'Sinadya ko 'yun': Duterte explains absence from public eye amid increasing COVID-19 infections

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 12) – President Rodrigo Duterte explained his two-week absence from the public eye as he addressed the nation on Monday on the government's pandemic response.

"Noong nawala ako ng ilang araw, talagang sinadya ko 'yun. Ganoon ako eh, kapag kinakalkal mo ako, lalo ako 'yung...parang bata. 'Pag lalo mo akong kinakantiyawan, mas lalo akong gagana," said Duterte.

[Translation: When I was gone for a few days, it was really intentional. I'm like that, when you push me to come out, I become even more...like a child. The more you tease me, the more I'm motivated to work.]

Duterte last made a public appearance on March 29 during his weekly national address. BGen. Jesus Durante III, commander of the Presidential Security Group, told CNN Philippines last Thursday that he recommended the deferment of the President's activities for the week due to the alarming rise in COVID-19 cases among PSG personnel.

He dropped out of the public eye as Metro Manila and nearby provinces were placed under enhanced community quarantine and as the country continued to tally record-high daily COVID-19 infections.

Social media was abuzz with criticisms over the President's absence and apparent inaction over the past week, with many raising concerns about his health. To disprove speculations, Duterte's former aide Sen. Bong Go posted on social media photos and videos of him performing different activities over the weekend, including golfing, jogging and riding a motorcycle.

Duterte stressed there is nothing wrong with enjoying his hobbies during nighttime, as he was not indulging them on government time.

"Kaya ako nakaka-swing ng golf (club), tapos nagmo-motor, kasi kaya ko pa. The problem is you should look into the time I enjoy my hobbies. Gabi 'yun, ano ba naman. Sa araw makita mo ako nag-golf...sabihin may problema," he said.

[Translation: I play golf and ride the motorcycle, because I still can. The problem is you should look into the time I enjoy my hobbies. I do them at night. If I do them during the day, you will also see something wrong with it.]

During Monday's address, the President said he should be allowed to go back to Davao City on a regular basis because it is his "home."

"The people must know that I am a resident of Davao City. I never pretended to be a resident of Sampaloc or Sta. Ana," said Duterte, referring to Manila's two districts. The Sampaloc district is where Malacañang, the official residence and workplace of the President, is located.

"If I want to go home there (Davao City) on reasonable basis. I can because that is my home. 'Yung pamasahe ko, hindi naman sa gobyerno (My airfare is not from government funds). I go home just to be there and come back the following day," Duterte added.

Duterte also said he missed the birthday of her daughter Veronica because he was signing agriculture-related papers. He then commented on the country's food supply issues.

"I was really working on the papers to try to find out if it's not…in accordance with law. It must be lawful and we have to intrude into so many things. But in times of crisis, we are just about really ready to embark on something that can help the people, especially in the food issue," said Duterte.

The President warned critics amid rumors of his failing health.

"If you want me to die early, you must pray harder," Duterte said.

The country reached a grim milestone on Monday as the total deaths due to COVID-19 breached 15,000, as the Department of Health reported for the fourth consecutive day over 200 new deaths from the virus. A total of 11,378 infections were added as the total tally increased to 876,225, of which 157,451 or 18% are active cases.