The St. Luke’s Maneuver

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by barbara barquez ricafrente

By now, it has become a pattern. Influential or well-connected rouges who are trying to evade arrest or congressional summons to a hearing to answer corruption charges are using St. Luke’s Medical Center – a hospital in Quezon City that only the well-heeled can afford – as a place of refuge, a means to bide their time while contemplating their next move.

The infamous Joc-Joc Bolante started it, and now Jimmy Paule has also opted to do the same. No less than Senator Biazon has pointed this out. Faced with an arrest order issued by the Senate for his alleged involvement in the 2004 fertilizer scam which has cost the government at least 700 million pesos, Bolante had himself delivered straight to St. Luke’s from the airport upon his arrival from about two years of detention in the United States. His supposed cardiovascular problems were used to justify his stay of about two weeks at the hospital. In the end, it turned out that his blood pressure was normal after all, his cardiovascular health apparently better than those of us with less body fat and no fertilizers to account for. When he finally appeared at the Senate, his performance was flawless. He simply denied most allegations and contracted amnesia in regard to other matters.

Now the beleaguered Paule, facing the prospect of incarceration at the heavily congested Pasay City Jail for lying under oath at the Senate, is claiming to have a blocked carotid that needs immediate medical attention at St. Luke’s. Paule, of course, is the suspected link between the women who supplied the fertilizers and Department of Agriculture officials, and has been described as a fixer of government contracts. During the Senate hearing he attended, he consistently denied knowing the women who all named him as the one who informed them about and made the arrangements for their involvement in the agriculture department’s fertilizer project. Shown a photograph that included him, his wife and child, and these very same women, Paule stood pat on his claim that he did not know them personally. He even went as far as to suggest the photograph might have been tampered with the use of computer technology. His claims and denials were simply too incredulous that the senators eventually came to the conclusion that Paule had lied. To evade arrest, thus, the man has sought sanctuary at St. Luke’s while his lawyer questions before the courts the Senate order for his incarceration.

It seems, thus, that whenever they are running out of options, those implicated in anomalous government contracts suddenly become health-conscious and have themselves confined at St. Luke’s. Certainly, this gives them enough time to rehearse the answers they will give to Senate investigators and at the same time file petitions before the courts. As such, St. Luke’s is turning out to be a temporary haven for men who apparently fear they might slip up and point a finger at someone who literally casts a large shadow in Malacañang. Incidentally, that hospital is also the First Couple’s favorite medical institution, the place where the First Gentleman (FG) himself goes to for his regular check-ups since surviving a delicate aneurysmectomy and a triple bypass operation there last April. Of course, this could simply mean that FG, Bolante, and Paule share similar tastes when it comes to hospitals.

All this can be likened to a game of chess where the accusers employ an aggressive opening game. To avoid a possible check-mate situation, the ones accused then resort to the “St. Luke’s Maneuver,” alongside the denial-to-death strategy and the “Amnesia Attack.” The accusers follow through with a vigorous middle game that keeps the accused on the defensive. In the end, however, those accused of robbing this country blind ultimately win the match in either of two ways: employing a superior end game that one might call “Power Play,” or simply allowing their opponents to lose by default for failure to finish the game.

This has evolved into a national farce that gets played over and over again with the same outcomes right before our eyes, leaving us desensitized and convinced that we are powerless to change the situation. The end result? A government that is convinced it can do as it pleases with impunity, a bureaucracy that is weighed down by incompetence and demoralization, and a people grown accustomed to the unmitigated poverty, social injustice, and despair in our midst that we seem to have mistaken for our shared fate. This is our tragedy, and may yet prove to be our collective undoing.

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