No Free Lunch

Dying to bear fruit

“He is much bigger after death,” commented a Facebook netizen on Jesse Robredo last week. I can’t help wonder, had he lived on to serve till the end of President Aquino’s term, if he would have been as well remembered and appreciated for his quiet crusade for good governance nationwide. Given our politics, it’s in fact quite likely that he wouldn’t have even kept his post till then to be able to push his ideals to fruition. The Commission on Appointments had never confirmed his Cabinet posting all this time. His widow takes comfort in knowing that he must be happier now, especially with how his seemingly untimely death has called national attention to his uphill struggle to reform local governance in the country.

Countless tributes have been paid over the past week to beloved Secretary Jesse. Many will best remember him as the unassuming, self-effacing mayor who showed what it means to be a true servant leader, steering Naga City to the Hall of Fame in local governance as he did. That is how I first knew him. And it was as such that he won my complete admiration both as the most-awarded city mayor in the history of the prestigious Galing Pook awards (for which I had been privileged to be a judge for five years), and as a truly great person.


In its very first awards in 1994, Galing Pook cited then Mayor Robredo for not just one but three exemplary programs he had instituted for Naga City: Emergency Rescue Naga (ERN), Naga Kaantabay sa Kauswagan (NKK), and Metro Naga Development Council (MNDC). ERN exemplified how a local government could mobilize partnership with the private sector and civic groups to provide a quick emergency response mechanism for its citizens, with a 3-5 minute average response time within the city. NKK institutionalized a functional mechanism to settle land disputes between owners and occupants, provide on-site area upgrading projects for blighted urban poor communities, establish intra-city relocation sites for victims of demolition and eviction, and provide livelihood opportunities. MNDC, formed at Naga City’s instance, pooled together efforts and resources of 13 LGUs, private sector and national government agencies in Camarines Sur for initiatives addressing immediate and long-term needs in the area.

The following year brought another Galing Pook prize for the city’s Productivity Improvement Program built on four thrusts: providing sufficient services to meet the population’s needs; getting optimum outputs at minimum expense; producing quality results as desired and planned; and making services accessible and acceptable, guided by “the greatest good for the greatest number.” With the program, Mayor Robredo brought out the best in the various units of the entire city government toward ample, effective and efficient delivery of public services.


In a three-year sweep, Naga again won the Gawad Galing Pook in 1996 for Robredo’s Government Computerization Program, at a time when computerized processes were alien to most local governments and even national government agencies. The program computerized personnel information, payroll and payments, civil registry, real property data and taxes, business licenses and taxes, building permits, tricycle drivers’ violations, urban poor data and others, thereby integrating the city’s revenue generation and social development initiatives.

Robredo subsequently became part of the National Selection Committee that rigorously screens deserving winners of the prestigious award. But later, upon being voted back overwhelmingly by his Naga constituents as their leader, he was to win yet another string of [Galing Pook] GP awards starting in 2002 with his People Empowerment Program (PEP). PEP had institutionalized people power via the Naga City People’s Council (NCPC) created by city ordinance and vested with policymaking authority. It also earned Naga recognition from the United Nations Center for Human Settlements (UN-Habitat) as one of the 10 best places in the world. Asiaweek magazine cited Naga as one of the most improved cities in the world, singling out PEP as “perhaps the greatest of all of Naga’s achievements.” The following year saw Naga winning a GP Special Citation for Continuing Excellence, recognizing its creative use of information and communication technology toward empowering its citizenry. And in yet another three-year sweep, the city reaped GP recognition anew in 2004 for Reinventing the Naga City School Board and for its i-Governance Program.

In 2007, the task fell on me to field validate still another Naga Galing Pook winner, its Preparing Future Leaders program. I interviewed city officials, youth participants, alumni and other stakeholders of the program that puts young people at the helm of the city government for a month each year. A proven 18-year program by then, it merited yet another GP award for the city, which by then counted close to 200 national and international awards, all under Robredo’s inspired and inspiring leadership. I recall how Mayor Jesse had fetched me at my hotel for a dinner chat across the road, in his trademark

T-shirt and  tsinelas—so casual and unmayor-like in attire and demeanor, yet so worthy of the highest esteem for his humility in greatness.

In John 12:24, his namesake Jesus Christ reminds us that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Another parable talks of seeds falling on fertile soil, among thorny bushes and on rocky ground. In his final rest, we all owe it to the seed that is Jesse to give him fertile soil with which he can thrive and bear fruit.

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E-mail: [email protected]


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TAGS: Cielito F. Habito, galing pook awards, jesse robredo
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