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Mañanita for the General

05:07 AM May 16, 2020

Delicadeza” is a word of Spanish origin that, according to Education Secretary Leonor Briones in an essay written in 2009, “nearly everyone knows what it means (but) no one has bothered to come out with a standard definition, or translate it into law.” Still, the secretary points out that “delicadeza refers to behavior anchored on generally accepted moral standards,” and that “to be branded ‘without delicadeza’ is probably the strongest insult that one can hurl at a public official.”By that standard, the birthday party held last week for Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office, could certainly be said to be lacking in “delicadeza.” Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said as much, describing the gathering Sinas preferred to call a “mañanita” as “a big no-no” at this time, and reminding government officials of the appropriate behavior expected of them (“Ito ’yung tinatawag nating delicadeza. May pagkakataon na kailangan maging example ka.”)

Related to “delicadeza” is “sensitivity,” a sense of propriety born out of an awareness of the impact of one’s actions on others, especially the general public. Where does delicadeza figure in the early morning celebration to mark the day when, according to Sinas’ baffling self-defense, “God aggrandize (sic) his love for me and my family”?

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Well, for starters the day happened to fall smack dab in the middle of the quarantine to which millions of Filipinos in the National Capital Region and nearby areas have been subjected for nearly two months. The quarantine orders, meant to protect the public from the COVID-19 contagion, have caused untold misery, especially among residents of poor communities confined to their stifling crowded hovels, shriveling not just in the hot weather but also in their hunger, boredom, anxiety, and fear.

It hardly helps that these quarantine orders have been enforced with harsh discipline and a chilling show of force. Communities have been hemmed in by police checkpoints, and just stepping out of one’s residence without a face mask can result in immediate arrest, humiliation, and punishment. Gathering in groups is also punished even if, as in Marikina recently, the “gathering” consisted of NGO workers offering free meals. And yet, just to add to the confusion, some local governments see no problem with summoning recipients of government aid to distribution centers where long queues and crowded interiors await them. So much for social distancing.

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This is why Sinas’ birthday celebration has raised hackles. Officers and personnel, more than 50 by some counts, gathered in the early morning hours to serenade Sinas, even gifting him with roses and a birthday cake. True, most everyone was wearing a face mask, but the general took his mask off to blow out the candles on his cake (and thereby spreading the virus, if he was an asymptomatic carrier). In a post on the NCRPO’s Facebook page (taken down later), photos showed Sinas mixing freely with his subordinates, many of whom were shown, mask-less, lining up before a buffet and then sharing a table with the general. In some photos, cans of beer were visible despite the liquor ban. Sinas subsequently apologized, but claimed some photos were “manipulated.” Later, he went back to insisting there was nothing wrong with his birthday soiree (“Wala pong mali doon”).

What sticks in the craw is the sense of impunity: While the police are the main enforcers of the lockdown, they have also been shown to be among the first to violate the guidelines, and to be blithe about it. PNP chief Archie Gamboa, for one, was quick to defend Sinas’ conduct. But as Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen tweeted: “Parties are mass gatherings. It is insensitive to hold one.”

As of this writing, Malacañang has announced that charges are being readied against Sinas. But until a case prospers in any serious way against him, and against such administration stalwarts as Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III and Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration official Mocha Uson who also violated quarantine rules, few are holding their breath that basic accountability will be served.

Anton Siy, Pasig City’s chief transport planner, summed up the sense of injustice many people feel in a widely-shared tweet: “Most Filipinos are happy to obey the law. What they protest isn’t the law itself but the unequal application of the law. They see that ordinary Filipinos are humiliated and hurt for breaking quarantine while government officials who do the same go unpunished. Take that for ‘disiplina’.”

Ordinary folk must stew in frustration and helplessness as long as the contagion sticks around. But the luckier few can “aggrandize” their positions and personal fancies without fear of retribution. Story of the Philippines even in the time of COVID-19.

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TAGS: Briones, COVID-19, Debold Sinas, lockdown, Mañanita
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