Filipino politicians and VIPs have a way of meeting our expectations — but that’s because we’re used to setting expectations for moral fortitude and competence extremely low, and expectations for shamelessness and impunity extremely high. Last week we speculated about how Mrs. Imelda Marcos, first lady for 21 years, was not going to stoop so low as to go through the public circus of conviction and sentencing, not to mention fulfill a prison sentence. It was absolutely no surprise that a medical certificate was soon issued and made public, with “strict orders” to avoid stress and other activities which could prompt a stroke or a heart attack. For each of the seven counts of graft, it seems, there was one of seven “organ infirmities” (as nonspecific a medical term as there could possibly be) which made her “indisposed” to attend the promulgation of her guilty verdict.
Let’s face it: At 89 years old, Mrs. Marcos is no spring chicken, and the infirmities described are frequent complaints of the elderly. The human body might be one of the most smoothly functioning machines ever built, but everything is subject to entropy, and atrophy, and degeneration, and it would be a rare human being who survived to 89 without contracting some common and chronic ailment. The list of ailments that Mrs. Marcos is waving around like a parent’s excuse slip for a sick child is astounding exactly because it is so commonplace.
The medical certificate describes seven conditions which are honestly quite run-of-the-mill for any outpatient clinic. Any elderly individual is likely to suffer one, if not a combination of, the seven. It isn’t that the conditions themselves are imaginary or negligible, but surely none of them are severe enough to have precluded a public appearance which she was morally and legally obliged to attend — and they didn’t stop her from attending a party on the same evening. Her “chronic medical care” for these conditions hasn’t stopped her from living a very full and public life, not to mention running for public office. I don’t believe that she and her camp even expect to be believed; this farce is just yet another sign of the Marcoses thumbing their noses at the masses while we helplessly look on, unable to stop the political machine that kept her and her husband in power, and which has allowed her children to enjoy public office.
No offense is meant to the health professionals who have had to care for so-called VIPs, as they share the oath to do no harm and may need to push aside thorny ethical dilemmas in favor of rendering health services quickly and effectively. But every offense is meant to those who would propose these flimsy excuses, and to those who would buy them. They are an insult to the poor man dying because his family can’t afford to keep him on medications or on cardiorespiratory support. They are an insult to the elderly who are jailed for crimes on an infinitesimally smaller scale than the crimes of the Marcoses, who have contributed to and sustained the type of systemic inequality which allows both injustices to happen.
In general, it’s disappointing to watch health professionals buckle at the first sign of threat or favor from a VIP, cultivating the culture of healthcare as business transaction — something of which we are often guilty. The average Filipino continues to suffer more than mere “infirmities”—dangers that are life-or-death, in fact, in their seriousness, while the Marcoses swan around in a comfortable bubble of wealth and prestige, the “unsinkable” first lady is able to survive well into her 80s with the type of medical care most Filipinos can’t afford.
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