Sunday, November 8, 2009

Health-wise, Vote-wise

During election time, one criterion often overlooked is the health status of a candidate. Only few Filipino voters, except maybe those in the field of medicine and perhaps those in the health/medical profession, care about it. Even politicians themselves do not give emphasis on this aspect. Though I am not from both fields, as a voter, I am beginning to contemplate on this issue and its political importance.

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt was crippled by polio, but the press abided by an unwritten rule that he was never to be photographed from waist down. But Mr. Roosevelt withheld an even graver medical condition. On Jan. 20, 1945, as he was being sworn in for a record fourth time, he was already suffering from severe hypertension and arteriosclerosis. Yes, he did not disclose his real health condition to the public and he died in office three months later.

There are three mayoralty aspirants so far come May 2010 in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. Here in our locality, health problems are not discussed and considered as anathema for politicians and a taboo subject for most of the local media, especially those owned and influenced by the the two local political giants. They focused more on senseless propaganda, mudslinging and pointing at each other’s shortcomings and blunders.

Here in the Philippines, there is no specific law mandating,- under the principle of right to information, a politician to full disclosure of her/his health record or status. But who wants a mayor who is serving his term die of diabetes or lung cancer and will not be able to complete her/his term of office? Many of us believe that the health status of a candidate is not an issue anymore. My friends told me that all we have to do is to dump the idea in the dustbin of electoral concerns. And just recycle it if time comes when our legislators are no longer dominated by traditional politicians and the traditional political culture. For us ordinary voters, the issue is as insignificant as a dew falling in a vast sea of local political events.

But here’s another vital question : “ Are the local media practitioners and election watchdogs in Occidental Mindoro ready to snoop on the medical records of our politicians (read: their bosses and patrons or even the rivals of their bosses and patrons)?” Media practitioners who are expected to be truth-bearers and champions of right to information. The local media in Occidental Mindoro, I think, is not yet ready to discuss said concern so in such climate, what the politicians have to do is to conceal their sickness or medical problems. In the first place, there is no such law mandating the candidates to reveal their authentic medical records. It is one of their campaign’s best kept secrets, so to speak.

And I am not buying this sort of crap from political and health authorities: “We must protect the sanctity of the medical records. It is very confidential.” There is a big problem. Medical records are not confidential, and they haven't been confidential as far as I could know based on my personal experience. Medical records have the same pattern of widespread use. When applying for a job, driver’s license, scholarship program, etc. If you are hospitalized, nurses, doctors and other hospital employees may see some or all of your records. Records may be shared with labs, x-ray facilities, nursing homes, physical therapists, pharmacists, and others involved in treatment. When claiming a medical benefit from SSS, the medical record of a patient can be scrutinized by anybody. Now, tell me what confidentiality are we talking about? Maybe you would say : “As medical treatment, yes. But not as an electoral criterion.” Whew! Truth is always not on our side, electorates.

Doctor-patient confidentiality stems from the special relationship created when a prospective patient seeks the advice, care, and/or treatment of a physician. It is based upon the general principle that individuals seeking medical help or advice should not be hindered or inhibited by fear that their medical concerns or conditions will be disclosed to others. But let us not forget that the duty of confidentiality is not absolute. Doctors may divulge or disclose personal information, against the patient's will, under very limited circumstances. For example, the case of Alvin Flores, the notorious criminal who just had a facelift to evade authorities. I think his doctor could not assert this thing called doctor-patient confidentiality. We, the electorates are always victimized by this epidemic called election!

As far as I know from the past local elections, no candidate have ever disclosed his medical records or health status in public. There is only one political bigwig in the province whose condition landed in pages of a national broadsheet that can be clicked here.

Anyway, the only mayor who died during his term in office is Bibiano Gaudiel, Sr., who served only for five months, due to cardiac arrest. Gaudiel was also the president of the Mayors League of Occidental Mindoro and died while rendering his speech in Ligaya, Sablayan in 1951,- if I were not mistaken. He was succeeded by his vice mayor, Ricardo Pascasio who was in the medical profession way back at the Philippine Milling Company in Central. But Gaudiel’s death was not due to a lingering illness. It was a sudden death.

I wonder if the physician who is also a mayoralty aspirant should dwell on this public concern in his campaign sortie aside from the Admittance and Discharge Policy of his hospital? Just asking.

Maybe I am getting OA but I hope someday, the Commission on Election (COMELEC), specially our national legislators should consider it …

(Photo : From the Rotary Club of San Jose at

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