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Duterte seriously ill? SC says petitioner's claim 'unsubstantiated'

The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that a lawyer's allegation that President Rodrigo Duterte is seriously ill was based on conjectures and unsubstantiated.

The SC threw out lawyer Dino De Leon's petition which asked for Malacañang to be compelled to disclose the president's health records in May but released the resolution only on Wednesday.

"Based on the allegations in the petition itself, petitioner failed to establish the existence of a clear legal right that was violated, or that he is entitled to the writ of mandamus prayed for," the SC said in a seven-page resolution.

De Leon had filed a petition for mandamus asking that the Office of the President be ordered to disclose Duterte's health records since he assumed office. He alleged that Duterte had been absent from engagements for health reasons, had "prolonged absences" from the public view, and appeared incoherent in COVID-19 public addresses.

He also cited the president's several illnesses, such as Buerger's disease, Barrett's esophagus, gastroesophageal reflux disease, spinal issues, daily migraines, and myasthenia gravis.

Section 12, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution requires the disclosure of the state of the president's health in case of "serious illness."

"After a punctilious evaluation of the petition, the Court finds that the averments and arguments in the petition failed to establish a prima facie case for mandamus, i.e., that the reliefs sought constitute ministerial duties on the part of respondents, and that there is a clear legal right on petitioner's part to demand the performance of these ministerial duties," the SC said.

The court said De Leon himself cited the deliberations of the 1986 Constitutional Commission where it was expressed that the state of the president's health "should be left to the President and his doctor" and that "the burden [is left] to the Office of the President to choose the appropriate means of releasing information to the public."

As to De Leon's claims of Duterte's illnesses, the SC said these were "merely based on what he perceived from the online news articles discussing the President's illnesses."

The SC said it has consistently characterized such articles as hearsay evidence.

The SC said Duterte's holding of regular Cabinet meetings belies De Leon's claim that he is suffering from serious illnesses.

"Further, the President's regular televised addresses to the nation as regards the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic show that the President has been actively performing his official duties," the court said.

"Apparently, petitioner's allegation that the President is seriously ill is unsubstantiated and is based merely on petitioner's surmises and conjectures regarding his perception of the declining health of the President," it added.

The SC dismissed De Leon's petition without requiring the Office of the President to comment.

Only two justices -- Marvic Leonen and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa -- dissented and said Malacañang should have first been required to comment.

In his dissenting opinion, Leonen said the case concerns a constitutional provision that had never been brought before the court. "As such, this Court should not pass upon this opportunity," he said.

Leonen said De Leon had enough allegations "to raise a reasonable concern about the president's true state of health."

He said the court's finding that De Leon failed to establish a legal right is effectively the court making an argument "that should have been raised by the respondents."

"Such a posture is procedurally unacceptable and may leave an impression that the Bench has lost its independence," he said.

He said he believes the outright dismissal is "highly irregular and constitutes a failure to carry out our responsibility to properly and accurately interpret Article VII, Section 12 of our Constitution in relation to the sovereign's right to information on their government's capability to represent them."

For his part, Caguioa said the court's refusal to order Malacañang to file a comment "unnecessarily and unfortunately impacts on the public's perception of the Court's impartiality."

He said the wording of Section 12, Article VII of the Constitution and the intention of the framers "imposes a positive duty and recognizes the right of the public to be informed."

"To interpret the deliberations of the 1986 Constitutional Commission as a grant to the President of the absolute choice between divulging and concealing a serious illness and, by extension, the state of the President's well-being, defeats the purpose of the provision and renders it wholly ineffective if not completely inutile," Caguioa said.

"This is a dangerous path which should not be taken," he said. -NB, GMA News