President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines blew his top on national TV on Tuesday night as he defended himself from criticisms of poor disaster response after two consecutive typhoons hit the country.
In a rambling speech on national TV, Duterte sought to deflect blame and lashed out at Vice President Leni Robredo, accusing the opposition official of undermining him.
In the Philippines, the president and the vice president are elected separately. In the 2016 elections, Robredo ran with an opposition party, beating Duterte’s running mate, Alan Peter Cayetano.
As the death toll from Typhoon Vamco rose to 79 by Tuesday evening, Duterte defended his government’s response to the disaster. He falsely claimed that Robredo had accused him of being missing in action and hurled lewd insults at the vice president.
He said: “What time do you go home at night? Do you go to just one house or two? I’m just asking because you’re with a congressman. In which house do you stay longer?”
The president’s outburst came as the country was recovering from the extensive damages caused by Typhoon Vamco, which flooded parts of the northern island of Luzon immediately after the country was hit with another tropical storm, Typhoon Goni.
When Typhoon Vamco ripped into the country last week, desperate Filipino residents in the storm’s path turned to social media to call for help and questioned the president’s leadership during the disaster.
Duterte said he was participating in a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was held virtually this year due to the pandemic.
"You were lying, you knew I was working," Duterte said in a televised speech, referring to Vice President Robredo. “Do not compete with me and do not start a quarrel.”
The president also threatened to crush Robredo’s presidential bid should she decide to run for the post.
As the president spoke, Filipinos expressed anger online over his remarks, accusing him of dividing a country reeling from the worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia. #DuterteMeltdown began trending on Twitter on Tuesday night.
Robredo was widely praised for her office’s immediate response to the typhoons, organizing rescue efforts and sending out relief packages to the victims. Shunned by Duterte’s government, the vice president organized a separate campaign to respond to the disaster.
She was up all night on Friday coordinating rescue efforts for people who sought help on social media. By Sunday morning, she was the first national government official to arrive in the flood-stricken province of Cagayan.
Duterte also visited the northern region and then flew to another part of the country hit by Typhoon Goni where his public briefing ended with lewd jokes.
Robredo said the president’s Tuesday remarks about her home were “very unpresidential” and “misogynist” and that she was not competing with him.
“In times of disaster, we should all help each other and all assistance should be welcome. This is not a contest and this is not a race. We should work together for our countrymen,” she said in a tweet.
Correction: This story originally said Rodrigo Duterte’s running mate was Ferdinand Marcos Jr. It was Alan Peter Cayetano. We regret the error.