A high-profile lawmaker in the Philippines has called for transparency from her prison cell over the health of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has taken his fourth consecutive day of leave amid an escalating crisis in the country's south.
Senator Leila De Lima, the former justice minister and Duterte critic who was imprisoned in February on charges of drug trafficking, said the government should promptly inform the public about the 72-year-old President's condition in order to stem rumors and speculation, calling for a full disclosure as "a matter of public interest and national security."
Her call comes as government forces are trying to reclaim the besieged city of Marawi from militants who claim allegiance to the Islamic State.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that De Lima issued a written statement from her cell in a Manila prison. Local news site Rappler reports that several other senators followed suit, citing two other lawmakers' public appeals for answers. Senator Panfilo Lacson said the President's health was "not his or his family's private affair," urging the government to "disclose the current state of health of the President if only to quell any speculation about his health. The public deserves nothing less."
Duterte's spokesperson Ernesto Abella previously told reporters that the President was "just taking some time off to rejuvenate," Agence France-Press reports, though the length of his leave and his absence at several important national events this week have caused concern that his condition could be more serious than Malacañang would let on. Duterte was last seen in public on Sunday, June 11, after visiting soldiers who were injured during the conflict in Marawi City.
Read More: The Battle for Marawi City
Duterte declared martial law in Marawi and the greater Mindanao district at the outset of the conflict. The city has been under siege by militants for weeks, and reports indicate that the death toll in the battle for Marawi is climbing. The conflict has presented the greatest challenge yet for the Duterte government, which assumed power almost one year ago on a populist platform of ridding the country of drugs and developing the economy. Since taking office, Duterte has launched a brutal war on drugs that has killed more than 7,000 alleged dealers and users, courting harsh condemnation from the U.N., most Western governments and human rights advocates.