Proof of life | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Proof of life

Contrary to popular belief, proof of life photos are not just for kidnap victims. Seniors claiming SSS, GSIS, or PhilHealth benefits use such photos. Sen. Bong Go posted one recently to prove that the President was in Davao, in pambahay, and not in Singapore for medical treatment over the weekend. In 2019, a photo showing the President watching Netflix at home in Davao was also released, showing newspapers arranged artfully like a fan on the bed for effect. Why are inquiries or speculations on the President’s health met head-on with proof of life photos, cussing, and a dirty finger?

In May 1928, the Philippine Republic reported that Senate President Manuel L. Quezon was in the Pottenger Sanatorium in Monrovia, California “recuperating… from the effects of his recent strenuous speaking campaign in the US.” Suffering from “chest oppression, back pain and fatigue,” Quezon consulted a New York specialist who diagnosed him with tuberculosis of the lungs. At the inauguration of the Quezon Institute in 1938, the Commonwealth president recounted his early battle with TB:


“It was a beautiful day in spring when I entered Dr. Miller’s clinic; the sun was shining bright, and my spirits were high. When I heard the doctor’s pronouncement, I felt the day suddenly darken; my spirits became depressed and my ambitions were shattered. [My notion of tuberculosis then was that anyone who suffered from it was doomed to die.] I passed a sleepless night thinking of the course I should pursue, realizing that death was very near. I thought of my enormous responsibilities to my people, of the task that I had not yet completed. I realized that I was a husband and the father of three children whose future I had relatively neglected. I decided on that eventful night that I must dedicate the remaining days of my life to the work that still remained undone by me as the leader of my people and as the head of a family.”

If Buwan ng Wika had not overshadowed National Tuberculosis Awareness month, schoolchildren would know that before the 1934 Sweepstakes Law was enacted, Quezon put in a provision that 25 percent of its earnings would fund the fight against TB. It was a fight he would lose in 1944. Of his oppressive 1928 “rest cure,” he said:


“…to stay quiet in bed, day in and day out, required all my willpower and determination to get cured. I had fought in the Philippine Revolution and undergone hardships and privation while still a very young man, but I had never endured torture as when I was laid up in bed for six months, not even raising my head. But I knew it was necessary and I patiently endured it.”

In contrast, Elpidio Quirino disappointed those who wished him ill during his medical treatment in the United States from July to August 1953. Quirino was lucid and ran Malacañang remotely from Baltimore as documented in the Official Gazette, which provided a daily account of the President’s day: medical bulletins on the state of his health, all issuances by the executive secretary acting “by authority of the President,” even the text of a speech broadcast from his bedside on July 15. While Quirino was successfully operated on for a stomach ulcer on July 9, he had to undergo a second operation on July 25, to remove an obstruction that had developed at the lower end of his stomach. Discharged after six weeks of bed rest, Quirino made two stops in Washington and Hawaii before flying back to Manila.

The Official Gazette of July 30, 1953, began with a medical bulletin: “The President rested well last night and his condition is satisfactory. He had a period of difficulty yesterday when there was some internal bleeding. He received several blood transfusions after which his blood pressure and pulse returned to normal and remained so through the night. His condition this morning is improved.” Then it was followed by a separate dispatch, to dispel rumors back home that the President was in a coma. Gov. Eliseo Quirino ”stated that the President is responding satisfactorily to all medical aid and treatment, and though physically weak and seriously ill, his spirit is far from depressed and he is conscious all the time.” Next day, Quirino was reported to be cheerful, sorely disappointing those who wished him dead.

History should remind the 75-year-old President and his minders not to be touchy about inquiries into his health. It’s part of the territory and, in case of serious illness, provided for in the Constitution.


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TAGS: Constitution, Elpidio Quirino, History, Manuel Quezon, proof of life, Rodrigo Duterte
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