Serious Illness?


    THIS past Monday, the most curious thing happened: a lawyer, on his own behalf, filed a Petition for Mandamus against Philippine President and host of the Late Late Late Late Show, Rodrigo Duterte.

    Okay, some jargon to get out of the way. A “petition for mandamus,” as a remedy under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, in a nutshell asks the court to direct a public officer or agency to perform a task that they have no choice but to do, as provided by law, that the same officer or agency has either refused or failed to perform. In this case, lawyer Dino de Leon is asking the Supreme Court to direct Duterte, and by extension Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, to disclose Duterte’s medical records, in compliance with Section 12 of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution. Yes, that 1987 Constitution, which, believe it or not, hasn’t expired yet even though it’s already 2020.

    For reference, here’s what Section 12, Article VII says:

    “Section 12. In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health. The members of the Cabinet in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shall not be denied access to the President during such illness.”

    Malacañang, for its part, is confident that the Supreme Court will dismiss the petition outright, claiming that the petition has no factual bases.

    Does it? Let’s break this down.

    Section 12 uses the word “shall” in making the directive for disclosure. This means that, for as long as the President suffers from a serious illness, the President has no choice but to disclose his medical status to the public. But what is a “serious illness?”

    “Serious illness” isn’t defined in the Constitution, and can mean different things in different contexts. To clarify this, De Leon dug deep into the records of the Constitutional Commission, where the term was understood to mean an illness “where he is not really incapacitated but seriously inconvenienced in the conduct of his urgent duties as President.” (Records of the Constitutional Commission, No. 43 (1986), July 30 186, p.44)

    To prove that a serious illness exists, the Petition cites three bundles of fact allegations: first, Duterte’s own public admissions of various illnesses; second, the many unexplained absences of Duterte from the public eye, often on the premise of “resting at home;” and third, on the recent collection of incoherent rambling speeches Duterte has made in relation to COVID-19 and the enhanced community quarantine in effect over Luzon.

    To be fair, let us try to explain these well-known phenomena so as to discount any serious illness.

    The incoherence is easy to explain, and doesn’t require Duterte to have a serious illness. Duterte may just be a blithering idiot who is in way over his head in tackling a deadly pandemic, and so resorts to pandering to his equally blithering base to keep their morale up while people all around them die from Duterte’s sheer incompetence.

    The frequent prolonged absences are also easy to explain. In fact Duterte himself provided an explanation for at least one such absence: he was just at home, binge-watching on Netflix. Long story short, he may just be a lazy bum who, in any other circumstance, would be fired from his job for work avoidance.

    But then we come to the many illnesses that Duterte has admitted to having. De Leon enumerated all of Duterte’s known conditions, and makes a case for each one being a serious illness, based on credible medical references. Will this be enough to at least convince the Supreme Court to give the petition due course?

    It’ll be interesting to see how Malacañang responds, beyond asking the Supreme Court to dismiss it. After all, Duterte did admit to having all these medical conditions, and medical literature does place these conditions well within the scope of “serious illness.” Then again, there is only really one way for Malacañang to handle this without looking like they’re trying to hide something.

    As they are so often fond of saying: if Duterte has nothing to hide, then Duterte has nothing to fear.


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