MANILA — Malacañang defended President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s decision to let Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana distribute most of the diplomas to Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadets during their graduation rites on Sunday.

By practice, the President, who is also commander-in-chief of the military, is delegated the task of distributing diplomas. However, this is the first time Duterte mostly watched from his seat since he assumed office in 2016.

Duterte, who only handed out a diploma to class valedictorian Cadet 1st Class Dionne Mae Umalla, took a seat and let Lorenzana hand out the rest of the diplomas. He stood up again to hand out a diploma to 1st Class Danmark Solomon, goat or lowest-ranked member.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo explained that Duterte only had two hours of sleep prior to the commencement exercises which were supposed to start at 9 a.m. but was delayed due to the President’s late arrival.

“PRRD lacked (sleep) the day before the event, working on papers, reading reports from various departments, and signing papers,” Panelo said in a statement to media.

“He is a night person. He usually sleeps at 6 a.m., he had to wake up at 8:30 a.m. for the PMA graduation rites so he had only two hours sleep,” he added.

Panelo said that the 9 a.m. graduation rites was still part of Duterte’s “sleeping time” which is why he “struggled to be awake.”

He pointed out that Duterte asked Lorenzana to hand out most of the diplomas because he wanted to “reserve” his energy for the graduation rites’ other ceremonial acts.

“The protocol in distributing diplomas is either he does it himself or he tasks the Secretary of National Defense to do it. He opted to let SND did the handing of certificates. He reserved his energy for the other ceremonial acts he had to perform for the graduation rites,” Panelo said.

Panelo, meanwhile, assured the public that despite Duterte’s tardiness and sleepiness during the graduation rites, he was in good health and ready to travel to Japan on Tuesday (May 28) to attend the 25th Nikkei Conference on the Future of Asia on May 30 to 31.

“To the people who wish him to be seriously ill, they will be disappointed. To those who are concerned about his well-being, they should be assured that apart from what he already told the public of what ails him (which is not life-threatening) the President is in good health, robust enough to be travelling to Japan for an official visit upon the invitation of Prime Minister Abe,” Panelo said.

Panelo also defended Duterte’s jokes about offenses made by PMA cadets which included rape, robbery while he was pardoning the outstanding punishments for PMA underclassmen, saying that it is already part of the President’s personality.

“By the time he delivered his speech he was already in his usual, alert, impassioned and assertive self. He made some mischievous remarks to make people laugh. People have been used to his jokes hence his audience always receive them with hearty laughter,” Panelo said.

Duterte is known to crack jokes and use profanities in his speeches. (PNA)

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