Thursday, June 24, 2021

Maglana: Delicadeza and the December 2017 disasters in Davao

THE third week of December 2017 was difficult for Dabawenyos. Downstream flow of waters from rains associated with Typhoon Vinta caused floods that inundated a number of areas. A fire at the NCCC Mall, regarded as among the city's icons, resulted in 38 deaths. Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte had an online spat with a daughter on top of his alleged involvement in the P6.4 billion smuggling of illegal drugs, and his resignation citing "delicadeza" as reason.

Many grieved over the losses and honored heroic acts during the floods and fire. There were those who focused on governance implications-whether appropriate standards had been applied prior to providing permits to the mall, people adequately warned of the floods, and responders did enough to rescue those who were in harm's way.

Amid testimonies about the kindness of the family that owns NCCC Mall, it is vital to resolve questions about the adequacy of alarm and response systems of the private companies involved -- both the mall and the call center Survey Sampling International (SSI) for which 37 of the dead had worked -- and their accountabilities to the victims and their families.

The Inter-Agency Anti-Arson Task Force foundthe mall's fire exits faulty. Water sprinklers on the third and fourth floors were problematic and valves were closed. SSI's alarm system was not linked to the mall's.

Responding to questions about her impartiality in light of a 2015 endorsement contract, Mayor Sara Duterte clarified that she is not involved in any investigation on the NCCC fire and that her contract was not with NCCC Mall but with another company of NCCC supermarket.

Delicadeza among public officials is much sought any time. But sound leadership and good governance require more in a country prone to disasters.

Sociologist F. Landa Jocano considers delicadeza as one of two emotional norms that direct Filipinos' sense of propriety and self-esteem, the other being "amorpropio." Delicadeza is so ingrained in our system that current Department of Education secretary, Liling Briones, remarked in a 2009 column that, although viewed as widely known to Filipinos, there is no widely accepted definition for delicadeza.

Thus, delicadeza has been regarded as a sense of propriety, being cautious (Saniel), word of honor (Montiel), or saving face (Fallows). But going by Jocano, delicadeza is more than doing the right thing and is not necessarily the same as loss of face or "hiya," which could be the consequence when self-esteem or amorpropiois slighted. Delicadeza, amorpropio, and hiya are thus inter-related, and it is easy to mistake one for the other. How they played out in the public arena in Davao at the end of 2017 is evident.

Scholar Amelia Ylagan believes amorpropio has reinforcing effects on fundamentals: the "basic values of right and wrong, honesty and integrity, transparency and all other rules of ethics and right conduct." I will add that delicadeza could also contribute to the reinforcement, but that both amorpropio and delicadeza need grounding on the fundamentals and cannot be replacements.

The resigned vice-mayor's demonstration of sensitivity to matters perceived as demeaning to his personal dignity was hailed positively. But there are still issues that have to be justly resolved-the smuggling allegations and the roughing up of his daughter's friend.

With 2019 elections coming up, expect that politicians will try to gain visibility mileage earlier than the official campaign period. Commercial endorsements of products have been one of the ways.

House Bill (HB) 2571sought to ban elected officials from advocating products because of undue advantage to endorsers. Filed in 2012, it unfortunately did not prosper.

Public interest is better served if public officials refrain from endorsing businesses and in general keep an arm's length away from private interests that their offices have to regulate.

Citing product alignment with one's personal sense of values is not enough justification. Politicians are rarely in the line of business of what they are endorsing (it is unlikely that an elected official, unless involved in construction, would have expert knowledge about cement, for example). Chances are it is the influence that politicians wield that is being availed of.

Business knows this and it will try to make offers-whether of a legal or illegal nature-to politicians to be as attractive or harmless sounding as possible. This is where a politician's sense of delicadeza would be truly helpful, compelling one to act in a more refined manner than the rudimentary, and to proceed with caution knowing that it is not just personal dignity and gain, but public interest-and lives-that might eventually be at stake.

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