THINK TALK: Wanted: A Jesse Robredo

MATALAM, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 25 May) – The Persian poet Rumi wrote, “Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes around in another form.” We really hope so.

As newly elected public officials prepare to assume their respective offices after noon of June 30, we can only wish that some, if not most, of them be like a Jesse Robredo.

The late DILG Secretary, Jessie Robredo, who died in a plane crash off Masbate Island late in the afternoon of August 18, 2012, has been hailed as an icon of good governance in many ways. Three days after his body was recovered, the nation grieved with the Robredo family. What a great loss for the Filipino nation, for public service, and for good governance in particular.

Secretary Jesse Robredo was an epitome of good governance that is why those who have known him for quite some time have only un-ending praises for him. But why do praises for good deeds always come after the person was gone? Why can’t we emulate the good deeds/examples of a person while he is still alive? If he is indeed good, why was his appointment not confirmed till the day he died? Is it because the good is always an enemy of the bad? Many more questions can be asked but there is no use making a long queue of questions that do not have answers anyway.

In our small way, we can do few but significant things to immortalize the man’s shining examples and selfless devotion to public service so that they continue to be emulated, and more importantly, followed by other public officials. This is where the media can do a lot to spread the “Robredo tsinelas brand of public service” so that it can have its implant in the deepest recesses of the Filipino psyche hoping that this may redefine public service.

In his eulogy, former Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Vina said of Jesse Robredo: “The best way to celebrate his life is to emulate his life, and share it with others. To become like him, not just in demanding good governance, but in working towards it: every man and woman a Robredo, whatever our station in life. In memory of a good friend, perhaps it’s important to remind ourselves that we are not powerless, that we have the resources to make good governance possible. Robredo has done so for Naga and the DILG—why can’t others both in and out of government do so for our cities, for our country? Why can’t Naga’s and Robredo’s DILG story, and his story, be our country’s story as well?”

But if there is anything so impressive about him, it was his simplicity and uprightness of character because these were the qualities that made him do what he was supposed to do in a manner that is as natural as he loves to do it. This was the unique Robredo that we should know. All the things that we’ve been hearing about him are just products or consequences of those fundamental traits of character that he has which is quite uncommon to most political leaders today.

It is easy to imitate him as in anyone who succeeds him at the helm of the DILG can continue the programs he has initiated such as “Seal of Good Housekeeping” (full disclosure), “Seal of Disaster Preparedness,” “Gawad Pamana ng Lahi,” “Banning Names, Initials and Pictures of Government Officials on All Government Projects and Properties,” “Monitoring Absenteeism of Local Government Officials,” etc. and no one will talk about him like saying “now, here is another Robredo” or worse, people might even say “here is a fake Robredo.”

All of these programs were designed to strengthen accountability and transparency at the level of the local government units. As a former local chief executive, Robredo’s dream was to see every local government unit a performing asset and vital functional organs of the national government. And while doing this, the local chief executives should exemplify the virtues of transparency, accountability, honesty, and fairness. Sadly though, this brand of political leadership is fast becoming an endangered species.

When one seeks to become like Jesse Robredo, it is not enough to do or imitate what he has done. One has to have what made him do the things he loves to do. A lot of heroes who had become “great” were just doing what they believe was the most righteous thing to do during their time, but as to why they were able to do that was because it was inherent in their character and imbibed in them as their life’s philosophy. To them, it was a natural calling and something that they love to do, not what they were forced to do under the circumstances or because they were trying to emulate somebody to be like him.

Former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad admits, though, that the way Secretary Robredo lived his public life is “one tough act to follow.” Indeed it is. If your character traits were not molded as to make you so inclined to love what you do above self and beyond personal gains, then it is even more difficult to pretend in the longest time possible. Secretary Robredo’s character traits made him what he loves to do without even trying.

However, if we want Secretary Robredo’s death to be meaningful and immortalize his legacy, “everyone must shape up and follow his examples of honesty, simplicity and ethical leadership” (borrowing the words of Ms. Patricia Sarenas).

I repeat, to be like a Robredo is not just to imitate what he did well. It requires a more profound transformation within the self in terms of character and attitude and possessing a natural passion and love for the things that we do. This was confirmed in the words of his second daughter Janine Patricia during the necrological service for her father at the Naga City hall: “Have you ever wondered why he was so good? If you ask me, my answer is he was good because he knows how to love. He loved his job and he loved the people.”

The Robredo magic (i.e., his character traits) is deep within him and not simply his good deeds that we saw. It was not even like he was trying so hard to be great. It was his passion for public service transcending personal interests that made him what he was best remembered of.

Now, if you have that Robredo “magic” in you, you can be like him.

Anyone, please?

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Maugan P. Mosaid holds a doctorate degree in rural development. He is a freelance writer, planning consultant, and teaches Statistics and Methods of Research in the graduate school. He can be contacted at mauganmosaid6@gmail.com.)