DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 August) – Two months before his death, Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo appealed to governors and mayors of the five-province, two-city Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to stop living in the past and start on a clean slate, to be an “ehemplo” (example) in transparent and accountable governance.
Aware of the ill practices in the autonomous region such as misuse and abuse of power and taxpayers’ money, Robredo told the two-day ARMM LGU Convention on Local Governance at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City on June 19 that he was willing to put his job on the line to push for reforms in the ARMM.
“The national government is willing to risk its resources on you. For example, I said I will entrust to the ARMM’s local leaders DILG funds entrusted to me. This is a gamble because we could fail and I might be told, ‘I told you so. You shouldn’t have trusted them,” he said.
But Robredo, a multi-awarded mayor of Naga City for 19 years before becoming Local Governments Secretary, said that if he cannot entrust the project funds to the ARMM officials, “ang ibig sabihin, nabubuhay din ho ako sa nakaraan” (this means I am also living in the past).
“Hindi ho magbabago ang lugar na ito hangga’t tayong lahat ay nabubuhay sa nakaraan. Magbabago lang po ang kalakaran sa ARMM kung maniniwala ho tayo sa pagbabago.” (This region will not change for as long as we all live in the past. ARMM’s ways will change if we believe in change), Robredo said in his 13-minute speech rendered in Pilipino.
It was the first time in the 22-year history of the ARMM that mayors from 116 towns and two cities as well as governors from the five provinces – Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur – gathered for a convention, the first time also that mayors were tasked to participate in a workshop on governance and render a report at the end of the day.
He cited the importance of audit and how the Commission on Audit in the ARMM should really perform its functions now, unlike in the past, and that those who are found to have abused and misused public funds should answer for it.
“In short, example is the best teacher. And we will set an example…. And we hope you will follow the example not because that is what the national government wants but because you should not fail your children, your grandchildren, and all of those who depend on you,” he said.
Within ARMM itself, some LGUs have been cited for good governance performance.
On June 20, at the end of the two-day convention, mayors of 13 out of 116 towns in ARMM went up the stage to receive from President Aquino and Robredo the SGH for good governance performance in 2011. Two of the awardees were grandsons of the detained Ampatuan patriarch, former three-term Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr.
In his address on June 19, Robredo said, “most of you are second generation, third generation leaders in the ARMM. Maybe it was your father, your grandfather, your great grandfather who strived in the past to push for progress in your areas. Whether or not we admit it, they are sad, I guess because they failed and now we are still striving to uplift the lives of our people.”
Whether we like it or not, he said, power and wealth will come to pass “but there is one thing that will not pass. And that is the change that you leave behind,” he said.
Robredo, who served as mayor of Naga City from 1988 to 1998 and 2001 to 2010, said he was certain that time will come when Naguenos will forget how many years he served as mayor but “what they will not forget are the seeds of change that I sowed when I was given the chance to serve.”
“To serve others”
He said government can bestow two kinds of blessings: one is the provision of roads, schools, teachers, hospitals and medicines, etc. The second, which he said is more important, is “changing mindsets to give hope to the constituents that even if they face so many problems, they know in their heart and mind that it is possible to live meaningful lives and fulfill their dreams.”
“Maybe your father, your mother, your grandfather, your grandmother, your great grandfather, great grandmother, may have been in power in your area in the past. Perhaps when the time comes and all of us are no longer here, what will those we leave behind say? That we wasted the opportunity and the trust given us?,” he asked.
Robredo ended his speech by telling a story about the dreams of Grade 6 students in a farming area in Naga, where students walk an hour or two to school and where City Hall provided free lunch so students will stay on until the afternoon dismissal.
One wanted to be teacher so that all the children in their village can finish at least an elementary education; another wanted to be an engineer so he could ensure the irrigation system for their farmer-parents will be well-maintained to make them more productive; while another wanted to be a doctor so the sick won’t have to travel 17 kilometers to the poblacion to get medical attention.
He said the story sounds ordinary but a deeper insight is that here are children of poor farmers who talked about their dreams, not for themselves but for others.
Robredo said that when he was asked in 1988 why he wanted to be mayor, his reply was “to serve others.”
“I am sure that you were also asked the same question and I am sure your answer was you wanted to be mayor so you could serve your constituents. I was mayor for 19 years. Often, I would remind myself why I wanted to be mayor and I would answer, ‘I did not become mayor to attend to my personal interests. I wanted to be mayor to serve others,’” he said.
During the tribute in Malacanang on August 25, OIC Governor Mujiv Hataman ended his eulogy for the Secretary by quoting Robredo’s vision of a “reformed” ARMM:
His vision? “ARMM will be a game-changer. When the history of ARMM is written, we want the scorecard to show, Transparency and Accountability: 100, Fear and Force: Zero.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)
Listen to Robredo’s speech on 19 June 2012 [podcast]http://mindanews.com/downloads/0829robredorarmm.mp3[/podcast]