PREDICTABLY, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s latest zinger against his presidential rival Mar Roxas had much of the media and the public in a tizzy. Dared by Roxas to disclose his medical records following news last week that the mayor had canceled his scheduled speaking engagement—ironically before a medical association—and stayed overnight in a hospital after a severe bout of “migraine,” Duterte said he’d do so provided Roxas should first prove he is circumcised. Duterte’s camp would later on try to spin the on-cam statement by saying that what the mayor only meant was, his rival wasn’t “cut out” for the presidency.
The schoolyard taunting was vintage Duterte, and his supporters lapped it up as usual. That the mayor could stick it to his opponents, and twist the knife further, was a reaffirmation for them that this man, indeed, has the cojones to be the savior of a country long gone to seed. Also, more memorable quotes from the mayor, more media mileage, and the self-proclaimed poor candidate from Davao might just prove to be the most astute candidate of them all, effortlessly able to keep himself top of mind in the public consciousness merely by keeping the presidential discourse—if you could even call it that—on the puerile, juvenile side.
Must presidential aspirants reveal their medical status? Should that even be debated on? Any sane voter would want to know, at the very least, whether his/her preferred candidate for the highest position in the land is of sound physical and mental health to take on the enormous burden of running the country 24/7. A person’s health is no longer a private matter exempt from public scrutiny once he/she presumes to want to be the leader of the citizenry, whose collective wellbeing would now rest in part on his/her well-being as well, once he/she is installed in Malacañang.
Disclosing the state of one’s health is an elementary requirement for public officials in other countries. Here, however, candidates merely scoff at it; before Duterte, Miriam Defensor Santiago also laughed off suggestions for her to fully disclose her medical records following her supposed battle with, and eventual triumph over, stage-4 cancer. An illness, lest we forget, that sidelined the senator for a considerable period of time from her duties in the Senate, on top of her “chronic fatigue syndrome” that also forced her, if she is to be believed, from assuming even for a day the post of judge in the International Criminal Court to which she was reportedly elected.
In Duterte’s case, the migraine attack—he would change it later on to “headache and bronchitis”—not only had him staying overnight at Cardinal Santos Medical Center; he also admitted he instructed his operatives to lie and tell the media he was in Davao, supposedly to ward off any media intrusion as he underwent hospital tests. By any standard, that admission should elicit outrage; any other candidate saying, at this point, that they lied to the public to hide their true state of health would be subject to much derision and condemnation.
After all, if a candidate and his lackeys could traffic in falsehoods this early—and be seemingly blasé about it—what bigger untruths will they not feel free to foist to keep the public in the dark once they’ve won the mighty presidency, where even greater stakes are at play?
He may not realize it, but Duterte himself appears to give the game away in a telling follow-up comment that unfortunately got buried in the general hilarity that greeted his salacious broadside against Roxas: “I won’t reveal my medical records,” he reiterated. “Ano ako, tanga (What am I, stupid)?”
Let’s parse that statement. From a political point of view, disclosing his records would only be stupid if it indeed provides something that would be detrimental to his image, that sows doubt in the minds of people, takes votes away from him and provides ammunition to his enemies. Is there? Might there be in the records, in fact, a confirmation that the mayor’s condition is not as benign and temporary as his camp has tried to pass it off? Otherwise, if Duterte has a bill of health as clean as the streets of Davao that he is so proud of, what is there to hide, and why would opening up his medical bulletin be stupid at all?
That goes as well, of course, for the other candidates, whose avowals of fundamental honesty in office must begin with the disclosure of their individual health status. The public cannot live on verbal assurances alone. What are we, stupid?