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Medical Files

Rejoinder to Senator Miriam’s physical fitness to be president

/ 12:30 AM October 24, 2015

We had varied reactions to our commentary last week (“Is Senator Miriam physically fit to run for president?” 10/17/15), which was actually a reiteration of our suggestion several months ago to the Commission on Elections to require all candidates for major positions to submit a medical clearance of physical fitness for the rigors of the campaign and the demands of the position should he/she win (“Medical clearance for candidates?” 5/30/15).

Another physician Sylvia Claudio published an open letter to Sen. Miriam Santiago last Oct. 19 in an online publication requesting the senator to release her medical records so the public may know her real state of health. The senator refused to heed the request citing her “right to privacy.”

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Several groups

Reactions to our commentary last week could be divided into several groups:

FEATURED STORIES

1. One group is taking Senator Miriam’s declaration of complete cure from her stage 4 lung cancer hook, line and sinker; believing she is in great shape now to handle the stress and strain of a presidential run and the presidency should she win. A few even hinted that my column was “politically motivated” to protect another candidate’s interest.

2. Some contend that a medical clearance for presidential candidates is not provided for by the Constitution which only requires the proper age, natural-born citizenship and ten years of residency in the country. Hence, it would be unconstitutional for the Comelec to make it a requirement.

3. Some believe Senator Miriam is really sick with cancer, but is not really serious at waging a national campaign, nor does she believe she would win the elections. But whatever reason she has for running, only she knows.

4. Quite a good number of people think she does not really have stage 4 cancer; hence, no medical specialist would be willing to publicly confirm everything she had said about her “imagined battle with and subsequent victory” over stage 4 cancer, which is well known to have a high death rate with a progressive deterioration in health and marked loss of weight. She even appears to have gained some weight since the time she disclosed in public she had an advanced stage of cancer.

I think Senator Miriam had the sympathy and admiration of the majority when she boldly informed the public that she had lung cancer. She even went to the extent of detailing vividly the extent of her cancer and how the cancer cells were slowly eroding her health and draining her energy, using metaphors which everyone could easily understand. It is therefore difficult to understand now why she refuses to allow an official statement about her medical condition from her medical team or the hospital where she was supposed to have been treated.

If she did not consider her self-disclosure of her lung cancer as a breach to her right to privacy, why will it be considered such now if her medical specialists would be asked to confirm everything she has said about her medical condition and her supposed full recovery?

Voluntary disclosure

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All candidates for a national position must waive their right to privacy and voluntarily disclose information that have bearing on their capability to perform the duties of the position they are aspiring for.

If she could not even report for work in the Senate for health reasons (actually even before she was diagnosed to have stage 4 cancer), how can she assure everyone that she could be expected to report for work regularly and be a full-time, hands-on president should she get elected?

If she’s not in public office, her health condition is her private concern, and no one can demand tp know what she’s sick of, how severe it is and her response to treatment. But since she’s aspiring for the presidency, and her performance could determine the fate of our country and every citizen in it, she owes it to the public to fully disclose through her attending physicians her real medical condition, including medications she’s taking that can affect her judgment and decision-making capability. In fact even if she’s not running for president—since she’s an elected public official—she should also make such full disclosure.

Requirement

Comelec chair Andres Bautista can perhaps compel Senator Miriam and the other candidates to submit a medical clearance or full disclosure of their health condition. If the law requires public officials to submit annually their SALN (statement of assets and liabilities and net worth), the Comelec’s requirement of a full disclosure of whatever significant health conditions candidates may have that could affect their performance should not be considered unconstitutional and a violation of their right to privacy.

This requirement will highlight the dictum that the nation’s interest is way above the individual’s interest. If a candidate believes that his/her individual rights are more important than the national interest, then he/she does not deserve to be elected.

The Comelec is also mandated by the Omnibus Election Code to disallow candidates who do not have the capability to conduct a national campaign. This is a provision to get rid of nuisance or nonserious candidates; and although this is interpreted to refer to the financial capability of the candidate to fund an honest-to-goodness campaign, it can very well be argued that it could also refer to the physical capability of the candidate to stand the rigors of a national campaign.

Regarding the comments of some that she might just be faking her lung cancer, I don’t think anyone in his/her right mind would do that. I was inclined to believe everything Senator Miriam had said regarding her cancer, and joined many who prayed to give her comfort and courage in dealing with such an “unbeatable foe,” which many lung specialists consider stage 4 cancer is. Her recent strong reluctance to disclose officially her medical condition makes me really wonder what she has or does not have.

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TAGS: column, health and science, health fitness, Miriam defensor-santiago, presidency, Rafael Castillo
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