At Large

Welcoming him home

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Now he is home. Jesse Robredo is now with the people he loved most—his wife Leni and their daughters, the other members of his family, and the people of Naga, whom he had served for decades as the city mayor. The rest of the nation, led by P-Noy who had spearheaded the rescue and recovery efforts to bring Robredo and his companions up from the depths of the sea off Masbate, condole with his loved ones, waiting patiently for their turn to honor the late secretary.

There is no doubt the country has lost a good man, a good man who served the country he loved and dedicated his life to. As I wrote in yesterday’s column, Robredo could very well have followed the trajectory carved out for someone like him: a job in the private sector that would give him personal satisfaction, a fulfilling outlet for someone of his talent and training, and the rewards of doing his job well. Instead, pushed by events that embroiled our country decades ago, he looked around and found himself at a crossroads—as had so many folk his age and inclination—and chose to follow not just the road less taken, but a road fraught with peril and risk.

The nation must be thankful that someone like Robredo, and so many others of his generation, many of them now serving in government or in civil society, made the choices they did when they did. I would count among them President Aquino, who, perhaps realizing the many things he had in common with his interior secretary, and Robredo’s contributions to his administration, spent a good deal of time at a site near the plane crash just to personally be at hand if and when the latter would be rescued or his remains recovered. With his Cabinet team, P-Noy had set out on the proverbial straight and narrow road, driven by the dream to turn away from the crooked paths of previous administrations, and to re-inspire, re-ignite the fire of civic commitment. And Robredo readily joined in that vision and work.

* * *

Personally, I had only a few chances to interact with Robredo. But one thing that struck me about him, even when he was still mayor of Naga, was how he managed to strike a balance between the idealism of the young activist and the pragmatism of a politician.

In consultations among a group of young professionals seeking changes in governance and politics, Robredo would drive home the point on the need to seek a middle ground, taking care not to lose one’s footing or one’s head in the confusing air of politics, but at the same time being wily enough to use the tools of politics to pursue our idealistic ends.

He spoke of how he would make the rounds of neighborhoods in Naga, engaging the people in small group discussions not just on their neighborly concerns but also on their own hopes and aspirations. As his own colleagues acknowledged, Robredo believed firmly in consulting his people, paying more than just lip service to the need to reflect and act on citizens’ aspirations. As a mayor, he institutionalized this idea in local citizens’ consultative councils. And as head of the Department of Interior and Local Government, he sought to make institutions under his office, especially the police and law enforcers, more accountable to the public.

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In person, Jesse Robredo was, as they say, “easy to carry.” Laid-back and informal, he did not seek special attention or hold himself aloof. He would talk to friends and acquaintances in an easy, relaxed manner, and I sensed a discomfort with official trappings or airs.

I remember during a hiatus between his terms as mayor of Naga, I asked him if it was true that he was setting his eyes on “higher” office, perhaps as a congressman or governor. He laughed in reaction, and said he was taking this chance to “rest and recover” from the rigors of public office, and perhaps pursue studies abroad. And this he did, although when he did return to the country, he found himself embroiled once more in local politics.

At this time, his star had grown in size and sheen way beyond the Naga city limits, becoming some sort of role model for the young, idealistic but successful politician, and setting a model for governance that today is spreading across the country.

Perhaps his passing marks a stage as well for the maturation of alternative models for local and national officials, beyond the modeling stage for we are now seeing a number of such officials growing into a critical mass that could set our country in promising directions.

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And that, of course, is what we mainly mourn with Robredo’s passing.

His assumption of the DILG post was his debut on the national stage, and we can only speculate at this point on where his long-delayed introduction to national politics and governance would have taken him. He was still young enough to carve out new paths in public service, but could already boast of a rich, enviable record that had earned him accolades and international recognition.

But I am sure ambition and future rewards were farthest on his mind the day he boarded a small plane, planning a surprise for a daughter. As far as I know, he was one Cabinet member who wasn’t harboring plans for the coming elections, willing to bide his time until 2016 when the P-Noy administration steps down. We will no longer know what fate had in store for him had he survived the plane crash. But we do know he left this earth still intent on serving the country he loved, and looking forward to joining his family on a long weekend, away from the pressure of politics.

His family can find comfort in the unblemished record and unselfish service he left behind, a legacy they should treasure with pride and fondness.

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