Robredo remembered

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De Todo Un Poco

Seven years ago today the Philippines lost a hero. Into the Masbate Sea crashed a light aircraft carrying then Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse M. Robredo. Three days later his remains were found inside the plane dashing hopes that the multi-awarded mayor of the City of Naga in Camarines Sur had miraculously survived.

I was then a staffer in Malacañan Palace under the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) and tasked to be part of the Committee on Funeral Arrangements and Burial for the late Secretary. From the necrological service held in Kalayaan Hall in the Palace to the rites held in and around Naga City, I witnessed history unfold as the nation came together in grief over yet another man conferred the title “Best President we never had.”

Photo from Robredo personal collection downloaded from politics.com.ph
Photo from Robredo personal collection downloaded from politics.com.ph

This week I was yet again in Naga now as Vice-Mayor of the City of Himamaylan and a fellow of the Jesse Robredo Foundation’s Young Leaders for Good Governance. We were required to visit benchmark and learn about the local government’s guiding principles and best practices established, guided, and inspired by Robredo. Over three days we visited government offices, interacted with local politicos, and were introduced to a system that puts primacy on the people — a nod to direct democracy in a mold almost unheard of in our silver-green island.

The Naga Governance Model forms a triangle: at the apex is “Progressive Perspective” – a function of leadership which the local administration must provide anchored on building shared prosperity; the base is flanked by the two other points: “Partnerships” – enables the city to tap community resources, multiplying capability, and allowing it to overcome resources constraints; and “Participation” – ensures long-term sustainability by generating broad-based stakeholdership and community ownership over local undertakings.

Robredo’s framework continues to work in Naga with remarkable successes especially in local revenue collection – a headache for many LGUs – which regularly exceeds annual targets. So effective is their model that citizens do not outrightly dismiss plans to increase tax rates but instead negotiate for terms they deem most equitable. Truly, Naga should serve as a beacon of people-centred governance in a social environment that has normalised fear and strongman leadership.

But not all is lost. The same model is being used by Robredo’s widow Vice-President Leni through her Angat Buhay Program, which helps alleviate poverty in the country’s farthest and most marginalized areas through strategic partnerships with the communities and linked private sector and development agencies.

This kind of progressive perspective is what draws individuals and organizations alike to her cause – a battlecry unique among national political leaders and inspired by the legacy of her husband – to uplift and empower those who have, for far too long, been unheard and unseen, lost and left behind.

“Robredo’s plane may have plunged into the depths of the sea seven years ago but as with our heroes he has become so much larger than life in death. Perhaps because he turned around a City and made it the standard for good governance the world over.

But I think it’s because he himself did not believe in the myth of the singular great leader – a notion he dismissed time and time again. He believed in the collective “we,” in the greatness of the Filipino as a people, borne out in his timeless statement:

Kahit isang daang bayani hindi magbabago ang bansang ito, dapat lahat tayo maging bayani kung nais natin ang tunay na pagbabago.”

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