By Herman M. Lagon
A SIMPLE yet profound question posed to the Philippine President can be a catalyst for deep introspection. At the ISUFST intra-school extemporaneous speech competition this Tuesday, a contestant’s brilliant question to the President, whom he hypothetically chanced to meet in the elevator, “Would you like to dine with me?” left a lasting impression on me. The simplicity of this invitation belies its profound implications—a typical Filipino shared meal of rice, sardines, and noodles under a humble nipa roof without the luxury of electricity, potable water, silverware, or lavish accompaniments. It is a gesture that extends beyond casual dining; it is an unspoken cry of empathy and understanding and a stark reminder of the realities many Filipinos face daily.
This seemingly innocuous question holds within it a powerful critique of the distance that often exists between a nation’s leaders and its people. It represents an opportunity for the President, a figure often enshrouded in the trappings of power and privilege, to step into the world of an ordinary citizen. This is not just about sharing a meal; it is about sharing the experience of millions who live in modesty, often struggling to meet basic needs.
The significance of this question becomes even more potent when considered against the backdrop of our socio-economic landscape. The masses, struggling with ongoing poverty and inequality, starkly contrasts with the lifestyles of its political leaders. It is public knowledge that there is a glaring disparity between the experiences of past Presidents and the everyday struggles of the Filipino people.
In this context, the student’s question transcends the boundaries of a typical political inquiry. It is not about policy or legislation but about empathy, understanding, and the lived realities of the masses. It serves as a reminder that authentic leadership is not just about governance from the halls of power but also about connecting with and understanding the lives of those governed.
This invitation to dine also emphasizes the need for leaders to be deeply rooted in the reality of those they serve, not to stay in the comforts of their ivory towers. In a country where a significant portion of the population lives in poverty, the ability of a leader to empathize with and understand the struggles of ordinary people is crucial. It is about leading with a radical heart that feels and understands the plight of the marginalized, the voiceless, and the underprivileged.
However, this simple question also subtly underscores a more challenging aspect of governance. It highlights the potential and experienced disconnect between the leaders and the led, the decision-makers, and those affected by these decisions. Like most of its predecessors, the present government appears to have a limited understanding of the ground realities faced by many of us, a gap that this meal under a nipa roof symbolically attempts to bridge.
This symbolic meal represents a hope that through such shared experiences, leaders might gain a deeper, more personal embrace of the challenges faced by their citizens. Yet, there remains a skepticism, a question of whether such an experience could truly foster the needed empathy and understanding in a government often seen as distant from the daily struggles of ordinary people.
Nonetheless, the ISUFST student’s profound question, “Would you like to dine with me?” truly challenges the leaders to leave their safety net and experience the lives of those they are sworn to serve. It is an invitation to lead not just with policies and plans but with a heart that truly eats, cries, toils, and bleeds with the people. May this simple question resonate, reminding us of the power of empathy and the importance of staying connected to the realities of those we serve.
Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.