PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte skipped the early-morning Independence Day rites at Rizal Park in Manila on Monday.
The Palace said he was not feeling well, while Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the President was tired after receiving the remains of fallen soldiers from Marawi City and condoling with their families late on Sunday.
“The Office of the President wants to convey the message that he (Duterte) won’t be able to come this morning…The President did not give any reason why,” Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters.
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo and Cayetano instead led the wreath-laying and flag-raising rites at the Rizal monument.
“I think the President has some pressing matters to attend to, to address the challenges our country is currently facing,” Abella added.
Cayetano however said he was told the President was not feeling well.
“It’s just that he is not feeling well. So puyat na puyat at pagod [he’s tired from staying up late]. Nothing to worry about,” he told reporters.
The Palace earlier called off the traditional Vin d’Honneur reception for the diplomatic corps, saying the President needed to deal with the crisis in Marawi.
On May 23, Duterte declared martial rule in the entire Mindanao after the Maute terror group attacked Marawi City in Lanao del Sur.
The military earlier announced it was expecting to liberate Marawi City on Independence Day. However, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Eduardo Año on Sunday said troops might need “a few more days” to clear the city of Maute bandits.
On Sunday, Duterte flew to Cagayan de Oro to visit soldiers wounded from clashes in Marawi.
Cayetano said he knew as early as 5:30 a.m. that Duterte was not attending the Independence Day rites.
“I received the call 5:30 this morning and I talked to his people and inquired, they said, ‘No problem, he (Duterte) is okay.’ But, tired and does not feel that well so better to rest,” Cayetano said.
“[H]e didn’t force himself to wake up because it must be hard if you only slept for two to three hours,” he added.
Duterte was supposed to arrive at 8 a.m. to offer a wreath at the Rizal monument, then lead the flag-raising ceremony for the Independence celebration, which carried the theme “Kalayaan 2017: Pagbabagong Sama-Samang Balikatin.”
June 12 was the 119th anniversary of the Filipino declaration of independence from Spain. The country achieved political independence from the United States on July 4, 1946.
Present at Monday’s ceremony were members of the diplomatic corps, including US Ambassador Sung Kim and Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev.
Government officials in attendance included Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, National Historical Commission of the Philippines chairman Rene Escalante and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
Duterte, in his first Independence Day message as President, hailed the people who fought for the country’s freedom “so that we may live with the dignity and rights befitting a free nation.”
“The journey to freedom was a long and arduous one – which our countrymen paid for with blood, sweat and the ultimate act of selfless sacrifice,” the President said.
“Despite the insurmountable hardships, the patriotism and undaunted spirit of the Filipino led to our triumph against the shackles of slavery and abuse,” he added.