MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday that medical tests show he doesn’t have cancer, but added that he won’t release a detailed report on his health.
“I’m not yet cancerous so do not be afraid to go near me. I will not contaminate you,” the 73-year-old leader told a journalist in jest during a news conference. When asked if tissue samples taken from him tested negative for cancer, the president nodded.
Interior officer in charge Eduardo Ano earlier told reporters that Duterte announced his test results in a Cabinet meeting Monday night, eliciting applause from top officials. Ano said the president looked well and attended back-to-back meetings Monday.
“We can drink now, really. I’ll give you a run for your money,” Duterte told a journalist. He denied speculation he flew to Hong Kong over the weekend to seek treatment, saying he went there with his family to buy larger clothes because he had gained weight.
Duterte said in a speech last week that he might have cancer and was awaiting test results, adding to growing uncertainty about his health.
Duterte failed to hold a scheduled Cabinet meeting and skipped another ceremony last Wednesday, leading to speculation that he had been hospitalized. His spokesman, Harry Roque, denied that.
Rumors have swirled since last year that Duterte might have a serious illness. Duterte and his aides, however, have given assurances that he’s generally fit, although he had said in recent months that he had grown tired of politics, including deeply entrenched government corruption and the country’s drug problem.
Duterte took office in June 2016 for a six-year term. He is known for his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs, which has drawn international condemnation.
He has said in the past that he has various ailments, including recurring migraines, as a result of a motorcycle accident and drinking. But he said his most serious ailment is Barrett’s esophagus, a condition thought to be caused by stomach acid washing up into the esophagus. That may have been caused by his drinking, which he continued despite warnings from his doctors, he said.
Duterte said he underwent an endoscopy and colonoscopy about a month ago but his doctor was advised recently to repeat the tests. Both tests aim to diagnose any abnormality in the digestive tract and colon.
Roque said Duterte would abide by the country’s constitution, which requires presidents to publicly disclose any serious illness, but he added that since “it is not serious, he will treat his medical condition as confidential.”
Duterte said the Cabinet would decide if a president is “fully incapacitated to discharge the functions of the office.”
The Philippine constitution provides that the vice president, currently opposition leader Leni Robredo, would take over if the president cannot lead the country due to health problems or other reasons.
Duterte has questioned the competence of Robredo, a respected human rights lawyer, to lead the country and has suggested he preferred a military junta to take over in case he is removed from office. Top defense and military officials, however, have said they would follow the political succession specified by the constitution.
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