At Large

Robredo—for the record

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Can you find room in your mind—and in your heart—for another column on the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo?

I know it’s so typically Pinoy—if not typically human—to heap praise on someone who has just passed away. In life, Jesse Robredo had more than his share of accolades and awards, and he supposedly told his wife Leni shortly before his death that he felt he had in fact surpassed his “quota” of achievement and opprobrium.

But hard as it is to believe, so much more needs to be said of Robredo, and there is no better place to start than with his own words—delivered during the commencement address to the graduates of Ateneo de Manila University Class of 2003 (thanks to GMA News and to friends who passed this along) while he was still the mayor of Naga City.

Toward the end of his address, Robredo gave this advice to the young people listening to him.

“This address will not be complete without venturing to answer the question as to where will you go from here,” he began.

“Should you choose to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond? Whatever your doubts are, follow your heart… I must say that desire and commitment far outweigh knowledge and skill. The latter can be learned. Without the former, your life’s work will be a profession and not a vocation.

“You must always remember that you cannot give what you do not have. Measure success in terms of how pleased you are with what you have done and not as to how people define it, with its attendant perks.

“Later on in life, you will realize that it is neither your successes nor your conquests that will give you satisfaction. It is your contribution that really matters—paying back what you owe the community that nurtured you.”

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Under the leadership of Robredo, Naga City achieved a remarkable record, being the “most awarded” local government unit in the country by Galing Pook, which in 1994 started recognizing the best practices in local governance. The city garnered its first Galing Pook award on its first year and to date has received a total of 14 Galing Pook awards.

The folks behind Galing Pook (which means “Good Place”) distill 10 lessons and “guideposts” on the practice of good local governance as shown by the record of Robredo and Naga City. These are (edited only for space constraints):

1. Improve productivity. Naga embarked on a program that aimed to bring out the full potential of various departments and offices of the entire city government. The program focused on four main thrusts of providing sufficient services; getting optimum outputs with minimum expenditure;  producing quality results as desired and planned; and making services accessible and acceptable.

2. Computerize. The city created an effective and efficient management system that streamlined business transaction processes, provided a dependable database for more effective decision-making, and made the city administration more responsive to its citizens’ needs.

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3. Empower the people. The city government laid down a clear and comprehensive framework that allows its constituents to take active part in governance. Nagueños are able to voice their concerns and suggestions to  City Hall and act on various issues—from procurement to budgeting, to scuttling an initial plan of the local government to set up a golf course. As a result, 193 nongovernment and people’s organizations now work with the local government through the Naga City People’s Council.

4. i-Govern. The city tapped the “power of information” and its value as a truly empowering tool when made accessible to the people. Nagueños need only to go online for their business license, birth certificate, or even when they want to bid for government procurements.

5. Reinvent institutions. In the reinvented school board of Naga, the structure is able to ensure transparency, accountability, participation, and predictability. The membership has been expanded and has made education officials accountable to the public.

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6. Train the youth. The City Youth Month Program of Naga engaged the city’s top youth leaders to compete for any one of the 45 slots that would put them in executive and legislative positions, as well as in the nongovernment sector. The project enhanced greater involvement of the youth in government affairs.

7. Be prepared always. Started in May 1991, Emergency Rescue Naga addresses the urgent need for fast and reliable service in times of emergency. ERN provides 24-hour quick response medical and protective services to all Naga residents in crisis situations.

8. Prioritize the marginalized. Naga faced the challenges posed by  informal settlers by launching the Kaantabay sa Kauswagan or Partners in Development Program in 1989 guided by two key principles. First, the government will not help the urban poor unless they actively participate in solving their own problems. Second is the tripartite effort among the urban poor organizations, national and local government agencies, and landowners in which the interests and abilities of each party are taken into account.

9. Invest in children. The comprehensive and innovative pre-school program addresses the need for improved access and equity in quality education for the young. The program has also facilitated the integration of differently abled children in the mainstream of society.

10. Together, we can do better. The Metro Naga Development Council pools together the efforts and resources of 13 local government units, the private sector and the national government agencies in Camarines Sur focusing on projects addressing the immediate needs of the community and lay the groundwork for long-term growth in the area.

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