Monday, August 27, 2012

Sec. Jesse M. Robredo: 1958-2012.

It is not often that I write of politics, let alone grief, on this blog; moments of profound sadness are often so hard to put into words. Today, I make an exception, only for an exceptional man, because I feel that it is important that people know of a man whose life was well-lived in the service of others. This is the closest thing to a tribute that I can give him.

Jesse Robredo, a long-time mayor of Naga City, my parents' hometown, was killed in a plane crash along with his two pilots whilst flying home to his family for the long weekend last Saturday, the 18th of August. After three days of a gruelling search for one of our nation's greatest leaders, a search which the President himself was also directly involved in, his body was found on Tuesday, 21st August, on the anniversary of Ninoy Aquino's assassination 29 years ago.

Sec. Robredo grew up behind my mother's father's house and shared a childhood with my mother and her siblings; went to the same high school as my father, my uncles, and my cousins; he even went to some of my cousins' birthday parties. He was a man that everybody knew, because he made himself accessible to everyone.

My parents would tell me stories of how he first campaigned to be mayor of our hometown: by simply knocking on people's doors with his wife and his mother-in-law. He didn't try to woo citizens with empty promises, with typical 'politicking' theatrics. They would tell me of how, when he was mayor, after one of many typhoons our hometown had, he was the first on the streets at 5am in the morning, sweeping the mud away from a church wearing just a humble shirt, shorts and sandals. They told me of how he would join the underprivileged, the squatters, the poor, the homeless, and sit with them barefoot on the streets. "What other person would do that? What other mayor would do that?" My parents would say to me.

He was humble and at home with being an ordinary man, regardless of a status that other politicians might choose to abuse. He was anything but ordinary; it would be impossible to relay to you all that I have read and heard about him.

He eradicated illegal syndicates, gamblers who would try to take advantage of poor people; he would travel to the most devastated areas of The Philippines to help those in need during times of flood and natural disaster. In his time as mayor, he raised Naga City from being a third class city, to a first-class city, one of the most improved cities in Asia that international organizations wanted to use as a model for the future. Myself and my cousins were lucky enough to grow up in the Naga that he had improved. He then became the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Governments (Australians: this is the equivalent of a "Minister" in government here), and continued to work to make a true difference for our country, creating policies that would cultivate a good, honest government.
While many of their peers in politics and development were consumed by the "corrosive culture of patronage" or became "embittered cynics," Abad said that Robredo remained "largely unscathed in a bureaucracy notorious for its moral casualties."—Florencio Abad, Budget Secretary and close friend of Secretary Robredo, during his memorial service on Friday. [quote from Rappler]
Every time I have attempted to write this post, sadness and grief overwhelm me and tears well in my eyes. This is the influence of our once-mayor: a lot of us never met him, and yet at the news of his death feel great sorrow, deeper than that which I believed I could feel for somebody I never had the privilege to talk to. I feel deprived that I never had a chance to meet him, let alone attend his wake in order to say thank you: even though my life in Australia is not impacted by him, my family's life overseas has been improved by him, just as my childhood in The Philippines would have been improved by him. Our nation has mourned his loss severely because we know there are so few like him, not just in The Philippines, but worldwide, and we know that he would have done so much more for us.
"This may seem an oversimplification, but oftentimes, we fail to recognize how hard it is to be good, to remain honorable in the face of unrelenting challenges,"—F. Abad. [quote from Rappler]
Image from Rappler: "Naga's final welcome for Robredo"

Sec. Robredo, it is clear that you are a much loved man who will be sorely missed. Very few politicians receive such a strong outpouring of love from their entire nation at their death. Many have travelled far and wide to pay their respects to him, lining the streets to attend his wake in both Naga and Manila. The nation has mourned for the last 6 days, with flags at half-mast; today, he will be cremated and laid to rest in the hometown he loved so dearly. Sec. Robredo will leave tough shoes to fill; I can only hope that the people of The Philippines continue to demand more like him, that more members of our government lead by his example, and that they work hard to maintain all that he put in place. Thank you for everything, Sec. Jesse.

Addendum: The "What Would Jesse Do?" article on Rappler has summed up my feelings, thoughts and experiences with Sec. Robredo's death in better words than I could ever hope to write. Please feel free to read it.

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