Wenceslao: Leni Lugaw

Bong O. Wenceslao
·3 min read

I grew up eating “lugaw” or rice porridge every time I got sick. I could not forget that particular instance when my fever was high and I lost my taste for food. My mother served me hot “lugaw” and, when I refused to eat it for fear of vomiting, told me vomiting was the better option than not eating anything. I ate the hot “lugaw” and vomited, after which I perspired profusely. My body temperature got back to normal and soon my taste buds acted up again.

There is now a debate on whether “lugaw” is an essential food or not prompted by the decision of people in a checkpoint in Quezon not to allow a Grab driver to pass through because he was delivering a non-essential food during curfew hours. That food may not have been deemed essential by those people in the checkpoint, but what about those who wanted it delivered to them deep in the night?

I wake up at dawn to cook lugaw. The ritual started when I realized that the milk I drank every morning caused the migraine episodes I endured for days already. Instead of preparing milk, I cooked “lugaw.” The migraine is gone.

Why would you buy “lugaw” when you can cook it at home? I don’t know the reason, but it seems like some folks have succeeded in elevating the “lugaw” into a saleable item like fried chicken. Who knows if the person who ordered it was feverish? That should have upped the “lugaw’s” essential rating.

Incidentally, the “lugaw” is being used by diehard Duterte supporters to put down Vice President Leni Robredo, whose camp supposedly sold “lugaw” to fund her candidacy five years ago. The strategy to use “lugaw” must have been effective because Robredo defeated the billionaire Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in that election. I mean Leni Lugaw won.

It was only a matter of time before a lapdog of President Duterte would use the Grab issue to put down the Vice President. That lapdog, Epimaco Densing of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, gleefully claimed Leni Lugaw is non-essential.

He must be referring to Robredo’s position, widely referred to as the President’s spare tire. But having a VP surely is important, or constitutions everywhere would not have created it. Yet Robredo has long made herself relevant, using the meager budget given to her office and a dose of creativity to help people, including those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

What Densing may have succeeded is to further identify Robredo with the masses, who cook “lugaw” to stretch a limited budget for rice. Aside from “lugaw,” there is one other variety Cebuanos call “tinughong,” whose purpose is the same. This refers to leftover cooked rice (“bahaw”) cooked again by simply adding water. The “tinughong” is yet to be elevated into a saleable item like the “lugaw.”

When former senator, Vice President and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ran, she wore the tag “Gloria Labandera” like a badge. It identified the rich and intellectual candidate with the “masa,” a strategy used by rich campaigners to win the votes of the poor. Densing should have found by now that his put-down of Robredo would boomerang on the camp he is identified with.