Palace explains 'sleepy' Duterte's tardiness at PMA graduation

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 27) — Malacañang on Monday once again came to the defense of President Rodrigo Duterte amid criticisms on his punctuality and his seemingly weak and unstable demeanor during the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduation.

The commander-in-chief's tardiness delayed the graduation of the “Mabalasik” Class 2019 on May 26 for two hours. When he was about to board the military jeep called "White Carabao," a seemingly wobbly Duterte had to be assisted by his men who were holding him by his arms.

Duterte's spokesperson gave an explanation.

"He didn't look weak. He looked very sleepy. He was sleepy because the day before he was working. I think he had only less than two hours of sleep. Every person who is lacking sleep appears to be sleepy as he looked the way he did," presidential spokesperson Sal Panelo told CNN Philippines.

He also allayed fears that the 74-year-old president is in poor health, saying Duterte was his "usual alert and assertive" self while he was delivering his less than 10-minute graduation speech. Rumors about his health circulated when he wasn't seen for almost a week after he cast his vote on May 13.

Panelo also defended Duterte's tardiness.

"He was very sleepy, so he wanted to get back to bed to get some power nap since he lacks sleep... As we all know by now, the President is a night person. He sleeps at 6 a.m. The time of the event was supposed to be part of his sleeping time, but he had to force himself to wake up and dress up and attend the event," he said.

Duterte disregarded the PMA tradition of personally distributing the diplomas, a task he has previously taken on. This year, he handed out diplomas to only two of the 261 cadets who were graduating. The rest of the job was relegated to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Related: Defense chief: Duterte 'too sleepy' to distribute PMA diplomas

This is the “first time” throughout PMA’s modern history that the President has delegated this role.

“Tradition na kasi na Commander-in-Chief ang guest at namimigay ng diplomas sa graduates,” a mid-level military officer, who asked not to be named, told CNN Philippines.

In the short speech he delivered before the graduating cadets, Duterte was able to crack another rape joke, which the Palace defended again.

"He is a mischievous man, he wants to make people laugh. And the fact that people laughed at his jokes, they give a hearty laughter, means that they know that this President is joking," Panelo said.

In the middle of pardoning underclassmen of the Philippine Military Academy during their graduation rites Sunday, President Rodrigo Duterte threw in a joke that the cadets were being pardoned for cases such as rape and drug use.

Related: Duterte cracks rape jokes in PMA graduation rites