Thursday, February 25, 2016
It was supposed to be a night like no other night for Miriam Defensor Santiago (MDS), the night she was to immerse above all the other presidential aspirants. Like millions of Filipinos on that day, I too sat in wide-eyed lumps before my television set hoping to watch, who, among them could draw Excalibur faster from its scabbard than Miriam Defensor Santiago can. Or so I thought. Or so I remembered. As all have witnessed, last Sunday’s performance was MDS record low.
As an aficionado, I was pained to watch her riposte even the simplest questions which she could have easily waded off during her healthier years. In so many occasions, her voice was weak, with little hoarseness in it. I felt her words exiting in crutches which naturally force a look-see of her faltering health. Ah, if only this were 1992, young MDS could have walloped them with her sharp and staccato delivery, with her wit that cuts through and through that could hit right at little Grace's messianic jugular.
Unfortunately, MDS could not turn the political clock back. The “Miriam Phenomenon” that had once mesmerized a groping nation is all in the past now and all she needs now is a miracle, a major miracle, not only to get back to the days when she was in tip-top shape to mount a nationwide campaign, but also to run the government, in case.
True that there is no law that disqualifies a candidate for public office on the sole reason of health, and here in MDS’ case, to have been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer but MDS’ medical condition calls for a deeper concern –that which puts the country at great risk. If a candidate with serious health issues gets elected as president and eventually fell ill to the point that he/she can no longer effectively carry out the functions of the office, what is there to do? Well, if the president’s health fails, the Constitution mandates that the system can fall back on the “spare tire,” the vice president. The dilemma actually lies not in the eventual deterioration or demise of the president but of the kind of “spare tire” we have. What happens when the vice president is not exactly what you would want for president?
A concerned citizen once demanded MDS to publicly disclose her medical records which could have been her opportunity to dispel any doubts about her illness. And yet to this day, MDS refuses to take the challenge head on. Instead, she reiterated her claim that she is completely free from cancer and that she is well within her rights not to disclose her medical records for this would violate her right to privacy. She is a renowned constitutionalist alright, but I beg to disagree. I submit, however, that a citizen running for public office, especially a presidential aspirant of her stature, cannot hide behind the permissible ‘zones of privacy’ when grave health issues are concerned. Necessarily, when a person offers himself before the electorate as a candidate, everything that concerns his fitness to govern, whether moral, physical or mental, becomes a matter of public interest. In any case, as lawyers would say, MDS is deemed to have waived her right to privacy since day one.
Culled from the Marcos experience, a unique provision under the 1987 Constitution explains the dynamics of governance during a president’s illness. The Constitution says: “In case of serious illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of his health. The members of the Cabinet in charge of national security and foreign relations and the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, shall not be denied access to the President during such illness."
Now, if this provision ought to solve the danger of a power vacuum in the executive department during a president’s illness, the more reason we must apply the principle of transparency for future presidents, MDS included. Indeed, by safeguarding the health of potential presidents early on, a foreseeable crisis can be avoided or at the very least, tempered. Of course, MDS is not yet president, but we do worry about her health.
To my idol, there is a time to fight, Ma’am Miriam, and a time to sheath back your sword for you and your country’s sake. Maybe, now is the right time to do the latter. In your 2014 best-selling book Stupid is Forever, you said: I feel like I am going, and soon. Just call me the disappearing senator. Again, I beg to disagree. Aborting the presidential mission at this point may preserve much of the MDS’ that we know.
For a warrior like MDS, that's a tough decision. So we watch.