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Lessons from public servant Jesse Robredo

09:03 AM May 04, 2019

During my last visit to Naga for a final celebration of Buwan ng Panitikan, I was within earshot of a group of men in forgivable white undershirts on this April summer day, who looked like they had all day to talk politics. From my unintended eavesdropping, I was tempted to butt in when they began to talk about how much cash to give to constituent voters. I knew I had to leave (cowardly act, I have to confess, but I was on alien soil), and so I did the next best thing. I visited the Museo ni Jesse Robredo in the neighborhood.

It was the best thing to do to feel revived and renewed in these difficult times our country faces. And to keep from weeping for the country that deserves better than this.

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The Museo is an imposing, modern building that draws attention. A seated image of Jesse Robredo in rubber slippers welcomes you. Never mind that it appears half-finished indoors, still a work in progress. Most guests are happy with the exhibit as it is, with one lamenting that it should not have ended on the tragic note of Robredo’s death. One does leave with a heaviness of heart, questioning why the good should really go so soon.

It was an impressive chronology of Robredo’s life, but one that generally appeared to have been done in haste. Perhaps there was a government budgetary deadline to comply with. As it is today, the museum needs more professional curatorship. It boasts of being interactive, yet many stations were not working. Inaugurated only in 2017, the place has signages and captions with letters that have fallen off and faded. An honest-to-goodness museum cannot and should not have such sloppy work.

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There was a fun flipping game on members of the Robredo family, but it had the look and crudeness of a weekend class project. Why, I could not even find any trace of the latest book on Jesse Robredo that outstanding writer Criselda Yabes launched in August last year.

Still, one could overlook all that, because what mattered was the essence of the public servant that Jesse Robredo was all about. And that stood out in the exhibit—a man in tsinelas voted as city mayor for six terms and the first Philippine city mayor to be honored with the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service. What spoke to me were the letters Robredo received during his tenure: a handwritten congratulatory note from former Camarines Sur governor Juan F. Triviño for his selection by the Konrad Adenauer Medal of Excellence as Best City Mayor of the country, and a 1988 letter from then Archbishop of Caceres Leonardo Z. Legaspi, OP, commending Robredo for refusing “the usual financial consideration for the city mayor from financial agents. You give us reasons to hope that there are government officials truly meant ‘to serve and not be served.’”

There was also a big display on something Robredo felt strongly about: “What should be displayed on government projects?”

There are many candidates aspiring for election to the Senate on May 13, but if one held fast and faithful to one’s rigid standards for individuals who are worthy of genuinely serving the interests of the Filipino people, that long list will be whittled down to a sterling few. Yes, just to eight (otso) of them. Weed out the corrupt, the plunderers, the dishonest, the spineless, the fence-sitters, the glib talkers, the elderly and the near-dead.

In a recent conversation with fellow dreamers and diehard nationalists Rene Saguisag and Rapa Lopa, I expressed anxiety about the results of the elections, with majority of the electorate seemingly being duped once again with empty promises. But we were all buoyed and energized by recollecting the events of recent history—two victories we thought were impossible, confronted by all odds. So, may the truly deserving win. Do a Cory Aquino, do a Leni Robredo.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Buwan ng Panitikan, jesse robredo, Museo, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, public servant lessons, The Learning Curve
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