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Robredo’s choice

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Robredo’s choice

He always made his way home. That, an unnamed source in the Department of Interior and Local Government told another newspaper, was a distinguishing trait of Secretary Jesse Robredo.

Every weekend, without fail, he would fly home to his family in Naga City, said the source, even if it meant taking the last flight out on Friday just so he could be with his family on the weekend. Last Saturday, Robredo was in Cebu for a national summit of police officials and had booked a ticket on a commercial airline for a flight back to Manila. But he chose instead to detour to Naga, wanting to personally give one of his daughters a treat as a prize for winning an international math competition.

This, family friends told the Inquirer, was just like the secretary, who strove to combine his work as a public servant (as long-time and much admired mayor of Naga, and later as interior secretary) with his calling as a husband and father, with neither constituents nor family getting or feeling shortchanged.

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That explains his decision to hire a small private aircraft to fly him from Cebu to Naga, the same plane that fell from the sky into the seas off Masbate Saturday evening. As this is being written authorities insist they are still conducting “search and rescue” operations, even as the oldest Robredo daughter told reporters she and her sisters and mother are bracing themselves for the worst.

Robredo was a fast-rising executive with the San Miguel conglomerate when, perhaps inspired by the three years of anti-Marcos struggle after the Aquino assassination and the “People Power” revolt of 1986, he decided to leave the private sector to work in government. As mayor of Naga City, he won numerous awards and commendations (including the Magsaysay Award, known as “Asia’s Nobel Prize”) for the small miracles he wrought, turning the city into a showcase not just of good governance and development, but also of harnessing “people power” in the best senses of the term, to spur the city’s growth.

I join Robredo’s friends and loved ones in praying for good news, and for the strength and faith to accept whatever the news will be.

* * *

Thoughts of Robredo’s life of sacrifice and example are so timely today, as we observe the 29th anniversary of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino.

Like Robredo, Ninoy was still in the prime of life (especially after undergoing heart surgery), and had a great future awaiting him.

Like Robredo, who could have continued enjoying the perks and comfort of corporate life instead of abandoning these for the dubious rewards of public service, Ninoy could very well have remained in the United States, where he was staying with his family, and carved out a life in the academe and uniting the anti-Marcos forces. But he chose instead to come home, mainly to seek an audience with the dictator Marcos to convince him to begin the transition to democracy.

Was it a naïve hope? Was it simply Ninoy’s ruse to carve out a life of prominence of his own among his own people? Was it a search for martyrdom, for immortality, for a place in history?

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Whatever the truth is, the fact remains that Ninoy faced a crossroads, and, given a choice between the safe and sure path, and a way that led to uncertainty and even death, he chose the more perilous way. This is martyrdom, and whether the choice is between death and ignominy, or a safe existence in the private sector or the perilous, thankless life of public service, people who choose the nobler, less certain path deserve our thanks and as much honor as we can give.

* * *

Here’s another Filipino willing to leave her comfort zone to work in a larger field where she could, I am sure, make a difference.

Dr. June Pagaduan Lopez, professor at the Department of Psychiatry of the UP College of Medicine, a founder of the Medical Action Group (MAG), and a sister at the TOWNS Foundation, has been nominated to the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) for 2012-2016.

June was selected as the Philippine nominee to the SPT based on her record as a psychiatrist promoting and defending human rights “particularly the prevention of torture and the rehabilitation of torture victims in the country,” MAG said.

June has 30 years as an undergraduate and postgraduate educator in medical school and public health school (psychiatry, organizational development, occupational and mental health), finishing her medical studies at the University of the Philippines-Manila.

“Dr. Lopez shows an excellent knowledge and utmost dedication to go beyond the usual role of a psychiatric expert, demonstrating a commitment to help the torture survivors and their families in seeking redress,” MAG added.

* * *

June was awarded by the Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) in 1989 and received in 2010 the Outstanding Achievement Award from the International Council for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims. She was among the 39 recipients of the Most Distinguished Alumnus award given by the University of the Philippines Alumni Association in 2011.

Even more remarkable is that June herself is a cancer survivor, and could very well have chosen to focus on her long-term recovery and devote her energies to her own private concerns. Instead, she is seeking this international posting not just for herself but also for the country, given our continuing struggle to promote and protect the human rights of all citizens.

The SPT has a preventive mandate focused on an innovative, sustained and proactive approach to the prevention of torture and ill treatment. The election of 12 members of the SPT will be held on Oct. 25 at the United Nations Office in Geneva.

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TAGS: benigno `ninoy’ Aquino jr., dr. june pagaduan lopez, jesse robredo, Rina Jimenez-David
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