By Gel Santos Relos
“I’ve long held the belief that as a leader, I can’t ask of you something that I can’t do myself, and I can’t impose on you values that I don’t live out.”
- Sec. Jesse Robredo
Many of us knew the late Secretary Jesse Robredo from a distance. Perhaps some of us only heard about his exemplary performance when he was still mayor of Naga City when Pres. Noynoy Aquino invited him to serve in the national level as Department of Interior and Local Government secretary.
Indeed, his untimely death made us know more about the man, and about our people - desperately yearning for a true leader.
Secretary Robredo died unexpectedly when the Piper Seneca plane carrying him, two pilots and his aide, crashed into the sea off Masbate, on his way back home to Naga City. Only his aide survived.
For three days, Filipinos around the world joined kababayans back home in prayer, hoping the good Lord will save Sec. Robredo and his companions, and bring them back to Naga alive.
Yes, God brought him back home. “You are home now, where you truly belong. Rest now, we will love you forever.” His widow Atty. Leni Robredo said during the requiem mass in Naga City’s Basilica Minore de Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia.
Robredo's family brought out his ashes from the Funeraria Imperial to the Eternal Gardens Memorial Park. They declined a burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Manila, saying it would have been the wish of Sec. Robredo to be among his people in Naga.
But for Bicolanos and Nagaenos, he was already a hero. And as we knew more about the man, we kababayans from all over the world mourned for the passing of the kind of leader we have long been praying for.
In my engagement with kababayans via social media, many wonder why the good deeds and accomplishments of Robredo were not talked about much before his death.
This is a testament to Robredo’s leadership: service to the people without expecting anything in return -- not fame, not fortune, not even recognition. Reports say Robredo did not have PR guys to flaunt his accomplishments, name or face. He is the antithesis of the EPAL culture that has been the norm of many TRAPO politicos in the Philippines.
The depth and breadth of Robredo’s character and good deeds while he was alive were enough to compel people that knew him through the years to speak up and give a shout out to honor the man.
While other politicos cling to power to protect their own personal vested interests, Robredo’s driving force was just his pure and genuine desire to help and serve the people.
In his homily during the requiem mass, Fr. Kulandairaj Ambrose said, "I met Jesse 20 years ago. Two things impressed me about Mayor Jesse. He was a man of the family and a man of the poor.
Fr. Ambrose recalled how Sec. Robredo made everyone feel wanted, treated everyone with respect - regardless of whether that human being was a VIP (Very Important Person) or a VOP (Very Ordinary Person) .
He echoed what everybody has been saying about Robredo - that he always found time for everyone, made everyone feel he cared. He described him as a man who was “poor in spirit” as perhaps that Beatitudes would describe one, "because he desired nothing for himself.”
“Sec. Jesse not only share the name of our Lord Jesus, but in his own way strived to be like him.,” said Fr. Ambrose -- truly setting Robredo apart from many politicos who claim to be Christian crusaders but who are in fact self-righteous self-serving TRAPOS who will say and do anything from the devil’s playbook for political expediency and survival.
From the eulogy of his wife, Atty. Leni Robredo, we found out that the public persona of Robredo was consistent with who he was at home. The values that he espoused were the values he lived.
“We will remember him most as an exceptional husband and father,” said Leni. “He died with nothing left unsaid. He constantly showered us with I love yous.”
Leni Robredo said, “My husband was always conscious not to enjoy the perks of his office, not to live beyond our means.”
Sharing how much of a simple down-to-earth man Robredo was, Leni said “He was never attached to material things. He received a number of signature gifts, he said ‘magagalit na nito sa akin ang Diyos.’”
Leni added, “He made sure our children will not have a sense of entitlement." And he sure lived that way to the very end.
Robredo’s friend and Former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca was spot on in her eulogy: "Robredo gave good governance a face, embodied honest and effective leadership." she said. “He was in power for 18 years but he maintained his simplicity. Hindi siya nilamon ng sistema; siya ang umayos sa sistema."
Many kababayans felt and expressed such a profound sense of loss, and wondered why God would allow a good man like Robredo to die so young, while many politicos who abuse their power live longer.
Perhaps, God -- in His infinite wisdom -- has a reason for Robredo’s death.
Perhaps, this painful loss serves as our wake-up call to be more discerning in the kind of leaders we elect for public office as it is possible-- there are still good men like Robredo who deserve our vote and public trust.
Perhaps Robredo's death will awaken in us the need to demand full transparency and accountability from our public officials -- from the barangay tanod to the President. Robredo has shown us that true, honest-to-goodness public service is possible and essential.
Indeed good governance is not one way. We, the people, have to do our part.
Leni Robredo said: "In death he gave my children that gift, a good name. The best way to honor him is to guard that name and make him proud." The same message resonates with Filipinos as well.
In his eulogy, President Noynoy Aquino said: “In times of difficulties, the call to each one of us is: rouse the hero inside us and respond to the call of duty. Lowly or powerful, famous or not, you can contribute and do everything that you can for the sake of the country and your fellow men,’’ he said.
“Every good example will give birth to many heroes. One will become many, so that we’ll achieve our dreams. In our blood runs the spirit of heroism. That’s why the people we look up to are called heroes: they kept the fervor burning that united our people and served as a bridge to achieving our goal," PNoy added.
Maraming salamat, Secretary Jesse Robredo. May the life you lived be the shining beacon of the nation toward “Daang Matuwid.” Rest in peace.
Photo credit: Definitely Filipino
(My Asian Journal Column article)