From a political protégé, Robredo carves own political trailBy Juan Escandor Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
NAGA CITY—Being a nephew of one of the most influential political figures after the People Power Revolution I, Interior and Local Government Jesse M. Robredo, was a political protégé first when he entered government service in 1986.
Robredo, then 26 years old, was the political protégé of Luis Robredo Villafuerte, the head of the government reorganization of the revolutionary government under President Corazon Aquino, who asked him to head the Bicol River Basin Development Program (BRBDP) Office, an Asian Development Bank funded program, according to Jose Barrameda, Villafuerte’s second cousin and local historian.
“He was a political protégé of Luis (Villafuerte) who groomed him to become mayor of Naga City in 1989 after three years in the BRBDP,” Barrameda narrated.
He recalled Robredo was then a promising junior executive of San Miguel Corporation based in Manila when Villafuerte prodded his nephew to work in the government.
Robredo was an honor student, graduating second honors in grade six in 1970 at the Naga Parochial School and also second honors when he graduated high school in 1974 at the Ateneo de Naga College (now a university). He held two engineering degrees—industrial management and mechanical—that he earned from De La Salle University, Manila from 1974-1980.
Robredo and Villafuerte, who are into political conflict and rivalry since 1992, belonged to a common Chinese ancestry, only that it was divided by two marriages.
Barrameda said that in 1989 at the age of 29 years old, Robredo broke into the local political scene with Villafuerte supporting him to win a very narrow margin against rival Ramon S. Roco, younger brother to the late Raul S. Roco, in the mayoralty race.
Robredo is considered the youngest mayor of Philippines at that time, who won only 24 percent of the votes and by a margin of less than 1,000 votes.
When Robredo was in his first year as mayor, Villafuerte was appointed acting governor of Camarines Sur. They parted ways in 1992 elections with Villafuerte fielding his sister Pura Luisa Villafuerte-Magtuto, a retired principal, against Robredo.
Robredo has carved his own trail in Naga City politics making him the only political leader here whose handpicked local candidates all won in the elections without let-up since 1992, including the local elections in 2010, for seven consecutive elections.
“He (Robredo) has learned to use power but not nakedly. He sets certain limits and would not go beyond them,” Barrameda said, describing Robredo’s executive power.
He said Robredo has made a fateful decision in 1992 elections when he supported Fidel Ramos in his presidential bid against Ramon Mitra whom Villafuerte supported.
Ramos won the elections and the presidential blessings were upon Robredo, which enabled the latter to further pursue his type of consultative governance and development approach which brought big change in the city.
The mayor was confronted by an array of problems when he assumed his mayoral position with the city coffers empty and strained by overspending, tangled traffic because countless buses and jeepneys held terminal right inside the business district, sluggish economy, deteriorating basic services, proliferation of smut films and lewd shows, rampant illegal gambling and growing number of homeless urban poor population.
According to the nomination write-up for the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service by Adolfo L. Olivan, Robredo overcame the challenges in Naga City through “confidence-building initiatives” by reorganizing City Hall on the basis of aptitude and competence, aided by bureaucracy-wide skills testing reinforced with better compensation and a transparent system of merit-based hiring and promotion.
Olivan also said that the mayor went after illegal gambling and lewd shows even if it meant parting ways with his “political benefactor”, making Naga the only jueteng and smut-free city in the country.
“All these immediately endeared him to the people of Naga, who saw a refreshing brand of competent, performance-driven leadership at the helm of the city government,” he added.
Despite protestation of terminal operators who filed string of cases against him, Robredo relocated the bus and jeepney terminals outside the old business district which de-clogged the traffic and accelerated the growth areas in the periphery where terminals were transferred.
Barrameda can still remember clearly the conception of the consultative style of leadership Robredo demonstrated when during his first term as mayor he had to make consultation with his constituents before implementing road widening project in Bagumbayan Norte where the main road from the towns south of Naga City cuts across.
Barrameda claimed the city mayor upon assumption to office in 1989 launched his mission to clean-up and build-up Naga City which had deteriorated to a third-class category from first-class city.
Ten years later, in 1999, the Asiaweek cited Naga City as one of four most improved cities in Asia in recognition of its participative processes, strong democratic tradition and commitment to excellence.
Also in 1998, the United Nations Center for Human Settlements (UNCHS) and the Municipality of Dubai awarded Naga City for its participative planning initiatives program as one of the world’s ten best practices for improving the living environment.
Robredo is the longest serving mayor of Naga City for 18 years, from 1989-1998, and, from 2001-2010.
Even as he was hounded by citizenship issue which questioned his being a Filipino citizen, Robredo has made a stride to clear doubts about his real citizenship when on June 2, 2010 his lawyers received an en banc decision of the Commission on Election that affirmed the May 29, 2008 findings of the First Special Division declaring him a Filipino citizen.
Voting 4-3, the Comelec en banc, chaired by Jose A.R. Melo, finds “no congent reason to depart from the May 29, 2008 findings which found Robredo’s father Jose, a Filipino, and therefore, he is a Filipino citizen qualified to run and is eligible to assume office and perform functions as mayor of Naga City.
Those who decided in favor of Robredo were Melo and Commissioners Rene V. Sarmiento, Lucenito N. Tagle and Amando C. Velasco. Those who dissented were Commissioners Nicodemo T. Ferrer, Elias R. Yusoph and Gregorio Y. Larrazabal.
The citizenship case against Robredo was filed after the local elections in 2007 by poll rival Jojo L. Villafuerte, a cousin, who accused the former of being a Chinese citizen and, hence, disqualified to run, assume and hold an elective office. The alleged Chinese citizenship has always been an issue against Robredo every election season.