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Duterte delegates distribution of diplomas; Palace says President ‘struggled to be awake’

President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday deviated from the traditional practice of personally handing out diplomas to graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).

Duterte, the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, delegated this function for the first time to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who distributed the diplomas to most of the 261 members of the PMA Mabalasik Class of 2019 during the graduation rites held at Fort del Pilar in Baguio City.

The President arrived nearly two hours late to the event which was supposed to begin at 9 a.m.

Explaining Duterte’s actions, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Monday said the President only had two hours of sleep before the graduation.

“President Duterte lacked sleep the day before the event, working on papers, reading reports from various departments, and signing papers,” Panelo said in a message to reporters.

“He usually sleeps at 6 a.m. He had to wake up at 8:30 a.m. for the PMA graduation rites so he had only two hours of sleep. The event at 9 a.m. was part of his sleeping time. He is a night person. He was so sleepy when he arrived at the venue. He struggled to be awake.”

According to Panelo, Duterte “did not have the heart” to ask the PMA to move the graduation ceremony in the afternoon “not wanting to spoil the excitement of the participants and their parents.”

Panelo said the protocol in distributing diplomas is “either he does it himself or he tasks the Secretary of National Defense to do it.” He said the delegation of task was not unusual nor a violation of any rule or law.

“He opted to let SND [Lorenzana] did the handing of certificates. He reserved his energy for the other ceremonial acts he had to perform for the graduation rites,” he said, adding the diploma distribution would have required Duterte to stay on his feet for two hours.

He gave the last ranking cadet Danmark Solomon a caliber .45 gun and his watch to cadet Albert Jalaguit.

The President also delivered a short address and pardoned the outstanding punishments for PMA underclassmen.

“By the time he delivered his speech he was already in his usual alert, impassioned and assertive self,” Panelo said.

Panelo then rejected speculations that the 74-year-old President appeared weak during the ceremony.

“To the people who wish him to be seriously ill, they will be disappointed,” he said.

“To those who are concerned about his well being, they should be assured that apart from what he already told the public of what ails him (which is not life threatening) the President is in good health, robust enough to be traveling to Japan for an official visit upon the invitation of Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe,” Panelo added.

Duterte will fly to Tokyo on Tuesday to hold talks with Abe and attend the 25th Nikkei Conference on the Future of Asia. It will be Duterte’s third visit to Japan since assuming office in June 2016.

Duterte’s health became subject of speculation recently after rumors circulated that he had a heart attack and that he was confined at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City.

The Palace, however, said Duterte was upbeat and strong. Duterte made his first public appearance after eight days on May 21 when he met the ambassador of Thailand in Malacañang. — RSJ, GMA News