BY PATRICIA DENISE CHIU & KIMBERLY JANE TAN, GMA NEWS August 21, 2012 5:23pm
When Jesse Robredo was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award for Good Governance in 2000, he was recognized for “giving credence to the promise of democracy by demonstrating that effective city management is compatible with yielding power to the people.”
At the time, he had just relinquished his post as mayor of Naga City due to term limits, but not before transforming his sleepy hometown into one of the models of good governance in the Philippines.
Even after reaping one of the highest accolades for a public servant in Asia, however, Robredo continued to make Naga City grow into one of the most progressive cities in the Bicol region, serving three more terms before accepting the position of Interior and Local Governments Secretary under President Benigno Aquino III.
It comes as no surprise then, that when his body was recovered Tuesday from the wreckage of the plane he boarded last August 18 that crashed off the shore of Masbate province, tributes poured infor the 54-year old Robredo.
There were also comparisons to another man whose life in public service was cut short: the award Robredo got was named after former President Ramon Magsaysay, who also died in a plane crash in 1957. Both Magsaysay and Robredo were in Cebu before their fatal accidents, and both were well-loved leaders.
Robredo was also a Dangal ng Bayan awardee, the highest government award given to government officials or employees for exemplary public service.
“The most important ingredient of leadership is character. Most of the proficiencies can be learned, but what’s inside you is something that’s difficult to change,” Robredo once said in a television documentary.
Robredo was on his way home to Naga City, where his family is based, following a speaking engagement in Cebu City when his plane crashed last Saturday.
A second-generation Chinese, Robredo was born on May 27, 1958 in Naga City. The third of five children of Jose Chan Robredo Sr. and Marcelina Manalastas, Robredo grew up comfortably in the family compound, but he also credits the family patriarch for his hardworking streak.
In the biography of Robredo prepared by the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation (RMAF), he said his father valued academic performance and promoted a competitive spirit among his children. “There is no place for second honor, only first honor,” Robredo quotes his father telling them as children.
Thus, after graduating with an Engineering degree from the De La Salle University, he took up further education in governance during a three-year hiatus from public service. Robredo was an Edward Mason Fellow in 2000 and a graduate of Masters in Public Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, according to the DILG website.
Robredo met his wife, Maria Leonor “Leni” Gerona-Robredo, when he interviewed her for a job while he was working at the Bicol River Basin Development Program. During the four days the Secretary was missing, Leni said she drew strength from their three daughters – 24-year old Jessica Marie or Aika, 18-year old Janine Patricia, and 13-year old Jillian Therese.
When he became mayor of his city in 1988 at the age of 29, the youngest at the time, Robredo reported to work promptly at eight in the morning. However, he made it a point to go home for lunch and dinner at his wife’s insistence, the RMAF biography said.
His wife Leni, a lawyer, supported his work as a politician and also served as his adviser while raising their growing household. One of the couple’s stated principles, according to RMAF, was that, “If our children cannot inherit anything material, at least they will inherit a good name.”
His three daughters will certainly have a tough act to follow, after their father made good on his vision to make Naga City “a happy place” by getting rid of illegal gambling and inefficient bureaucracy in his hometown.
Robredo was also proud of the kilometers of roads built during his term, the bridges and drainage systems repaired, and the other public works projects that have made Naga one of the most business-friendly and livable cities in the country.
He professionalized the operations of city hall, and encouraged the participation of the youth in local governance. But he was also known for being frugal and having a disdain for cosmetic projects, preferring instead to spend funds on vital infrastructure projects for the greater public good.
“At least, may karapatan kaming sumingil ng buwis dito at hindi namin inaaksaya ang pera,” he once told an interviewer.
When he was appointed as DILG secretary in 2010, Robredo brought the same values to the agency, focusing on drumming up public support for the Full Disclosure Policy. This would require local government units to disclose in public places the 12 key financial documents that show how their funds are spent.
“Hindi rin sapat na tayo ay mahusay lamang. Hindi lahat ng matino ay mahusay, at lalo namang hindi lahat ng mahusay ay matino,” he is fond of telling colleagues, according to the DILG website. “Ang dapat ay matino at mahusay upang karapat-dapat tayong pagkatiwalaan ng pera ng bayan.”
Under Robredo’s term, the DILG has initiated the investigation and filing of charges against individuals involved in spurious procurement contracts.
The agency said Robredo had also been “tirelessly improving” the disaster risk reduction and mitigation capabilities of LGUs by introducing the Seal of Disaster Preparedness, an incentive mechanism.
One of his supporters, actress Mae Paner, better known as Juana Change, posted on her Facebook account: “Sec. Jesse rest in peace! Our prayers for you and your family! And our deepest gratitude for your GOOD WORK! Ipagpapatuloy namin ang iyong sinimulan!”
Paner was referring to the DILG’s ordinance “banning names or initials and/or images or pictures of government officials in billboards and signages of government programs, projects and properties.” Advocacy groups have nicknamed it the “Anti-Epal” campaign.
For all his accomplishments, at the time of his death and after a long wait of more than two years, Robredo had yet to get confirmation as DILG Secretary from the Commission on Appointments (CA).
Robredo was appointed in July 2010, among the last to be named to Aquino’s Cabinet. After the government’s inept handling of the August 23, 2010 Manila hostage-taking crisis, however, Robredo was named Acting Secretary instead of being issued an “ad interim” appointment for transmittal to the CA.
Eventually, Robredo’s name was submitted to the CA, but he was one of the five Cabinet secretaries whose confirmation was bypassed after Congress adjourned its session last June 6.
Robredo also had an occasionally testy relationship with the President, who has revealed to the media that he had disagreements with Robredo during the 2010 campaign, especially when it came to hectic schedules. Apparently, the laidback Aquino couldn’t keep pace with Robredo, who liked to work fast.
Despite the personal setbacks, Robredo remained steadfast in his vision for the DILG and the country.
“Pinapangako ko po na marami pa tayong pakikinabangan sa mga repormang pinalakas natin sa DILG. Paiigtingin pa natin ang pagbabago sa lokal na pamahalaan at sa Interior sector upang suportahan ang ginagawa nyo sa national,” reads his prepared statement for his scheduled Commission on Appointments hearing.
“Sa tulong ng opisyal at kawani ng DILG, gagawin ko ang lahat ng aking makakaya para maabot natin ang pangarap ng isang bansang matuwid at maayos ang daan,” he vowed.
Sadly, it will now be up to his DILG colleagues to make Robredo’s dream for local governance come true.