A public matter
It was William Shakespeare who wrote (in “Henry IV”) that “a man can die but once; we owe God a death.”
When rumors about his precarious health began to spread, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos blustered that “I have no plans of dying,” or words to that effect.
Of course, no one “plans” to die. The intent is to live for as long as one can, unless for some urgent or unfathomable reason the person decides to cut short one’s earthly existence through suicide. But death strikes when or where or to whom it chooses: at the end of a long lingering illness, in the bloom of life, through an accident or homicide or murder, in war or disaster, and through the slow and punishing effects of abject poverty.
In the case of Marcos, he bravely attempted to keep up appearances, despite suffering from what Filipinos later found was lupus. In one rally during the 1986 snap presidential election, he was carried aloft by supporters even as he could be seen wincing in pain. When, during one public occasion, a stent came undone and blood was seen on a sleeve, he explained away the stain as some spilled “sarsaparilla.” Which, on a side note, was a little strange, because the red-colored drink, popular during Marcos’ youth, was no longer available.
Alas, despite his brave front, Marcos not only passed away but died in exile.
Similar health crises have since bedeviled Marcos’ successors. But none have reached the crescendo of speculation and suspicion that has arisen around the health status of President Duterte.
Even before he announced his decision to run for the highest office, Mr. Duterte had already been subject to news—fake, speculative or factual—that he was in more precarious health than he let on. But to questions about his health which reporters had every right—and duty—to field, Mr. Duterte would alternately dismiss the questions outright, or subject the interrogators to abuse. When one reporter asked about his health status, Mr. Duterte retorted by asking how the male reporter would react if someone asked him if his wife had smelly private parts—a truly unfortunate response of both hostility and misdirection.
But the President’s health is a matter of national concern, as it could affect his capacity for decision-making and clarity of thought, as well as the succession scenario. His state of wellbeing has a direct bearing on the running of the country.
Here is a listing of the health issues that have been linked to the President, most of which he admitted himself: growth/s found during an endoscopy, Buerger’s disease (smoking-related inflammation and thrombosis in small- and medium-sized blood vessels typically in the legs and leading to gangrene), Barrett’s esophagus (a serious complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD), frequent migraines and spinal issues, troubled sleep which necessitates the aid of an oxygen concentrator and the use of fentanyl (a powerful pain reliever) patches.
Clearly, Mr. Duterte is not in the pink of health—far from it. Observers have made it a daily habit to track the signs of the President’s symptoms, most specifically the spread and tinge of dark patches on his face, which many have eyed as signs of illness far more severe and life-threatening than the President lets on.
In the process, the country has been reduced to a nation of ghouls and, in the case of journalists, amateur sleuths and self-appointed medical authorities. Most of what the public knows of the President’s ailments have come from him (or his partner), from the little he has seen fit to admit. We have yet to hear from his team of doctors who could give the public, as part of their professional mandate, a complete and accurate picture of his state of health.
The President protests that his ailments and his prognosis of survival are “private” matters. Yes, if he were a private person. But he is the President of this Republic, and he owes all Filipinos a full and accurate picture of his state of health. It’s a touchy topic for the President, but the majority of Filipinos (61 percent or 6 out of 10, according to a Social Weather Stations survey released this month) believe that his state of health “is a public matter, that is why the public should be informed of everything about this.”
As on all matters of governance, but especially about his health, Mr. Duterte and Malacañang owe the country the unvarnished truth.
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