Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC
NOVEMBER 2015 turned out to be quite an interesting month for me. For one, I turned a year older (and hopefully wiser). Secondly, for five days during the Asia Pacific Economic Consultation (APEC) summit which was held in Manila, I was tasked as Close-In Physician for one of the visiting leaders of the Summit along with some colleagues from the Makati Medical Center. My specific assignment was the President of the United States – Barack Obama.
What do you call a physician from a developing Third World country who provides standby medical support for the world’s most powerful man, the leader of the world’s largest democracy and the prime target of the planet’s most vicious and elaborately organized terrorist networks? What do you call a medical professional of a host country tasked by a government agency and a private hospital together to keep medical watch of another country’s leader—probably without the latter’s knowledge, or much less, a real need for such at all?
Was this incognito duty service an act of patriotism, an exaggerated and extracautionary move of a jittery host nation or, just simply, a waste of time? Was this a protocol requirement, a tactical strategy or a perfunctory parallel provision? Your choice is as good as mine; your perception, as intuitive as mine.
But this duty reminded me of the paramount role that the US leader occupies in the economic hierarchy of the Asia Pacific region. The elaborate and tedious preparations that went with APEC particularly on the security preparations for the 21 leaders of the world, especially for the U.S. President, defined the heightened security risk of any global event involving the world’s superpower leaders.
The dominant role of the United States in this forum could not be overemphasized–wherever and whenever the U.S. President went or spoke. When he was present, he was big news. When he was absent, he was bigger news. After all, this was the leader of a global economic giant and the prime symbol of the great bastion of democracy standing on Philippine soil.
After five days of getting soaked up in these blatant and diverse reminders of U.S. domination and supremacy, I landed on a place that was a tragic recipient of America’s instrument of war in 1945. Nagasaki, the last city reduced to ashes and annihilated by an atomic bomb in August 1945, was the venue for an international meeting on research ethics. As chair of the Makati Medical Center’s Institutional Review Board (MMC – IRB), I was privileged to attend this meeting for four days along with four other members of the board—Dr. Dennis Damaso, Dr. Sonia Bongala, Dr. Romana Borromeo, and Ms. Paula Limbo.
Thus, in the last two weeks of November, I was caught in a bizarre transition from domination to annihilation, from supremacy to atrocity. Yet, the marked contrast has also brought to the fore the supreme ironies defining their similarities. Between America’s trade-enhanced prosperity and that of Japan’s war-ravaged quest for progress, there lies good governance, sound economic fundamentals, collective fervor and resolve, national identity, and pride.
I could not help but recognize the marked swing and contradictory nuances of the two situational responsibilities and geographic locales I found myself in. I could not help but appreciate the diversity of the events I was embracing, as well as the spheres of influences I was dealing with.
From a developing country struggling to soar economically with the assistance of the world’s economic superpowers, I was thrown into a land that bore the impact of apocalyptic annihilation nearly 70 years ago. From a forum on growth and survival of struggling economies, fuelled by pledges of support of advanced economies, I transited to a city that was leveled to the ground as a result of advanced methodical technology and weaponry during a time of war. From where advancement was an avowed goal, I moved to where advancement was the culprit that led to doom and destruction. The lessons of survival and resilience in Nagasaki (as well as the other city, Hiroshima) should be sources of inspiration for the Philippines.
I was extremely privileged to be caught in this unique pendular trajectory.
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Vital Signs Issue 86 Vol. 4, April 1-30 2016