Public sickness

"The opposition has begun wishful thinking about constitutional succession."


No, I’m not talking about the public’s reaction to party-list Congressman John Bertiz’ recent antics at the NAIA security check-in, even as that video went viral. The poor guy later complained about chest pains from all the public opprobrium, but I think he’s recovered nicely enough, since I haven’t seen his obit yet.

I’m referring to the concern felt by most of the public (at least according to SWS) over the state of the President’s health. After dropping out of sight one day last week, Duterte surfaced to confess that he had undergone a laparoscopy and colonoscopy at Cardinal Santos, my favorite hospital which I pass by every morning during my walks.

These are routine procedures that can be done on outpatients. In fact, my favorite secretary of health, Pincoy Duque, vouched for Duterte’s health. Nonetheless, people are still waiting to see the definitive results of the diagnostic tests he’s still undergoing.

There’s good reason for the concern. Speaking before PMA graduates—an audience on whom Duterte obviously has to depend for apres moi continuity—the President acknowledged being hospitalized for Barrett’s esophagus, an inflammation of the digestive tract. He also admitted to suffering from daily migraines and spinal problems, as well as Buerger’s disease, caused by his smoking.

At 73 years old, Duterte would be closely watched even if he were in the pink of health. And he isn’t our first head of state to suffer medical problems, although different presidents were treated differently.

His predecessor, PNoy, was medically found to suffer from a mild autistic disorder called Asperger’s syndrome. But the complicit media made sure it never became an issue even after one questionable judgment of his after another. These days we assume he’s happier back in his native element, behind his videogame console.

At the opposite end was now-Speaker Arroyo, who was widely mocked for her neck brace and wheelchair even after undergoing three spinal operations that each lasted six, seven, and eight hours. That titanium plate is stuck inside her neck, and she still can’t fully move her head around. But now that she’s heavier and healthier—as one might expect after having been released from five years of jail—diehard yellows are saying this proves the whole neck brace thing was just an act after all. Tsk tsk.

It isn’t surprising that where you sit, on a President’s politics, is also where you stand, on his or her medical condition. The opposition has begun wishful thinking about constitutional succession. But the yellow hyenas already circling what they imagine to be Duterte’s political carcass may be in for a nasty surprise. They may not know what else is out there in the woods that’s also circling them.

* * *

A somewhat historic milestone occurred over the weekend that few noticed. On Saturday, a small contingent of Japanese soldiers joined US and Filipino troops in storming a Zambales beach during a military exercise. The Japanese limited their role to humanitarian support and weren’t actually involved in the combat activities.

Nonetheless, that was the first time Japanese armored vehicles have rolled on foreign soil ever since World War II—an auspicious marker for greater Japanese involvement in regional security notwithstanding their pacifist constitution.

Unfortunately, despite non-combatant status, one Japanese soldier ended up getting killed, and another one injured, in—ironically enough—a traffic accident with a local vehicle. Which only goes to show that our best defense against foreign invaders is likely to be Manila traffic and Filipino drivers.

Farther out at sea, the US Navy destroyer USS Decatur and the Chinese destroyer Lanzhou came within only 41 meters of each other last week in the course of a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) being conducted by the American ship in the vicinity of the Gaven Reef in the Spratlys.

These FONOPs are the Americans’ way of challenging what they see as China’s increasingly aggressive maritime posture, centered on its imaginary “nine-dash line” that seeks to project its territorial claims well beyond the bounds of historical legitimacy, legal acceptance, or even just plain common sense.

Not surprisingly, the Americans aren’t taking this latest incident lying down. Right now the US Pacific Fleet is reportedly putting together an even more aggressive series of naval operations in the area. And with 200 vessels, almost 1,200 naval aircraft, and 130,000 personnel in the Fleet, that’s a lot of muscle to flex.

Times like this, when you’re being pushed around the sandlot by the second biggest kid on the block, it’s good to know that the biggest kid is ready to jump right in—not because he particularly cares about you, but simply because his own interests happen to coincide with yours. And if the third biggest kid is already practicing his moves right beside you, it becomes downright heartwarming.

* * *

The gnomes at the BSP are telling us that the country’s gross international reserves (GIR) shrank to a seven-year low in the first nine months of 2018, due to outflows related to the BSP’s foreign exchange operations. As of September, GIR stood at $75.2 billion, lower than the $77.9 billion in August and the $89.9 billion a year ago, and the lowest GIR level since September 2011.

Nonetheless, our favorite gnome, BSP deputy governor Diwa Guinigundo, assures us that the country’s external liquidity buffer remains “ample.” It’s still equivalent to 6.8 months worth of imports, 5.9X short-term external debt based on original maturity, and 4.2X based on residual maturity.

As the definition of the term implies, GIR is all about liquid reserves, and reserves are what you dip into whenever you’re short of cash, whether you’re a country or a sari-sari store. What really counts is what you do with the cash so that you can replace it quickly.

On that score, our favorite grinch, DBM’s Ben Diokno—whose unenviable job is to say no to all those impossible spending proposals from politicians—has admitted that the country is likely to miss its 7-8 percent growth target this year, mainly because rising prices have cut into consumption demand. His revised forecast is 6.7-6.9 percent growth this year.

Nonetheless, even Ben’s lower forecast will still be among the fastest in Asia. He added that inflation will slowly ease down to 2-4 percent next year. And if you ask the local bankers, a hundred fourteen of them think their industry will be stable or even stronger the next two years, although they privately forecast even lower economic growth rates of 5-7 percent over that period.

It’s a bullish vote of confidence from the banks who still appreciate the country’s “strong macroeconomic fundamentals and adequate system liquidity.” And with employment rates also touching historic highs in recent months, it adds a whole new perspective to the issue of why the President’s health does, and should continue to, matter to us.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: John Bertiz , Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo , Ben Diokno , Rodrigo Duterte , Economics , Diwa Guinigundo
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