Her womb and other Lenten thoughts
Former President Joseph Estrada, accused of plunder, had a problem with his knees and he was allowed to fly to Hong Kong for surgery. There were concerns about his not returning and facing the charges against him. But he did return, resumed house arrest in his Tanay rest house, was convicted, and was quickly pardoned by his successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,
Toward the end of her 10-year presidency, Arroyo developed a life-threatening, potentially disabling condition involving her cervical spine. Also accused of plunder and under hospital arrest, she had undergone very delicate operations. Arroyo’s attempt to leave the country while in a wheelchair was dramatically foiled at the airport by the Department of Justice. Now a congresswoman representing the second district of Pampanga, she is detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.
In contrast to these two former presidents who bared their infirmities in order to receive humanitarian treatment, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos kept his health issues under wraps. There was no danger of flight on his part as he clung tight to this woebegone country. In fact, being flown out of the country he had ruled with an iron first for almost two decades and forced into exile were not severe enough punishments.
When Marcos was rumored to be ailing toward the end of his rule, he was never seen in a wheelchair. Only after he was deposed through people power were the rumors confirmed. The medical contraptions found in Malacañang confirmed the reports about “the autumn of the patriarch.”
The wheelchair has become the subject of jokes, the symbol of flight, the refuge of the accused. Confinement in posh health centers are preferred by high-profile detainees with deep pockets. They present their medical test results in the hope that they would not be thrown into crowded, malodorous city jails and suffer the company of common criminals. As if they are not so common themselves.
Soaring blood pressure, low/high blood sugar level, erratic pulse rate, skin irritations and bleeding ulcers are common excuses to seek hospital refuge. Of course. These conditions are natural consequences of stress and discomfort behind bars, not to mention torment from guilty consciences.
Although not a ranking official of the republic, celebrity jailbird Janet Lim-Napoles has recently availed herself of a prison pass from her Fort Santo Domingo confinement to go to a hospital for what government doctors described as a non-life-threatening condition: some growths in her uterus that, according to Napoles, have caused her pain and bleeding.
Often called the mastermind of the multibillion-peso scam involving some lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund that was diverted to dubious nongovernment organizations she had set up, with the alleged connivance of the lawmakers themselves, Napoles has pleaded for immediate medical attention. After much haggling on the medical merits of her case, she was seen by doctors of her choice. She was to have her surgery at the government-run Ospital ng Makati and not in her hospital of choice, the posh St. Luke’s Medical Center in Global City in Taguig, but she will have her St. Luke’s doctors to attend to her.
The entire thing was short of dizzying, what with so much media attention on her comings and goings and the regular medical bulletins. But Napoles, while still under heavy guard, neither entered the hospital in the much-spoofed wheelchair nor wore the heavy bulletproof vest that she had on at a Senate hearing.
Her being the alleged “brain” of the pork barrel scam has been set aside for now. Under the surgical light and the media glare is her womb or, to be more clinical, her uterus. But what of this woman’s womb? Should we really care about the type of uterine fibroids found, benign or malignant? Should we really care about the condition of her ovaries, her fallopian tubes, the lining of her uterus, her blood type, her blood pressure, etc.? Should the media be compelled to keep vigil? Should hospital authorities continue to hold press conferences, as they have in the past days, on the state of Napoles’ womb?
The removal of a uterus (hysterectomy) and other organs in the reproductive system is one of the most common surgeries performed on women. If the concern is about Napoles’ surviving surgery, which is not anywhere as risky as that of detainee Arroyo’s, so that she will continue to live and be fit to face charges, then there is reason to monitor Napoles’ recovery—and to keep asking when she will be returned to her detention cell. But do we really need to know, and do the doctors really need to tell us, how many stitches she has on her abdomen?
Reflecting on another plane, a woman’s womb is not like any other part of her body. It not only sets her apart from the male of the species, it is also a sacred space where life begins and grows. All of us were inside a womb at one time. No one has yet grown full term in a Petri dish. Battles are now being waged for power over women’s wombs. The womb is extolled in the “Hail Mary” in English, Latin (ventris) and Spanish (vientre). No mention of womb in the Filipino “Aba Ginoong (masculine) Maria.”
Which brings me to our Lenten gathering last weekend where we reflected on the womb-to-tomb-and-beyond scenario, dubbed “We found the Santo Niño in the manger. Will the Nazarene find us beneath the cross?” and with Fr. Wilfredo Dulay of the Missionaries of Jesus officiating. Mary was there from start to finish. Are we anywhere near the suffering of the people?
Have an enriching Holy Week ahead.
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