UnadornedBy Isabel baccay
Cebu Daily News
Secretary Jesse Robredo is teaching us how to die.
I never had the good fortune of meeting him or his kin, but I knew of him while he was still mayor of Naga City. One of my dearest friends is from Naga City, and described him as ‘yung mayor naming magaling’ (our excellent mayor). She spoke of him with an altered tone, her voice taking a timbre of gratefulness and wonder. It is indeed wondrous how the then Mayor Robredo led the transformation of a demoted ‘third class’ city coated with these dismal facts: one-fifth of households classified as squatters, a 3.5 incidence of third degree malnutrition, rampant illegal logging and pornography and a budget deficit of P1 million. And then he stepped in. In just ten years, Naga’s annual growth rate of 6.5 percent was one of the fastest in the country. Their per capita income was 42 percent higher than the national average and poverty incidence was much lower that that of the Bicol region. Third degree malnutrition was practically erased from a 3.5 incidence to only 0.1 percent. He received over 140 national and international rewards, including the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service.
In 1986, a man born as Benigno Aquino Jr. in Tarlac, returned to us from exile as Marcial Bonifacio and he was executed on a tarmac. I never had the good fortune of meeting him or his kin either. The rumours were rife that he was coming back, and my parents spoke of the news of his impending return with altered tones as well. Their voices were hushed and worried. There was a lot to worry about for the Philippines then. I do not have to go into statistics because I still remember the fear and confusion. And then Ninoy was killed, and it was so crude and so evil. A collective indignation and call for change led to Edsa One.
Jesse Robredo was one of those talented men who responded to the call of the new government to “go back and work in the city”. He gave us 24 years.
Secretary Robredo’s passing was indeed untimely, as he was just getting started on his reformation of the Department of Interior and Local Government, yet the timing is uncanny. We are a country shaking its head over plagiarism issues that hounded our “statesmen”. Their lawyer’s defense of their actions was almost comical.
Men and women of influence, take a page from Secretary Robredo’s passing. Naga youths are wearing his image on their shirts to welcome him home today. His peers and colleagues have hailed his credibility and integrity as the benchmark for excellence. The poor are lining the streets for a last glimpse of a man who listened to them and made their lives better. This is the kind of death that you would want to live for.
My friend, Nathalie, met Secretary Robredo when he gave a short lecture in their Development Management course at the Asian Institute of Management. She said she was struck by how “unadorned” his ideas were – “they all simply made sense, obviously stripped of any need for glory and the usual political motivation”. After the class, she bumped into him at McDonalds and he was taking out a meal. He was alone – no bodyguards or coterie in tow. He said he was going to take the bus to Naga that evening. No fuss, no bother to anyone else.
He would have been embarrassed at the show of attention and all the accolades heaped on him these days. Forgive us, Secretary Robredo – but in our honest reaction to your death, we are also making a statement.
We are a people who will recognize, honor and bless remarkable persons of character and integrity. We celebrate their lives, and we now have a better idea of the standards we should hold our government officials to.
May you find rest in your eternal reward, Secretary Robredo. Salamat.