Jesse Robredo: Local Hero and National Dreamcatcher
I was never a resident of Naga City, but I have heard of the exceptional and upright leadership of Jesse Robredo from fellow Bicolanos, many of them common folks.
At any age, but perhaps more keenly in our younger years, we search for sources of inspiration. I was in college when he first served as Mayor and started making indelible marks in the economic and political development of Camarines Sur. With his hands-on, pro-people, and practical leadership, Jesse Robredo was a guiding star in a galaxy of confusing, often denigrating politicos.
I had the chance to see up close the legendary Mayor twice. Once, on a Sunday morning, during Holy Mass at the Basilica Minoré of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga, I saw his familiar figure a few rows ahead of me and family. On Sundays churchgoers fill the Basilica to its full capacity, yet I saw him with his children and wife, seated at the rear part of the church’s left wing, with not a single uniformed bodyguard in sight. Jesse Robredo and his family took part in the service peacefully and nondescriptly.
This was the first time I saw him in person.
The second time was during the launching of the Regional Workshop on the Development of Knowledgebase for Agriculture and Fisheries (A&F) in September 2009 at Naga City. The event introduced the launch of the Farmers Contact Center which sought to bring A&F information closer to farmers and fishers. We invited then-Mayor Jesse Robredo to give his message during the workshop. Not many local leaders attend A&F gatherings, opting to have their Provincial, City or Municipal Agriculturist represent them as they have more important things to attend to. Yet Jesse Robredo took it upon himself to honor our humble invitation.
The third time I saw him was more recent. He was no longer an adored Mayor but the Secretary of the Department ofInterior and Local Government (DILG). It was June 1st this year, a Friday morning, and I had just been to an inter-regional training outside Manila. Walking into the plane that was to take me from Manila to Legazpi City at 6:00 A.M., I saw ahead of me Jesse Robrero, boarding the same plane. He was walking amid the rest of the passengers, his gait quiet, his demeanor peaceful. I saw no uniformed bodyguard with him.
Then and now, he is a light that casts away many shadows. Perhaps one of Bicolanos’ fond memories of Jesse Robredo will be the sight of the then-Mayor among men and women, cleaning up the streets of Naga to rid it of debris during typhoon aftermaths. He also stood up against a famous, oligarchic politician in the province, one who was said to be a distant relative, to preserve the economic and political integrity of Naga, and many Bicolanos feared for Jesse Robredo’s safety.
Now, we need fear for his safety no more. Jesse is safe at home with the Almighty.
American Indians believe that dreams are message from sacred spirits. Good dreams reach the sleeper through the hole at the dreamcatcher’s center. Bad dreams are trapped and disappear at dawn’s first light.
I do believe Jesse Robredo is not just a Bicolano we can all be proud of, but a dreamcatcher that we could all listen to. He knew many local government units (LGUs) are riddled with problems. He knew that some LGU officials, instead of solving people’s problems, aggravate them with too much politicking. As DILG Secretary he chose to solve these issues, often faced with unfair criticisms and people who refuse to budge.
Symbolically, he went to a groundbreaking ceremony and community investigate report national summit in Cebu before the accident happened. He will never see their realization with his earthly eyes.
After work, he rushed back to his family. It was in Masbate, one of Bicol’s provinces that had a history of political squabbles, that the ill-fated plane was said to have avoided crashing onto a populated area and instead plunged into sea.
It was not for him to complete the work, but he helped prepare the way for more people to do what had to be done. His soul rests in peace.
Allow me to share some of his thoughts during the Regional Workshop on the Development of Knowledgebase for Agriculture and Fisheries three years ago. Delivered in Bicolnon, characteristically peppered with respectful “po” which Nagaueños are known for, his message showed his ability to focus on what is essential to address the needs of the people.
“Ang hamon po kaini, bako man kung gaano ka-sophisticated an satuyang infrastraktura, kundi kung ang puso kan lambang saro yaon sa infrastrakturang iyan. Gustong sabihon, marikas na pagsimbag, madaling makaulay, medyo personalized. An problema po baga sa internet, very impersonal nang maray. Gustong sabihon, igwang extra effort na ipamati sa nagbabasa na iniyong sakuyang ikinokomunikar saimo, bako ining research, kundi sarong paagi na kitang padagos na maulay ta gusto ta kang tabangan… Siguro kaipuhan ihapot, ‘Tano ka ta naghahapot? Ano an saysay kan hinahapot mo sa problema?’ Gusto pong sabihon, genuinely may interes ka kung ano an mangyayari sa saiya. [The challenge to us is not having very sophisticated infrastructure, but having infrastructure that has a heart. This means we answer queries fast, we are easy to talk to, we are personalized and not impersonal. This means we exert extra effort to make the clients feel that what we are telling them is not research, but a way for us to be continually in touch with them because we want to help them… Maybe we need to ask, ‘Why are you asking about them, what is your problem?’ This means we have genuine interest on what happens to our clients.]
“Mahalaga an puso kan infrastraktura ta sa katunayan iyo yan sa hiling ko an susi kan gabos na ini. An katonayan pwede ini garong sarong answering machine. Pag-apod ko, ini an hapot ko, naka-record, masimbag pabalik, tapos na… O pwede ini garo sarong kaulay na pag-apod ko, masabi siya, iyo ngaya ini an hinahanap mo, igwa ka pa ngaya gustong ihapot?... Dawa impertinente pa an kaulay mo, dahil pinorbaran mo maggibo kaini, sa hiling ko titiyagaan mo siya. [The heart in our infrastructure is important. In truth, that is what I think is the key to all this. We can easily make this an answering machine: the client calls, asks the question, we record and answer the question, and that’s it. But this could be like a true listener who gives answers to questions, and asks the client if he has other concerns that needs to be addressed. Since this is your program, I think you should take the effort to listen and be patient, though the client may sometimes become impertinent.]
“Tawan ko lang pag-omaw an kaisipan na ini. Sa hiling ko daw maray ining naisipan kan DA… Apwera sa pagsabing igwa kaini, baka gusto nindong tukduan an mga tawo kun paano ninda ma-access ining maray. Boot sabihon, apwera sa ginibo ko na an dalan, kaipuhan ko pang mag-alok nin mas golping awto. An mas golping awto, mangyayari lang kung aram ninda na igwa pa nin ibang paagi, apwera sa pagtukaw ko duman sa municipal agriculture office para ako maghapot, pwede man ako maghapot sa paaging ini. [Let me just praise this idea. I think this is a good idea from DA. Aside from telling people that you have this service, teach them also how to access it well. This means that you do not just develop the road but you also ask vehicles to traverse the road you made. This will only happen if people know they have another way to arrive at answers, not just by going to the municipal agriculture office.]”
Let us continue to focus our efforts along a dreamcatcher’s vision. Let us remain set on dispelling the darkness with the light.