"Senator dela Rosa's words rankle."
We do not for a second harbor the illusion that the people who run our government live like we do. Despite their insistence on having compassion – “malasakit” in our language – we know that they have it better than we do. Most of them are clueless about how it is to struggle to make ends meet, and to put up with jobs that are neither fair nor rewarding, just because they have a choice.
This does not mean they should not make the effort to imagine our struggles.
This pandemic has heightened many injustices in our situation. We were told to stay at home for two and a half months; we subjected ourselves to restrictions, acknowledging that we needed to protect ourselves and others from the spread of the virus.
Unfortunately, for millions of Filipinos, having to stay at home means a lot of things – sharing cramped spaces with numerous other family members, impeded access to goods, temporary or permanent loss of jobs.
This is why the offhand statement of Senator Ronald dela Rosa at the end of an online meeting with his colleagues rankles.
While the lawmakers were saying goodbye to each other, dela Rosa, looking very pleased with himself, “Sarap ng buhay! Sarap ng buhay! Ganito na lang tayo palagi, ha? (What a good life! Can we always be this way?)”
Later on, he clarified that he was merely appreciating the efficiency with which the Senate conducted its business through the use of technology. No amount of explanation, however, could remove the sting of Dela Rosa’s remarks. The words were uttered so candidly – and why not? They rang true.
Filipinos are facing the same public emergency but we are experiencing it in different ways. Those who can afford to work from home can keep their jobs. Those with private vehicles have no trouble procuring supplies or even showing up for essential work. Students with computers and stable internet connections at home can comply with school requirements. Influential personalities can get themselves tested, break quarantine rules and even hold birthday parties.
Is it too much to ask, then, that our officials restrain themselves from reveling about their privileged lives? Dela Rosa, for instance, gets paid by taxpayers even when he stays at home and attends meetings online for a couple of hours.
Then again, dela Rosa is just one person. He has since been disciplined like an errant child and has been told to attend the next session physically. Elsewhere in government, many other officials give us little reason to believe they are with us during these trying times. For instance, medical frontliners, despite their daily sacrifice, are not provided adequate protective equipment or transportation, such that many have to walk or bike to hospitals before and after going on duty. Families who need their assistance are made to line up for hours. Those who venture out to try and earn a living are subjected to the whimsical and excessive application of quarantine rules. Meanwhile, compassion and leniency are reserved for the powerful.
We need many things from our government officials in this difficult period. Empathy, shown through action and not declarations, tops the list. They should not flaunt the good lives they are leading; they must work hard, instead, to give the people a decent existence.