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Chill, guys

Regarding the supposed disappearance of President Rodrigo Duterte, one of the most laughable of statements was made yesterday by detained Senator Leila de Lima. The senator said Malacañan Palace has “a moral obligation” to tell the public about the true state of the health of Duterte, who has not been seen in public since Sunday.

The words “moral” and “De Lima,” of course, have not been seen in one sentence in a long time, either. Among the many accusations hurled against the senator, after all, concerns her having relations with her longtime driver-bodyguard, the much-married Ronnie Dayan.

But I would caution the opposition not to be too shrill in its demand for Duterte to show himself. They are only revealing how much they want to believe the fantasy they created about Duterte being sick and probably dying, in order for Vice President Leni Robredo to take over the reins of the government.

Indeed, there has been no evidence so far that Duterte is dead or about to die, no matter how much such a situation appeals to his critics. Until there is a real reason for anyone to worry, I suggest that the anti-Dutertes calm down and chill.

Duterte’s predecessor, after all, also disappeared for extended periods, giving no explanation upon his return apart from requiring some “private time.” Of course, Noynoy Aquino is not nearly as old as Duterte, who, at 72, is the oldest president we’ve had; and Noynoy was only suspected of fooling around with his PlayStation game console for days on end when he would suddenly disappear from public view.

Since his election to the presidency last year, Duterte has proven to be as work-obsessed as he was when he was still the do-everything mayor of Davao City. He has not given any inkling that he would be engaged in some extended goofing off on the job like Noynoy used to do.

In all likelihood, Duterte has merely decided to stay away from the public eye in order to quietly resolve the Marawi City crisis once and for all. I would not be surprised if the president reappears with some excellent news in that regard, since he has always declared that he will not allow Marawi or any part of the country to fall into the hands of terrorists like those who attacked the city.

Of course, when Duterte does show himself once again, the people who wished he had fallen seriously ill or died will only look for something else to intrigue him with. And Duterte will once again thumb his nose at them by making them look like the power-hungry fools that they really are.

* * *

Meanwhile, the squabbling over the national budget late last year has borne fruit in an unlikely way, in the form of free tuition for medical-school students in eight state universities and colleges. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the schools that will offer cash grants to students enrolled in their medicine programs this year are the University of Northern Philippines, Mariano Marcos State University, Cagayan State University, Bicol University, Western Visayas State University, University of the Philippines-Leyte, Mindanao State University and the University of the Philippines-Manila.

The financial assistance is “intended for new and continuing medical students who will be enrolling for academic year 2017 to 2018,” Abella said. The program will be funded through P317.1 million “built-in appropriations” totaling P39 million for each school.

The windfall for medical school students in public universities was the result of the diversion of P8.3 billion in funds allocated by the House to the Department of Public Works and Highways to provide for development projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The Senate protested the outlay, accusing the House of attempting to use the money as a pork-barrel fund, and insisted that it be given to the Commission on Higher Education instead.

It was pointed out to the House that the ARMM, as an autonomous region, already had its own public works budget and did not need additional funding for infrastructure from the national government. During the bicameral conference committee hearings on the 2017 budget, the first full-year outlay of the Duterte administration, congressmen eventually agreed to use the money to fund a free tuition scheme in state universities and colleges.

A joint memorandum signed between the Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Budget and Management said the assistance program will give a student-grantee a 100-percent tuition subsidy with few strings attached, specifying only that the student must be currently enrolled, maintain passing grades and carry a full academic load for the year. Beneficiaries must also sign an agreement that binds them to serve as doctors in national or local government hospitals or as “doctors to the barrios” equivalent to one year for every year that they receive a subsidy.

Of course, there’s no telling if the program will continue in the years to come, or even just for next year. Congress will have to decide whether the subsidy will become a permanent program when deliberations on the next national budget start.

But at least the ARMM infrastructure funds didn’t end up lining some congressmen’s pockets. That’s already a huge improvement, right there.

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , Senator Leila de Lima , Malacañan Palace , Duterte's health
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