MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines is not known to shy away from the spotlight. His bombastic speeches and public appearances regularly make headlines in his home country and further afield.
So when the 74-year-old leader went several days without appearing in public, it quickly ignited speculation that he could be seriously ill. This week, news outlets pondered whether he was hospitalized, while citizens exchanged their own theories on social media.
A former aide of Mr. Duterte’s moved to dispel those rumors on Sunday, six days after the leader was last seen, releasing a series of photos showing Mr. Duterte sitting alongside him at a table at Bahay Pangarap, the president’s official residence in Manila.
Several daily newspapers were laid out on the table in front of them, and in one image, Mr. Duterte points to the paper’s headline, suggesting that the photo was taken the same day the photo was sent to local news outlets.
But another day then elapsed without his return to the public eye, and Monday marked a week since Mr. Duterte was last seen.
According to local news outlets, the last sighting of him was when he cast a ballot in the national election on May 13. He appeared upbeat and walked without assistance, and briefly addressed reporters in southern Davao City.
Salvador Panelo, the president’s spokesman, told reporters on Monday that he had spoken with Mr. Duterte by phone and that the president was at his official residence “signing papers.”
“I talked to him yesterday,” he said. “His voice was very strong.” Mr. Panelo added that Duterte laughed off the rumors that he was in the hospital.
“In other words, to him, it’s not a serious matter,” the spokesman said. “Because if it was serious, he always tells the public about it.”
Mr. Panelo said Mr. Duterte has been in Manila since Friday, and has spent the last two days with his family. Mr. Panelo said that when he asked the president about the rumors of a hospital visit, Mr. Duterte told him: “I neither confirm nor deny. You draw your own conclusions.”
Reports of poor health have followed Mr. Duterte for some time. He revealed in October that he made a secret visit to the hospital earlier that year for an endoscopy and colonoscopy.
The tests, according to the presidential palace, were routine as the leader suffers from Barrett’s esophagus — a condition where cells grow abnormally in the esophagus and can sometimes develop into cancer.
Mr. Duterte is known to see doctors at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in Manila, and some news outlets speculated that he was being treated there most recently after patients were quoted by local radio as saying the security there had been unusually tight over the weekend.
A change in Mr. Duterte’s complexion, which has noticeably darkened, has also fueled speculation of illness, though Mr. Duterte dismissed it as sunburn and the natural discoloration of aging.
According to Rappler, a local news outlet that has been monitoring Mr. Duterte’s public appearances, he has been suddenly absent from the public eye without an explanation, at least four other times.
There were rumors earlier this month that Mr. Duterte was ill when he took several days off after an official visit to China, disappearing from April 29 until May 4. Twice in June 2017 he went unseen for several days, and once in February of that year.