Duterte, who is in Danang for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
“At the age of 16, I already killed someone. A real person, a rumble, a stabbing. I was just 16 years old. It was just over a look. How much more now that I am president?”
Duterte won last year’s presidential elections after promising to eradicate illegal drugs with an unprecedented crackdown that would see up to 100,000 people killed.
Since he took office 16 months ago, police say they have killed 3,967 people in the crackdown. Another 2,290 people were murdered in drug-related crimes, while thousands of other deaths remain unsolved, according to government data.
Duterte, 72, remains popular with many Filipinos who believe he is making society safer.
But critics at home and abroad warn that he is orchestrating a campaign of extrajudicial mass murder, carried out by corrupt police and hired vigilantes.
He at times denies inciting police or others to kill, but also consistently generates headlines for his abusive language and incendiary comments defending the drug war.
Duterte said last year he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts and branded then US president Barack Obama a “son of a whore” for criticising the drug war.
Duterte also said in December last year that he had personally shot dead criminal suspects when he was mayor of southern Davao city to set an example for the police.
His then spokesman later sought to clarify the remarks, saying those killings were during a “legitimate police action”.
– Killer, or killer jokes –
Esquire magazine quoted Duterte as saying in an interview before he became president that he “maybe” stabbed someone to death when he was 17 years old, in what may be a reference to the incident described in Danang.
In an election campaign rally Duterte also said he was expelled from college for shooting a fellow student who was insulting him. The victim reportedly survived.
Duterte’s aides have repeatedly told journalists not to believe everything the president says, cautioning that he often jokes or indulges in “hyperbole”.
His new spokesman, Harry Roque, indicated that may be the case with his stabbing-to-death claim.
“I think it was in jest. The Pres uses colourful language when w Pinoys (Filipinos) overseas,” Roque said in a text message.
In Danang, Duterte also targeted the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, who has been a frequent critic of the drug war.
“This rapporteur,” he said, after referring to Callamard by name. “I will slap her in front of you. Why? Because you are insulting me.”
Duterte’s latest comments come ahead of him hosting US President Donald Trump and other leaders for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.
Trump is due to fly into Manila from Vietnam along with many other leaders on Sunday evening, ahead of two days of talks.
Trump has praised Duterte’s handling of the drug war, telling the Philippine leader in a telephone call in April that he was doing a “great job”.
Human rights campaigners have said the summit will be a public relations coup for Duterte, with Trump and other leaders expected to ignore the drug war controversy.
“Duterte will enjoy the gift of tacit silence from East Asian leaders on his murderous drug war during the upcoming summit,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phelim Kine told AFP.
Adding to a sense of supreme confidence ahead of the event, Duterte on Thursday also proposed hosting a global summit on human rights in which all nations would be placed under the microscope.
“Let us investigate all violations of human rights committed by all governments,” he said, specifically naming the United States, France and Russia.