Manila: A group of cancer survivors have aired concern over the state of health of President Benigno Aquino III, after he was seen on national television coughing during his recent presidential address.
New Vois Association of the Philippines president, Emer Rojas, noted that Aquino’s two-hour-long speech had been punctuated by episodes of heavy coughing and throat clearing pauses during the leader’s much watched State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday.
Rojas, who speaks through an electronic device attached to his throat after losing his voice box several years ago, said: “It concerns us that this might be due to his smoking habit. I am not a doctor but we all know that smoking causes respiratory problems. We need a healthy president so that he can continue his programmes for health including tobacco control initiatives.”
The coughing episode during the Sona was not the first for the President.
Rojas, who gives speeches around the world as a Global Cancer Ambassador, said he had lost his larynx to cancer because of his smoking habit.
“In fairness to the president, he coughed less this time compared to last year’s Sona. We still admire him for his political will to support health over tobacco even if he admits being a smoker,” added Rojas.
The 53-year-old President’s health has long been a concern for most Filipinos.
However, other than smoking, the bachelor has no known vices although he has never appeared in videos or photographs doing exercise routines, as other Philippine leaders before him, such as President Fidel Ramos or the now-hospital confined/detained Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did.
Rojas said that since 2010, when he was still campaigning for the presidency, health advocates have been urging Aquino to stop smoking but the President repeatedly refused to heed the appeals.
Other than posing a danger to his own health, what also concerns groups like New Vois is the poor example he is showing to other Filipinos.
“We don’t only have high volumes of tobacco consumption but we also have a huge number of children addicted to nicotine with more than one in four kids aged 13-15 years old already smoking,” said Rojas.
President Aquino’s family has a history of cancer. His mother, Corazon, who was also a President, died from colon cancer.
His father Benigno Jr, was known to have coronary disease and had a heart attack several years before his assassination in August 1983.
Dr Leo Olarte, head of the country’s biggest group of doctors said the President’s state of health is a national concern. He recommended that Aquino undergo regular physical examinations and the results be made public to allay concerns.
“We urge him to immediately consult his physician so that the country can be assured that our President is in good condition to perform his job as mandated by our people,” Olarte, head of the Philippine Medical Association, was quoted as saying.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Aquino’s frequent coughing during the Sona did not necessarily indicate that he is in poor health condition.
“The President is in good condition,” he said.