UPDATED: Duterte threatens to slap columnist for writing about his health issues

President Rodrigo Duterte in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan yesterday. Photo: Screenshot from Radio Television Malacañang’s video
President Rodrigo Duterte in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan yesterday. Photo: Screenshot from Radio Television Malacañang’s video

(UPDATED), 1st UPDATE. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte just threatened someone with physical assault.

Duterte yesterday slammed former senator and columnist Francisco Tatad for allegedly spreading rumors about his health. Duterte criticized Tatad during a speech at the kick-off rally of his political party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas Ng Bayan in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

After railing against communists, Duterte changed the topic and suddenly mentioned Tatad. “This Tatad. Just [a fine line between] press freedom and disrespecting a person. When I see you, avoid me. I will slap you.

“He made a joke, ‘Duterte has cancer,'” he said.

On Monday, Tatad wrote in his Manila Times column that according to two sources, the President allegedly had a kidney transplant on Jan 29. One source told Tatad that the alleged transplant happened at Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan, Metro Manila.

Tatad’s other source had different information. He told him that the alleged transplant occurred on the same day at a hospital in Davao City, Duterte’s hometown.

That wasn’t the first time Tatad wrote about Duterte’s health. In a January 2017 column in the same newspaper, he alleged that the president flew to China to visit his doctors at the Fuda Cancer Hospital in Guangzhou. Tatad said, however, that he couldn’t confirm the veracity of that rumor.

In an interview with the TV program News To Go today, however, Tatad denied saying that Duterte had cancer. He also told the president not to rely on information that was being fed to him.

In his speech, Duterte said that it was Tatad who was suffering from health problems.

“Son of a b*tch, you’re the one who has diabetes. That’s why you can’t do this anymore,” Duterte said, and he hit the microphone repeatedly with one finger.

Among Filipinos, the act of hitting at a surface with one finger is generally understood to mean having sex.

“That’s a violation of press freedom,” Duterte railed. “What you said is disrespectful. Are you married or not? Let me borrow [your wife]. You son of a b*tch.”

Duterte’s health has always been the subject of much speculation, due to his tendency to disappear from public view for days. Rumors about his ill health also spread due to his darkened complexion, which he jested in October was caused by “karma.

Prior to that, Duterte said his complexion changed because he used his partner Honeylet Avanceña’s skin cream which he said burned his skin.

Duterte’s threat to Tatad came after widespread criticism that the government is stifling press freedom. Duterte has repeatedly said in public that he would block the renewal of TV network ABS-CBN’s license when it expires in 2020.

It doesn’t end there. Journalist Maria Ressa, the chief executive officer of news website Rappler, is facing several tax evasion charges filed against her by the government, as well as a cyber libel charge filed against her by businessman Wilfredo Keng.

Duterte denied he knows Keng personally but observers have accused the Philippine government of bending the law in order to charge Rappler, which has been critical of the Duterte administration.

In January, Duterte called Rappler “a fake news outlet” after it published a report that alleged his long-time assistant, Christopher “Bong” Go, got involved in the selection of the Philippine Navy’s suppliers, a multi-billion peso project.

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