How does one pay tribute to a man as great as Interior Secretary Jesse Manalastas Robredo whose death may be considered one of the most tragic events in the history of the Filipino people?
In his two years as secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, Robredo made sure that all local government units (LGUs) presented their financial documents under the Full Disclosure Policy, chasing after those involved with spurious contracts. He also focused on the improvement of the LGUs’ disaster risk reduction capabilities, and was one of the most active figures during the recent calamity brought about by the monsoon rains.
But before becoming the country’s most respected DILG Secretary, Robredo was Naga City’s beloved mayor from 1988 to 1998 and from 2001 to 2010. As mayor, he rid the city of its illegal gambling and inefficient bureaucracy issues; he transformed his hometown from uninteresting to what it is today, even becoming part of Asiaweek Magazine’s “Most Improved Cities in Asia” in as early as 1999.
He was not your typical mayor. You see clips of him walking around town talking to his Nagueños in a T-shirt, khakis, and sandals. There are anecdotes that tell of people riding in a jeepney with Mayor Robredo, or that he was just always one text message away, even after his appointment to the P-Noy's Cabinet. He took public service seriously and did what good he could for his people.
In the year 2000, his exemplary leadership was recognized by the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Awards for “giving credence to the promise of democracy by demonstrating that effective city management is compatible with yielding power to the people.”
He was the first mayor to ever receive such award. This and the rest of the accolades he received for his service only fortified his character as a person and did not take anything away for he was as great a politician as he was a husband and a father.
On the day of the plane crash that claimed his life, Robredo was on his way home to his family in Naga City from a speaking engagement in Cebu.
Seldom in our existence as a nation do we stop to actually praise a single leader for being the kind of person we expect the names in our ballots to be like. And when these leaders die, the generations surviving them live with the notion of a “what if,” or an imagined but non-existent passageway to a more consistently sound way of life, where the late great leaders still live to be of service.
But do they, the great ones, really live their lives just to leave us asking “what if” for the rest of ours? So, how does one pay tribute to a man as great as Jesse Robredo?
Perhaps, before his remains were found many thought that a man as loved and necessary as Secretary Robredo would still be alive—maybe even pull a Rambo. He was that light, that single radiating torch of hope that no one ever wanted to see put out. But maybe the point of it all was that he had, in fact, done enough. That it is in our hands to give purpose to his passing, and that his life, however short, was not futile.
*Jozza Alegre Palaganas is a writer for Yahoo! Philippines.