Marcos, wife develop flu-like symptoms, cancel luncheon with journalists

Jojo Riñoza and Gerard Carreon
Marcos, wife develop flu-like symptoms, cancel luncheon with journalists Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his wife, Liza Araneta Marcos, arrive in Melbourne for the ASEAN Special Summit, March 3, 2024.
Wayne Taylor, ASEAN/Australian Government via AP

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. canceled a Thursday forum scheduled with journalists following his doctor’s advice after he and his wife developed flu-like symptoms, but some observers called it an excuse to avoid tough questions from reporters.

Marcos was supposed to appear before the annual Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) luncheon with the president scheduled for Thursday – his first appearance with the group since being elected in 2022. 

The cancellation occurred a few weeks after his visit to Australia, when an Australian anchorwoman, during a sit-down interview, grilled him with questions about his late namesake father’s dictatorial rule and the billions of U.S. dollars that the Marcos family had plundered from the Filipino people.

During his presidential campaign, Filipino journalists had criticized Marcos Jr. as the least open and inaccessible of the candidates.

Preparations for the FOCAP event were finished Wednesday night, including sending invitations to foreign diplomats and dignitaries. Then, the Presidential Communications Office announced that Marcos and his wife, Liza Araneta Marcos, were under medical observation. 

“The president and the first lady continue to experience flu-like symptoms but with improvements, maintaining stable vital signs,” the office said Thursday. “They are advised to continue medications, rest and hydration for full recovery.” 

Marcos was working in his residence “handling correspondence and directives within medical advice,” the advisory said. “He anticipates resuming full public engagements soon, per his physician’s clearance.” 

The couple were said to have developed the symptoms after traveling to Europe last week and hosting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, when they discussed American support for its Southeast Asian ally in the South China Sea. They also finalized Marcos’ April trip to Washington, where he was expected to take part in a three-way summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to solidify an alliance.  

In canceling the meeting with FOCAP, Marcos’ communications team said the event would occur another time, but did not say when. 

“The Presidential Communications Office is in constant communication with the FOCAP board to have the event rescheduled to a future date,” communications secretary Cheloy Garafil said.  

But some foreign correspondents in Manila were not easily swayed, with one saying that Marcos would “rather talk to journalists who don’t wander off the reservation” and simply ask safe questions.

Marcos has repeatedly promised that media rights would be protected under his administration, after a campaign for the presidency two years ago where journalists had complained of repeated harassment, intimidation and disinformation by pro-Marcos forces.

FOCAP, which includes reporters working for some of the Western media’s leading news agencies, had complained then that several members had faced intimidation while reporting on Marcos.

The organization expressed “grave concern” over alleged harassment and warned then that free speech was under threat during Marcos’ presidency, adding at least two FOCAP members were targets of online attacks from supporters during the campaign. 

FOCAP was founded when Marcos’ father and namesake declared martial law in 1972. 

‘Everything was taken from us’

During her interview with Marcos for ABC News (Australia) in early March, Sarah Ferguson rebuked the Philippine president when he laughed nervously as he reacted to a question from her about his father’s notorious corruption.  

A Philippine government agency has tried to recover up to $10 billion plundered by the president’s father, dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, during his two decades in power.

Toward the end of a 16-minute interview, Ferguson asked Marcos, “why wouldn’t you want all of that money back in the hands of the Filipino people?”

His response started with a laugh.

“May I ask you why that’s funny,” she asked.

“I take exception to many of the assertions that have been made,” Marcos responded.

He went on to say that cases had been filed “against me, my family, the estate,” and the “assertions were shown to be untrue.”

Ferguson did not back down, telling Marcos that 5 billion had been recovered – but did not say if that was in Philippine pesos or Australian or U.S. dollars.

“Everything was taken from us. We had nothing left,” Marcos said.

He went on to say that an “actual true investigation” showed claims against his family were “propaganda.”

Ferguson also asked him, “How do you resist the impulse to authoritarianism?”

“I have no impulses to authoritarianism whatseover,” Marcos said, adding that the Philippines had a “good system going” and a constitution that has worked for the past 36 years, although his administration hoped to make some changes to the charter.

“No, I have not felt any tug or temptation to make it a more authoritarian system.”


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