I’m alive and well.
That pretty much sums up President Rodrigo Duterte’s message to Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison during the former’s Facebook Live session on Monday.
The video, shot by Duterte’s special assistant Christopher “Bong” Go, showed him about to have dinner with a woman he simply introduced as “Vernice.”
According to the Philippine Star, the president was in a hotel in Davao City. ABS-CBN News identified the woman as Frances Veronica “Vernice” Victorio, a former commissioner of the Climate Change Commission.
The video was intended to disprove a Sunday Facebook post by Sison, who had suggested the president may have slipped into a coma. “The latest report (still to be verified or negated) is that Duterte has gone into [a] coma since the afternoon or evening of today, Sunday, August 19. The report is still being verified by the press from the [P]alace,” wrote Sison, who is currently living in exile in the Netherlands.
Duterte’s health is routinely the subject of speculation, something exacerbated by occasionally lengthy stretches out of the public eye. Late last month, rumors spread that the 73-year-old president had been rushed to the hospital, according to the Philippine Star. Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque called the rumors “fake news.”
In the Monday video, Duterte calls Sison by his nickname and says in Filipino: “Joma, my wish for you even if you’re useless is for you to live 1,000 more years, so that you can roam all over the earth.”
He adds in Filipino and English: “I’m alive, fairly healthy. I’m having dinner with a beautiful lady from Davao [Victorio].”
“They say comatose. How can you be comatose with a beautiful lady [beside you]?” he asked. “If I were [in a] coma and saw Vernice, I would get up.”
He then goes on the attack. “You’re the one comatose, you’re the one who’s sick,” he tells Sison in the video. “You’re in and out of hospitals but you don’t pay. You are not paying. You’re abusing the hospitality of the Netherlands.”
Sison has been in exile in Europe since 1987, the year the CPP’s peace talks with the government failed. According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the CPP has been waging one of the longest insurgencies in Asia.
In 2016, Sison expressed hopes that he could return to the Philippines with Duterte in power. Duterte was initially friendly to Sison, but by 2017, the relationship had turned sour. According to the Philippine Star, Sison blamed Duterte’s failure to free all political prisoners for the change in the CPP and government’s relationship.
Duterte’s video on Monday proved there is no love lost between him and the CPP chairman. “Come home and I will bring you to a place, it’s called Bilibid [Prison],” he says to Sison. “There, we will provide you space, a bed, and plenty [of people] to keep you company.”
Duterte’s video has gone viral, with more than 880,000 views and 17,000 shares.
Meanwhile, former president Benigno Aquino III has called on Malacañang to fully disclose the state of Duterte’s health. In an interview with reporters yesterday, he said: “If there’s no issue, they can easily answer those questions. And I think it’s important [to do] to stop people from worrying. So that everything will be clear.”