This year the President has receded from public view thrice: in February for four days, and this month on June 12-16 and again on June 20-27. Two reasons for these absences have been given: rest, and catching up with paperwork. These are valid reasons that shouldn’t provide any cause for alarm. The presidency is an exhausting job. There is the tedium of so much ceremonial, which, however much you trim it, still requires showing up, standing around, shaking hands, making speeches, and answering questions from the press. There are internal meetings, external interactions, a constant procession of people seeking something, and deciding whether to give it or not and when.
I also think people generally tend to underestimate just how much paperwork the presidency involves. The volume tends to surprise presidents who come from a legislative background, but even those with an executive background can be shocked by the sheer number of documents that need to be read, referred to others, or signed. There are times when the paperwork piles up to the extent that presidents need to go into a kind of seclusion just to manage the backlog. And paperwork is tiring work, too.
The President is candid about not being a spring chicken. He himself has disclosed two health conditions, both, by all accounts, unpleasant and even quite painful, but not life-threatening, considering he has also taken basic precautions such as quitting smoking
The first condition is Barrett’s esophagus, which the Mayo Clinic says is when the tissue lining the tube connecting your mouth and esophagus is replaced with tissue similar to the intestinal lining. It’s often found in people who have long-term GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), a chronic regurgitation of acid from your stomach into your esophagus (most people will have heard of “acid reflux,” often associated with stress).
The second condition is Buerger’s disease, which the Mayo Clinic says is a rare disease of the arteries and veins of the arms and legs: The blood vessels become inflamed, swell, and can become blocked with blood clots. There is the risk of damage to skin tissue which in turn can lead to infection and gangrene, requiring, in some cases, amputation of all or part of the affected limb. It’s a disease nearly always associated with smoking, and quitting smoking is the only way to halt its progress.
The President has also often talked about migraines and dizziness, the past use of the powerful pain reliever Fentanyl, and, most recently, using an oxygen concentrator machine to help him sleep at night. Considering his age, the hours he likes to keep, and the stresses and expectations of his position, none of these things is particularly alarming.
Any president of whatever age, but particularly those who are of a certain age, have every reason to rest and buckle down for some desk work.
It’s not as if we haven’t been told what’s going on. The Presidential spokesperson, for one, has kept the public soothingly informed that the President is resting and rejuvenating. Comfortingly, we have been told he is alive, is well, is furthermore in the pink of health, and is being very busy — attending to paperwork because when he is out of the public eye is when he really gets to work.
Other helpful members of the Cabinet have reassured us that the President has spoken to them, and that by doing so has proven his capacity to carry on a two-way conversation. Photos have been provided, of the President scribbling away, complete with a note in neon green ink from Cielo Macapagal-Salgado on his desk, and standing beside a TV set tuned to the news. He then went to Villamor Air Base where, another photo proved to us the next day, the sun was still shining as he saluted the troops, in contrast to the gloom around Bahay Pangarap (renamed Pagbabago). Never mind if the same Villamor photo was released the night before, with the information that it had been taken that morning, before the Bahay Pagbabago photo. These are mere details, fit only for destabilizers.
As the President proved, when he showed up to make two speeches at the height of speculation in his second period out of the public eye, he was very much alive, ambulatory, and abrupt as usual (as his spokesperson had reassured us beforehand and since). This has delighted Sen. Chiz Escudero, who summed up what should be everyone’s opinion at this point. The President, he enthused yesterday, is adjusting appropriately well in office. Like Greta Garbo, that includes being able to say like a superstar, “I want to be alone.”