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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Story of excising a boil in the body politic.


Earlier this afternoon I had to finally yield to physical frailty at a hospital, seeking medical help for a boil in my left arm that had swollen and needed to be drained of its pus. Of course I was terribly nervous and while the two doctors were “operating” on me I thought I’d divert my fright by repeating to them a text joke about how a congressman’s wife woke up her husband in the middle of the night to say that she heard noises outside. “Honey,”  the wifey said, “there’s a thief in the house.” Replied the sleepy husband, “I know, dear, but there are far more in the Senate!”

The two docs and the nurse burst into laughter but one of them picked it up and exclaimed, “sobra na talaga, ano, ‘Ma’am.’ ” One doc asserted that there’s probably only 1 percent who’s honest in the entire two chambers of Congress, and this time it was the medics' turn to pour out what’s inside them---their disgust and the outrage at the shenanigans of our politicos.

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I suppose that doctors, more than other professionals, feel so strongly about the plunder of taxpayers’ money because they know how it hurts the poor Filipinos the most, in terms of health services. They know that when the poor get sick they are worse than the rats during dispersal of an informal settlers' area---nowhere to turn to. The poor go to the barangay health centers with their sick children, but their invariable complaint is that there are no doctors and almost no medicines available, not even cold tablets.

If the RH Law is declared constitutional by the Supreme Court this December or in January next year, then those health centers will contain nothing but contraceptives of all kinds (can the Food and Drug Administration really screen all the contraceptives to be imported from abroad for the teeming masses of our poor?), as the budget to be allocated for those will run into many billions.

Dr. Joven Cuanang of St. Luke's Global
At this time, when we just had elections for our barangay officials, it’s timely to recall what Dr. Joven Cuanang, one of the country’s most prominent neurologists and former medical director of St. Luke's Hospital, said to Nellie Natividad Valdez, wife of Dean Amado Valdez of the UE College of Law, and myself during a consultation visit by Nellie, to which I accompanied her. 

Invariably we fell into talking about the poor state of health services in the country and Dr. Cuanang opined that what we need to bring back is the sanidad of the olden days---the public health officer who would studiously go from house to house, checking up on the people in a given locality for health problems.  

Nowadays, however, as we saw in yesterday’s elections, many barangay officials seem to be infected with the same malady of big-time politicos--- avarice for money. Reports say a good number of barangay candidates paid anywhere from P300 to a thousand pesos per voter. How can they ever recover such investments if not through corruption?

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Some years back, when Health Secretary Enrique “Ike” Ona was still medical director of National Kidney Institute (NKI) Cecile Alvarez and I interviewed him and his staff for dzRH and afterwards he toured us around the premises. Dr. Ona was quite respected for running this government hospital as clean and well-managed as a private one, but the facilities were woefully inadequate, as attested by the incredible number of patients waiting outside the building for their turn at dialysis. It’s like that everyday, said Ike Ona. A heart-breaking sight.

Recently I accompanied a worker of mine to PGH for consultation on his hernia problem and I was appalled at the number of people who were waiting for their turn. One elderly woman I chatted with said that she lives in Nueva Ecija and has been coming daily to PGH and spending a lot of money, but still she could not be attended to.

The doctors operating on my arm earlier today agreed how badly we could use more NKIs and PGHs in other regions of the country.

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Dr. ReynaldoG. Fajardo of PHC
The Philippine Heart Center is now being slowly refurbished after literally being in tatters for many years. It used to be that the elevators in its medical arts building are so slow and people were packed like sardines, that to go for a check-up with my cardiologist, Dr. Salvador Solis, I’d rather climb four flights of stairs. Now it has a new elevator, but it will take many billions more to bring it up to its old glory in looks as well as in state-of-the-art equipment.

Dr. Lorenzo Rommel Cariño of PHC
PHC has very good cardiologists and surgeons, and I can name three immediately: cardio-clincians Dr. Solis and Dr. Reynaldo Fajardo, and cardio-surgeon Dr. Lorenzo Rommel Cariño, who was perhaps the only doctor brave enough to operate on then First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, to close a valve in the latter’s badly leaking heart some years back.  

If doctors of their caliber had stayed in the US, they would be raking in, but they persist in PHC because they love their country and people.


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What I’m driving it is that the many many billions in PDAF, DAP, the Malampaya Fund, the President’s Social Fund and whatever else goes into the alphabet soup of corruption in the executive and legislative branches have triggered enormous outrage and anger in professional people who normally are apolitical---mukhang sobra na, sukdulan na.  

Which brings me to two discernible movements stirring to life these days.

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There is the move for a “people’s initiative” to enact a law that would abolish the pork barrel fund in whatever form it takes and whoever would get to plunder it---be it the President of the Republic or the members of Congress.  Outrage and anger over the pork barrel are such that given the support networks that could be mobilized for this move--such as the Catholic Church and other faiths and denominations, and innumerable civic and professional groups---it shouldn't be so tough to gather ten percent of total registered voters (which means, ten million signatures nationwide, with three percent per legislative district) to enact this law abolishing the pork barrel.

The problem is more in the Comelec that’s mandated by the Constitution “to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall.”

Given the current composition of Comelec and its disposition to election scripts (e.g., the 60-30-10 scenario of the May 2013 elections down to precinct level) it does not look too encouraging that the poll body would correctly verify the signatures gathered.

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There is also the move to write a new constitution to replace the 1987 Constitution, as Star columnist Chit Pedrosa has been writing about, encouraged by the model of the people of far-away Iceland, who have sought to “crowd-source” their basic charter. It seems that this new constitution gelling here will be a revolt against the pork barrel-infested presidential system and the redundant and corruption-prone bicameral legislature---in favor of a parliamentary form of government and a unicameral legislature (the latter concept losing by just one vote in the 1986 Constitutional Commission).  

This idea of a “crowd-sourced” constitution, whereby we citizens can get to participate in drawing up its provisions according to what we need and believe in, grows more exciting by the day. The man emerging as leader of these twin moves, which could really be mutually reinforcing, appears to be former Chief Justice Reynato Puno---plucked by destiny from retirement. 

I believe these twin moves would be supported by the Filipino people---we have been battered enough by the old system that we really are ready to try a new one.

Earlier I began this blog with a story about the excision of the pus from an unwanted boil, which was painful and which frightened this old blogger. These twin moves, however. will constitute the story of the political excision of the unwanted boil in the nation's body politic, but we don't have the luxury of being afraid. 


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