LET’S not be ambiguous about this: We firmly reject any assertion by political candidates that their health records are a confidential matter. We consider that an attempt to hide vital information necessary for voters to be able to make an informed choice when any candidate refuses to make his health and medical information available to the public.
This stand applies to any candidate at any level, but let’s focus on the leading presidential contenders just for the sake of illustrating the point. Of the five main candidates – former DILG secretary Mar Roxas, Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte – only two, Poe and Roxas, by their physical appearance do not arouse obvious questions about the status of their health. That alone is certainly not proof that they are in fact in good physical condition, but it is a fact that neither is of an advanced age, or has had any health issues that have come to the attention of the public.
Of the remaining three, Vice President Binay has said that he has been given a clean bill of health, and to the uninformed observer certainly appears to be hale and hearty, but he is 73 years old. Senator Santiago, who is 70, had a well-publicized bout with advanced lung cancer that is in remission, according to her; she has also, in recent years, occasionally had her work in the Senate compromised by other health issues. Mayor Duterte, who is also 70 years old, has candidly admitted he suffers from several ailments, but has kept the details to himself; he recently was forced to alter his campaign schedule to get some rest after suffering from what was variously reported as a migraine, a mild stroke, or fatigue.
To be clear, we certainly do not wish ill health on anyone. Whether we support their candidacies or not, we hope that all the aspirants for office live long and active lives. But it should be made clear to them, no matter what their age or apparent condition, that their fitness for public office is a very public matter. Not only does it impact the voters’ choice for president, it affects their choice for vice president as well, since the most important role of the number two official in the land is to serve as a replacement for the president in the unfortunate event that becomes necessary.
The voters need to be assured that their choice for public office – at any level – is sufficiently fit physically and mentally for the rigors of the job. So, despite the feelings of the candidates, this assurance cannot be satisfactorily accepted if it is only on their own say-so about themselves. After all, even in the private sector, certification of good health is a requirement for employment. It is illogical, and actually unfair to the public, for a lesser standard to apply to candidates for public office.
We call on the candidates to freely share their medical records with the public, to assure the electorate that they are physically and mentally capable of carrying out the duties they are asking us to give them. If they do not wish to make this information public – which should indeed remain private, in any other circumstances but an election campaign – then they have the choice of withdrawing and not subject themselves to the scrutiny.
Refusing to do so now, however, is like asking someone to buy a car without ever letting the would-be customer raise the hood to look at the engine. No person with an ounce of sense would agree to that. No one should agree to elect a candidate on a similarly uncertain basis.