‘Simply Jesse’ who bit his handBy DJ Yap, Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
But to members of his staff and other employees at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Jesse Robredo was “simply Jesse.”
On Wednesday, personnel of the DILG and officials of the Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology gathered to pay tribute to Robredo, who died in a plane crash in Masbate on Saturday at age 54.
“He was very kind and hard-working. He was always in a hurry because for him, every minute counted. He wanted to accomplish many things here in the DILG,” said Vicencia Sta. Ana, Robredo’s appointments secretary.
“I cannot describe him enough. You can use all the superlatives, but they are still not enough to describe him as a man,” Sta. Ana said.
Teresa Vergara, a staff member at the DILG’s public affairs office, said Robredo was a “very simple man with a very big heart for the poor and ordinary people.”
“All the people here in DILG know how straight he was. He was a good example to use,” Vergara said.
She recalled how an “unassuming” Robredo would arrive early every day and patiently wait for his elevator ride to his office on the 10th floor of the DILG building in Quezon City.
“Secretary Robredo would line up outside the elevator,” DILG security staff member Jessica Gonzales said. “He did not want to be treated like a VIP. He was approachable and did not make ordinary employees feel like we were second-class citizens.”
Gian Borgonia, a member of Robredo’s communications team, said he never heard Robredo raise his voice even if he was upset with his staff.
Bites his hand
“He will just bite his hand. That’s what he always did whenever he got angry,” Borgonia said.
“Although he was angry, he would patiently explain to us what we should do to finish our work immediately. He always wanted to get results at once and hated delays in our work,” Borgonia said.
Fellow government officials, politicians, and people he met in the performance of his many duties honored Robredo Wednesday with tributes extolling his exemplary work as part of the Aquino administration.
But the best way to honor him, a fellow Cabinet member said, is for all officials to rededicate themselves to the ideals of public service.
Small people whom Robredo had helped felt a deep loss at his passing.
“We’ve lost not only a good government official, we’ve also lost a friend,” said Filomena Cinco, leader of an estero-dwellers’ association in Manila. “He’s a big loss to our sector.”
Cinco was supposed to meet Robredo at his DILG office Wednesday for a discussion of the estero-dwellers’ problems.
Flags at half-staff
In Manila, Mayor Alfredo Lim led the mourning, ordering the Philippine flag to be lowered to half-staff at all public offices and schools and asking city officials and employees to offer a minute of prayer for Robredo every day, at least after his funeral.
Former President Joseph Estrada, too, had good words to say about Robredo, describing him “the most sincere government official worth emulation.”
Estrada said Robredo was a young mayor of Naga City when he first met him. “Even then I could see it in his eyes he was sincere and should be emulated by other government officials,” Estrada said.
In the Senate, six resolutions went up honoring Robredo and expressing sympathy to his family.
The authors of the resolutions were Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, and Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Lito Lapid.
For Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, the best way for government officials to honor Robredo is by rededicating themselves to the ideals of public service.
“The finest tribute we can pay him at this hour is to pray for the eternal repose of his soul, and, for the civil servants among us, to rededicate ourselves to the ideals of public service,” Paje said in a statement.
He said Robredo, a fellow Bicolano, had been a valuable partner in the implementation of various environmental projects, including the government’s campaign against illegal logging, solid waste management, use of geohazard maps by local governments, and clearing waterways and Manila Bay.
With Robredo’s help the environment department engaged the Philippine National Police to plant millions of trees under the National Greening Program, he said.
Paje said Robredo best distinguished himself as a Filipino.
“He established himself as an exemplar of public service, utterly competent and dedicated. The many awards and acclaim he received from the time he was mayor of Naga City—the youngest city mayor in the country—amply attest to his impeccable credentials,” Paje said.
‘Noble public servant’
Robredo was a “noble public servant” who quietly helped the search for peace in Mindanao, said Teresita Quintos Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process.
“The support given by Secretary Jesse to the peace process will live on; not many knew that he was a quiet peace-builder who made sure conflict-affected communities feel an honest and responsive government working hard to deliver the fruits of reforms,” Deles said.
Robredo “lived a life in relentless pursuit of what we all know, in our hearts, as true: This country can make good governance the norm, and not the exception,” she said.
“We extend our sincerest condolences to the family of Secretary Jesse. We will continue to advocate for a just and lasting peace as a tribute to his legacy,” Deles said.
Loss to peace process
Even the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been fighting for a Moro homeland in Mindanao for decades, joined the government in mourning Robredo’s death, saying the passing of the interior secretary was a loss to the peace process in Mindanao.
In a statement posted on the MILF’s website, Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel, said Robredo’s death was not only a loss to his family and relatives and to the Aquino administration “but also to peacemaking in Mindanao.”
Iqbal said Robredo was a strong supporter of the peaceful settlement of the “Moro question” and the armed conflict in the south.
Iqbal said he met Robredo during a peace meeting in Penang, Malaysia, earlier this year and found the local government chief an “amiable person.”
“May the family have the strength in this most difficult moment,” Iqbal said.
Unicef also mourns
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) on Wednesday sent condolences to the Philipine government and Robredo’s family. In a statement released by the organizations’ office in Manila, the Unicef called Robredo a pioneer of a child-friendly government.
Robredo’s kind of leadership served as an inspiration for UN agencies, the Unicef said.
Abdul Alim, Unicef OIC representative to the Philippines, said in the statement that Robredo worked hands-on for children’s welfare.
“I had the honor of working with Secretary Robredo over the last two years,” Alim said. “I found him to be a person of high integrity, sincerity with a very high sense of purpose. He was extremely helpful on issues related to children in the Philippines.”
Robredo “took personal interest in Unicef’s work,” Alim said. “He will be missed as a great contributor to the cause of child rights in the Philippines.”
The Unicef also cited how Robredo gave his full support to its activities in Naga City as mayor in 2000. The city, which he transformed during his time, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Presidential Award for Child Friendly Municipalities and Cities for implementing child-friendly town policies.
“He would tirelessly join Unicef in its regional summits for children, inspiring fellow mayors and other local officials on how investing in children is investing in good governance,” the Unicef said.
When he became interior secretary, Robredo introduced reforms affecting children, including enhancing local school boards and councils for children and encouraging local governments to pursue children’s programs.
Unicef also cited Robredo’s contribution in forging a partnership between the organization and the Philippines to reach children in disaster and conflict areas.
Mourning at home
In Naga City, residents continued to gather at the Robredo home to mourn his death.
Benjamin Peralta Jr, 51, was among the first 100 mourners who came to the house on Tuesday to condole with Robredo’s family and catch a glimpse of his body.
Yesterday around 500 mourners gathered outside the Archbishop’s Palace, home of Archbishop Leonardo Z. Legazpi of the Archdiocese of Nueva Caceres, where Robredo lies in state.
“Anyone could approach Robredo for any assistance and [he] would not hesitate to respond to their needs, including giving scholarships to indigent students,” Peralta said.
Vice Mayor Gabriel Borgado, who had known Robredo for 26 years, said his friend deserved the stately wake. He described Robredo as a “decent man” who led a simple life and who always consulted the bishop for moral guidance. With reports from Norman Bordadora, Philip C. Tubeza, Tarra Quismundo, TJ Burgonio, Nancy Carvajal and Kristine Felisse Mangunay in Manila; and Juan Escandor Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon