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Essential qualities

"Lugaw, lechon and lewd gestures"

With all the grave and somber things we have had to deal with in the last few days—the last year, actually—we find a bit of comic relief and amusement in the Filipino staple, lugaw, or rice porridge. Photos surfaced as social media users extolled the virtues of the unassuming dish, and declared that it was essential. How could it not be?

This was all in reaction to a video of a barangay official waving a printed copy of the IATF guidelines while pointing out to a delivery rider what comprised “essential goods” during an enhanced community quarantine. Initially, the man was mistaken for a curfew violator. When he explained that he was waiting for an order of lugaw that he would deliver to a customer, the barangay official began a condescending lecture about how guidelines allowed only the delivery of essential items. People could live without lugaw, she insisted. Hence, it was not essential.

Responses from all sectors were quick. Immediately, the Inter-Agency Task for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases confirmed that lugaw was, indeed, essential. The pictures appeared on social media; families cooked or ordered lugaw to be in vogue. Unfortunately, an attention-seeking undersecretary at the Department of the Interior and Local Government thought it witty to make a distinction between lugaw (the dish) and lugaw (the vice president). He drew flak for his statements but none of this has appeared to penetrate his thick skin.

Last week, too, a photo of the President blowing a birthday candle on top of a cup of rice was posted by his dutiful assistant. It was meant to show how simply Mr. Duterte celebrated his birthday during a difficult time. Unfortunately for him, there was another photo of a bigger part of the table— there were several dishes, and roast pig (lechon).

Nobody begrudges anybody the right to eat lechon or whatever one fancies, especially on one’s birthday. What was objectionable was the obvious attempt to project an image different from reality. Much more damning was a separate video of the occasion that showed Mr. Duterte in an attempt to grope the house helper—something his spokesman has defended to the hilt, saying the President was characteristically playful, and, look, wasn’t his partner in fact there, as well, and thinking nothing of the act?

These “trending topics” mask the grim situation we are facing these days with regard to the virus and its devastating effects on health care, our educational system, and our economy. Now that the question of what qualifies as essential has arisen, we should answer that question individually. What are, after all, essential qualities we would like in our leaders, from the highest post to the most basic barangay unit? We want leaders who do not mindlessly implement rules without thinking about their rationale or practicability. We want those who are not petty.

Finally, we want those who do not pretend to be something other than they are, and who do not degrade their office through words and gestures common among those who do not know any better.

Topics: Editorial , lugaw , lechon , Inter-Agency Task for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases , IATF guidelines
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