We really want to make sure that Jesse Robredo did not die in vain? We want to recognize in a concrete way the contributions that he made to the country? There are any number of suggestions, starting with finding a worthy successor. I am all for that, fully prepared, together with the Movement for Good Governance and like-minded organizations, to help in the head-hunting, and we can talk about that later in this column.
But even as we are doing that, I want to articulate what is in many people’s minds, but which they may be too embarrassed or afraid to verbalize: There must be a full-blown investigation of the circumstances surrounding Jesse’s death to rule out the possibility of foul play. By credible, competent, and independent investigators.
Foul play too farfetched a scenario? Not at all. Why? Because, let’s face it, Jesse, in the performance of his duties which endeared him not only to the poor and the marginalized (“Sino ang tatawagan namin ngayon na wala na si Sec Jesse [Who will we call now that he’s gone]?” is a question asked by farmers, indigenous peoples, and urban poor around the country as they mourn his passing, because he was so accessible to them and attended to their needs), but also to the local governments and communities whose capacity development he was relentlessly and successfully pursuing, stepped on a lot of very important, very powerful toes.
Whose toes? Well, start with rich landowners who used to be able to rent not only security guards but even the police to do the dirty work of preventing the takeover of reformed or ancestral land—but could not do that any longer when Jesse came on the scene. Then you have the illegal loggers, as well as the jueteng lords and their accomplices against whom he was waging relentless war (he was able to do it in Naga City, and by heaven he was going to do it for the country). For all you know, there were drug syndicates as well. Not to mention the corrupt elements in his own organization which he was trying to weed out. He represented, after all, the epitome of what “daang matuwid” means.
So Jesse must have made powerful enemies. How else can one explain, for example, why the members of the Commission on Appointments, legislators all, felt no compunction about delaying his confirmation, when his CV was testament to his outstanding competence and unquestioned integrity? Although to be fair, I am given to understand that part of the reason for the two-year delay was the Chief Executive’s initial indecision as to whether he wanted to retain Jesse in his Cabinet. The glaring bias against Jesse was even more stark when compared to quickly submitted or approved nominations of people who had only a passing acquaintance, if at all, with competence and integrity.
And if he made powerful enemies, it is not unreasonable to assume that they wanted him out by hook or by crook. Thus the need to rule out the “by crook.”
The assumption becomes even more realistic in the light of the very revealing interview with Leni Robredo, Jesse’s wife. The transcript of the press conference that Leni gave is on record. It will show that Jesse had told his wife that he was very close to success in getting rid of some of the bad elements that were obstructing the daang matuwid. Put that together with her request that the documents in his condo and his office be secured even as she was waiting for final word on her husband, and the possibility of foul play looms ever larger: With Jesse out of the way, the culprits can stay.
It is also very significant that Leni reportedly made the request to secure the documents to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Obviously, therefore, the documents pertained to persons within the ambit of the Department of Interior and Local Government, which necessitated an outsider’s intervention to make sure they couldn’t get to the papers.
Which leads us to why it is so important to get a worthy successor to Jesse. And what should the qualifications of his successor be? First, someone who shares the same vision and has had the same experiences as Jesse. That should mean that current and past local government executives—those whose reputation for performance and integrity are unblemished, that is—should be given the inside track. Galing Pook and similar good governance awardees should be given the inside, inside track, especially the multiple awardees. Please, no trapo, no one who is intending to use the position for higher office or for feathering a nest, and definitely no one who is being rewarded for personal political services rendered.
Second, one who, like Jesse, makes himself accessible to the “bosses” (i.e., to the Filipino people)—an SOP rather than a slogan. Sure, government offices have hotlines for complaints, suggestions and comments. But how many actually act on them (rather than just record them), and then give direct feedback? Jesse, of course, went the extra mile: The poor and the ordinary had their own personal hotline to him, because he gave them his cell phone number.
Last, but not least, one who will follow through on whatever was in those documents that Jesse was so hopeful would help him clean up his area of responsibility for daang matuwid. And for which, heaven forbid, he may have died.
And what is our role in all this? We, the people, should make sure that there is no cover-up.