PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that he might not “be around” until the end of his term, and that, after winning the presidency at 71, he had found out late in the day that “I don’t need it at my age”.
The previous day he had told a gathering of business leaders in the Philippines that he suffered from back pains, migraines and Buerger’s disease, a cause of blockages in the blood vessels, associated with smoking during his youth.
On Tuesday, Duterte told a cheering crowd of a few thousand expatriate Filipinos in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh: “I am old ... This is my last hurrah — after this, 77 — I am not sure if I will still be around by the end of my term.”
Duterte, who will be 77 at the end of his six-year term in 2022, is the oldest person to be elected president in the Philippines since the post-war period.
He added that he had “found out very late” that he did not need the presidency at his age.
“It’s not a question of having regrets, none at all, because I entered into it,” he said, before adding:
“I realize now - I do not need it at this time of my life. But I tell you, I take pleasure at the end of the day, that’s the only consolation, I have a job, I am doing something right.”
Duterte had told the business leaders on Monday that he had no fear of being removed from power or assassinated because of opposition to the rising death toll in his anti-drugs campaign.
Since July 1, about 5,000 people have died in his crackdown, a key plank of his May election campaign. Police say 2,004 have been killed by officers in self-defence, with another 3,060 killings “under investigation”.
“Oust me - good; assassinate me - better; I have this migraine every day,” he said. “I have a lot of issues with my spine. What I have is really Buerger’s disease. It’s an acquired thing that you get from smoking, because of nicotine.”
Doctors had advised surgery on his spine, he said, but his wife, a nurse who used to work in the United States, did not agree because “a lot of operations for the spine went wrong”.
He added: “If you guys see me always in a sad mood, I am actually pushing a nerve here to relieve the pain,” and touched the right side of his face.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the health issues had not affected Duterte’s work, dismissing the remarks as “Nothing serious”. Duterte no longer smokes or drinks alcohol.
But Duterte missed some events during meetings of the ASEAN grouping of South East Asian nations in Laos in September and last month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru, due to migraine attacks and a bad stomach.
Duterte on Tuesday announced the distribution of 2 billion pesos’ ($40 million) worth of medicines to poor families afflicted by illness, and to drug-dependent individuals at rehabilitation centers.
He told drug users to stay indoors or face arrest.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila and Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Editing by Kevin Liffey