An Epitome of a Life Lived in its Fullest

Few years had passed since I wrote an article of the same topic, with the same title.

“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,” says a man who had stirred up a comparable aspect of a former Philippine president – now a modern-day Ramon Magsaysay. Such passion to serve the people and willpower to do good have fueled Jesse M. Robredo to spend a life he had and eventually fulfilled a realization that it had been something that is, until this day, worth dying for.

On the 18th day of August year 2012, the world was shook with the news report delivering that a twin-engine, four-seater Piper Seneca light aircraft, directed to Naga from Cebu, crashed off the sea in Masbate island province. Only the police aide had survived the so-called accident. Captain Jessup Bahinting, Nepalese pilot trainee Kshitiz Chand, and (at that time DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo did not able to make it. This untimely death of the secretary created a huge impact in the lives of many people, which has still been commemorated through a fluvial parade and has been announced that August would be Jesse Robredo month. Consequently, this national tragedy has evoked the memories of Ramon Magsaysay who also died in a plane crash. This tends to relate an image of exceptional leadership skills, good governance tactics, concern for the welfare of the people, and a well-lived life – which both of the aforementioned leaders acquire. Despite the personal setbacks, Robredo remained steadfast in his vision for the DILG and the country (Chiu and Tan, GMA News 2012).

Now, what kind of person had he become to be able to exhibit such a charismatic appeal to people? Why did his death immensely affect the Filipinos? How significant are his contributions to our nation that his name had been able to be the top headlines of the news for a couple of weeks or months after the incident? How was he able to connect with his countrymen while he was still alive and breathing? Does it make any sense in putting the focus of the lens to his character and way of living? Here lies the basic truth behind this man that had considerably died with honor that will forever stay in our homeland.

Jesse Manalastas Robredo, born on May 27, 1958 in Naga City, was raised by Jose Chan Robredo Sr. and Marcelina Manalastas. He’s a second-generation Chinese Filipino who’s the third child among the brood of five. During the 1970s, he attended Ateneo de Naga when he was in high school. Instead of pursuing his studies in University of the Philippines Los Baños where he also passed an admission test, he finished undergraduate degrees in Industrial Management Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the De La Salle University. During the 1980s, he worked at San Miguel Corporation in the Physical Distribution Technical Services then later functioned as the Magnolia Ice Cream director’s assistant staff and was also assigned to logistics planning. In 1985, he had been a scholar at the University of the Philippines Diliman and finished his Masters in Business Administration. Due to his scholarly excellence, he was named the Graduate School and Faculty Organization awardee.

Raised by a highly-competitive father, he learned to be a responsible and mature individual in his earlier years. He broke records in schooling, notching degrees, accomplishments, political integrity, and passion for reform. His academic performance was excellent. He was disciplined as a child and would, thus, do the same to his children. He neither tried to smoke nor to drink. He valued virtues of being concerned to other people and living in a modest lifestyle. He was a streetwise as he witnessed conditions between well-to-do and poor families. Perhaps relatively comfortable with regards to the basic need of the family, he had been exposed in the realities of the world which molded him into a well-made man. Protecting the integrity and honor of one’s family is of highest importance to him. Children should be able to contribute their share in order to attain this goal. “If our children cannot inherit anything material, at least they will inherit a good name,” says his supportive wife, Atty. Maria Leonora “Leni” Gerona – whom he had met during a job interview in Bicol – and they had three daughters throughout the years of harmonious marriage. He was a multi-awarded local executive before leaving his corporate life for public service. In spite of the demands of his jobs, he stayed plain. He had moved around freely without any bodyguard beside him. He knew that even the simplest acts do matter that he would be seen sweeping the streets by himself. He’s definitely ‘one of the most prominent figures among a rising generation of local officials becoming known on the national stage’. On the other hand, he would hurry to his family on weekends. “In the end, this habit of hurrying cost him his life- and the nation, one of its best sons,” as deeply described in an article published by InterAksyon in 2012.

Robredo returned to Naga City the following year to become the Program Director of the Bicol River Basin Development Program. At age 29, he was declared the youngest mayor in the country during 1988 in Naga City. In 1995, he was elected as President of the League of Cities of the Philippines, Chairman of the Metro Naga Development Council (1992-1998), and Chairman of the Regional Development Council. Four years later, while he is a Mayor of Naga City (for 19 years), he earned his masteral degree in Public Administration at John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Meanwhile, Naga City was named one of the “Most Improved Cities in Asia” by Asiaweek Magazine. When he was reelected in 1995, he enacted a unique Empowerment Ordinance creating a People’s Council that should institutionalize NGOs and people’s organizations participation for the upcoming municipal deliberations. He responded to an appointment set by Cory Aquino during the People Power Revolution 1986 when he won by slim margin at a very young age. The “Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007” gave voice to the citizens in demanding efficient service according to the charter written in a table in every office. In relation to his incomparable call for empowerment, he also instituted “Seal of Good Housekeeping” program in 2010 that should motivate LGUs and inspire local chief executives.

He won the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service for his exemplary skills in governing. The board of trustees recognized his ability to provide the acceptance to a promising demonstration of democracy and that signified the compatibility of effective city management with regards to the yielding of the power to the people. He received 13 other major awards such as the 1998 Konrad Adenauer Medal of Excellence as Most Outstanding City Mayor of the Philippines, 1994 Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World Honoree, 1990 Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines, and the very first “Dangal ng Bayan” Award of the Civil Service Commission. President Benigno Aquino III named him as the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government in 2010.

Inherently, all of the achievements of this man cannot fit a one-paragraph enumeration. This shows how active he had been participating in the clash of life. Other than these awards, he had also been a victor of well-established projects, programs, advocacies, and a lot more activities that suit the principles and standards which are truly worth the fight.

‘A center of excellence in implementing government research’, Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance, is one of the examples that operate until this day. Former Governor and Representative of Camarines Sur, Luis Villafuerte, owned a network called Bicol Boradcasting System where Robredo had worked as President and Station Manager. Furthermore, the city government had a program Kaantabay sa Kauswagan which expropriated lands for relocation and housing of urban poor settlers. The “Tsinelas Leadership” may also represent the simplicity and being down-to-earth of the people’s servant. He’s, indeed, raising the issue of championing the marginalized sectors. Together with former Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio and Isabela Governor Grace Padace, promoted Kaya Natin! Movement. One of those who testify this influential drive is the Mayor of Daet town, Tito Sarion. A “force for positive change” has strategic ways that can be regarded as highlights of merit in fulfilling the plans and actions that should have been undertaken. He made his staffs play SimCity. Cities are a system. Small changes can lead to big results, both negative and positive. He believed that it’s an essential aspect, of building one’s character in pursuing his aims, to look at people and treat them equally without the bias of their social status. No matter how big or small a thing is, it matters and always will. He maintained dynamism in his ruling as he’s faithful to pro-people ideology. Performance, productivity, and morale among city employees were therefore raised – as “a culture of excellence overtook the culture of mediocrity, businesses doubled, and local revenues rose by 573 percent”.

Yapak Natin: Tsinelas Walk for Jesse Robredo had been participated by thousands of participants a year after his mournful death. Youth leadership seminars such as “Lead Like Jesse” and “Mobility Mission” were held to campaign and motivate the young generation to take a path that can lead our nation to a better state. It is not enough for a leader to be good; more importantly, it is the people and the system that must force the leader to be good – words by Robredo. Additionally, he said Kahit hindi mo gusto yung ginagawa mo, you are still expected to work hard and excel. His advice to would-be leaders was that ‘You have to have credibility’. He emphasized that a leader must not only be good but also competent; which is noticeable among his speeches with the matino at mahusay slogan. He’s an idealist in a sense  that he aspired to make Naga City a happy place where it would get rid of illegal gambling and inefficient bureaucracy. A once disarrayed locality had been turned into one of the most competitive, most business friendly, most cost-effective, most women and children friendly, most outstanding in excellence, innovation, and governance – that’s Naga City handled by Robredo in service. Public works had been an essential task to accomplish during his term which, in turn, made such a place to be one of the most livable cities in the country. Operations were professionalized. Participation was encouraged. Frugality and disdain for cosmetic projects were endorsed. As termed, the leader and his people residing in the city had been “tirelessly improving”. Naga had been revived through strengthened performance, transparency, and accountability in the systems of governance across the public-private divide. Focus was on the capacity to build and improve development outcomes such as decentralization, budget monitoring, environmental governance and sustainability, integrity systems, e-governance (an application of information communication technology), and awareness (consensus support and solutions to problems). He quoted, “good government cannot be achieved without people empowerment”. Mass and elite are believed to have been entitled with the same kind of service.

Our political history has shown that we have put the burden of running this country to our ‘best’ people for too long. And yet the gap between the rich and the poor has grown wider. For this country to succeed, we need to make heroes of ordinary people. We need to make heroes of ourselves (Robredo, 2005).

This biography of a man like Jesse Robredo may seem to have said too much for a paper; but its length is still too short analogous to the breadth of life the man had lived. Words cannot entirely narrate the episodes of his heroism, or even failures. In a way, it still does play a vital role in signifying an endeavor that is exemplary and is worth reminiscing by us, especially the Filipino people. Many would have been asking: “Would these pieces of information be published if not because of his ill-timed death?” Well, what really pushed through these details that make us appreciate the deeds further when he’d been gone? Is it politics? Power relations? Publicity? Personal intentions? Promotion? – The bottomline is nobody can ever really judge without a hint of dogmatism from his/her own perspective. What matters is that we got something from this story – the existence of prevalent possibilities that we could actually continue the struggle of pulling this country to the top of what we thought is an impossible altitude to be reached by anyone… where plane crash cannot subside.

Jesse Robredo had lived a life, may be in a short period of time as how others see it, but the battle has just begun. Skirmish. Integrity and dignity, honor and excellence – they don’t die and never will if we relive the fire and stand up again midst adversities. We got a lifetime to do it. Sincerity does count.

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