Philippines' Duterte reappears in public, dismisses rumours of health problems

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FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during his fourth State of the Nation address

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reappeared in public on Monday after an absence of nearly two weeks which had fuelled concerns about his health that the government insists are unfounded.

The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals in the capital Manila overwhelmed amid record daily infections, while authorities face delays in delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

Duterte, who is 76 and has not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, resumed his weekly televised address, during which he dismissed rumours that he was in declining health and that the government was trying to keep his condition under wraps.

"If you are saying that I have a sickness that would prevent me from exercising the powers of the presidency, there's none," he said, in response to the concerns.

Duterte last appeared on television on March 29. He cancelled his address scheduled on April 7 to minimise his exposure as there had been an increase in active cases of COVID-19 among his staff, including some of his security detail.

To prove Duterte was well, his closest aide, Christopher "Bong" Go, a senator, posted images on social media of the president playing golf, riding a motorcycle and jogging in the presidential palace over the weekend.

"The reason I can swing (a golf club) and ride the motorcycle is because I still can," said Duterte, whose known ailments include back problems, migraines due to nerve damage after a motorcycle accident, Barrett's oesophagus, which impacts his throat, and Buerger's disease, caused by his heavy smoking.

His government is facing renewed criticism over its handling of the pandemic after a surge in COVID-19 infections that forced authorities to reimpose stricter curbs in the region of Manila and in nearby provinces for two weeks. The restrictions will be eased from April 12.

The Philippines has recorded more than 876,000 COVID-19 cases and over 15,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Duterte said he was willing to give his own vaccination slot to someone who needed it more.

"If anyone wants to have it, they can have it," Duterte said

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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