Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday he was visiting Israel and Jordan to personally check on tens of thousands of Filipinos there, contrary to claims from critics that he was travelling there to seek medical treatment.
Duterte said he was also taking retiring members of the military and police on the trip as a reward for their service.
"I would be going there with some of the retiring military and police officers. That is my gift to them for serving the country well," he told reporters when asked about the trip. "We will practise shooting in Sinai."
"I'm there because of the 28,000 Filipinos, and it's getting hotter there," he said. "And also in the Lebanese front, there is something abrewing there. And in Jordan, we have 48,000 Filipinos."
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, a former special envoy to the Middle East, would be joining the trip to discuss contingencies for the Filipino community, Duterte added.
"And then I can have my stomach open, my chest open and my brain," joked the president, who has been dogged by rumours about his health since he assumed the role in 2016.
Duterte will be the first Philippine president to visit Israel since diplomatic relations were established between the two countries 61 years ago. He will embark on the trip from Sunday to September 5.
Duterte is expected to have meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, business leaders and the Filipino community during the visit. He will visit Jordan on his way back to the Philippines.
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