Text messages from fellow journalists and other friends went around a week or so ago at the time when Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was said to be suffering from liver cancer. I sent a text message to my friend Conrad de Quiros right away to check what he knew about it. He was as clueless as I was, but he replied with a joke: "Her liver is not the problem. It's her gall!"
The state of health of those in power is always a hot topic, regardless if the power figure is from a democratic state or an authoritarian regime. While we keep tabs on reports about Gloria Arroyo's health, the rest of the world are also keenly awaiting the latest word on the health condition of Cuba's Fidel Castro after his intestinal operation and after he named his successor.
More than the eventual death of someone in power, the bigger cause for worry is usually the succession, the turnover of leadership. In extreme cases, these concerns can trigger capital flight or a stock market crash.
In the late 1970s, word circulated that the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was stricken with a terminal disease, which was later said to be Lupus. As per the Lupus Health Report, "Lupus is an auto immune disease, which means that the body's immune system attacks its own tissue. The result of these attacks is chronic inflammation, and although the severity of Lupus can vary greatly, it can ultimately be a fatal disease. Lupus is a condition where the immune system creates antibodies that circulate in the blood
stream and attack various tissues and organs in the body."
Because we were under a dictatorship where there had been no clear line of succession, the Marcos state of health became a persistent topic in the media and in coffee shops. To dispel the talks, the Palace issued periodicdenials and slated photo opportunities that would depict Marcos in his finest physical form.
In fact, the return of Ninoy Aquino from self-exile in the United States and his subsequent assassination, which we mark this month, were two events that are directly linked to the state of Marcos's health. Having been informed that Marcos was undergoing a kidney transplant operation, Ninoy rushed home to attempt to be a positive factor in a possible succession.
Former president Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) has called to task the Palace mouthpieces to come clean with Arroyo's true state of health. INQ7.net quoted him last Aug. 4 as telling Malacañang spokespersons and Arroyo's physicians to make a full disclosure of her state of health because "the state of the health of the President is part of the state of the nation."
Now, with that coming from FVR, one cannot help but read between the lines and sense that there may really be something that we are not being told. This speculation is, of course, fueled by these factors:
The Arroyo regime's credibility problem -- Surveys have proved that most of what the regime denies is what the public tends to believe. The majority of Filipinos believes that Gloria Arroyo did not win the 2004 election and that we have a sinking economy, which is opposite to the regime claims of growth, and so forth.
Arroyo has always been associated with good health -- something her political enemies would not even care to dispute. Now, for her to go in and out of hospital on two occasions that are not far between is something that can indeed be cause for questions and doubts about her true health condition.
In the Aug. 4 Inquirer story written by Gil Cabacungan, the official denial of Arroyo's suffering from a "fatty liver" by Presidential Management Staff chief Arthur Yap was reversed by an admission made by an unidentified Malacañang official. Guess whom the public will likely believe.
The regime's problem of handling the issue of the state of health of Madame Arroyo is worsened by communications mismanagement. Rather than quickly moving to make a full disclosure, it warns the public that all those who engage in negative speculation about Arroyo's health will be charged with destabilization. This all the more reinforces public thinking that she is suffering from a serious ailment.
Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor was quoted last Friday as saying: "I think people feel that by coming up with this rumor, by text messaging, by talking about this, they feel this would result in the downfall of, first of all, the confidence of the economy, particularly the stock market and the peso. They want to create problems by coming up with these rumors and gossips."
"To our critics," he added, "to those who have been spreading this kind of negative text messages, please stop doing this, because nobody would believe you. The investors are not believing it, the stock market is doing well, the economy is doing well, so please stop this."
Of course, Mike Defensor generated the opposite effect. His overreaction -- the gall and the temerity of trying to stop people from thinking and talking about it -- is precisely what will make investors think twice about putting their money in Philippine stocks and ventures.
If and when Arroyo is afflicted with a health problem worse than disclosed, the effect on the running of the country is not as much of a concern as when Marcos started to have kidney failure in the late 1970s. Not unless one's concern centers on the qualifications of the present constitutional successor, Vice President Noli de Castro.
What concerned us during Marcos' time was who would succeed the dictator. Would it be Imelda Marcos, Danding Cojuangco, or would Juan Ponce-Enrile, with the support of the military, takeover? What if the military, through an ambitious man on horseback, decided to grab power instead of allowing the civilians to take over? Would there be a bloody conflict to determine the successor?
Today, if it is true that Arroyo has a terminal problem as liver cancer would suggest, concerns would be confined mostly within the circle of power -- whether they have a job in the next administration.
As to many of us, we can only wish the afflicted person well and include her in our prayers.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org