The legacy of Jesse Robredo
Naga City in Bicol has long figured prominently in local governance. Its international, national and regional awards and citations (now totaling more than 140) in almost all aspects of local governance speak volumes about how this tiny, landlocked and ancient city (established in 1575) is serving as a veritable touchstone for other local government units.
Its former mayor, Jesse Robredo, who eventually became interior and local government secretary, is generally credited for transforming the city into what it is now. This point of view was further strengthened in the aftermath of his tragic death two years ago today.
Robredo laid the groundwork for people’s participation to thrive in Naga. During his first term as mayor (1988-1992), he formulated the Good Governance Model which would serve as the template of all the people’s-participation-driven programs being implemented in the city. This model consists of three elements: progressive perspective, functional partnerships, and participation. It is based on Naga’s collective experience in managing its affairs.
Robredo envisioned “a city for the people,” where growth with equity is the paramount concern. He thus established and encouraged partnerships with various sectors, ensuring that Naga’s limited resources would be augmented and even enhanced by private entities, including nongovernment and people’s organizations.
But he did recognize the limitations of partnerships, arguing that “at the operational and practical level, partnerships have to occur between institutions and organized groups, resulting often in the exclusion of the community at large, reducing them to a spectator’s role in governance.” He therefore advocated people’s participation “to mainstream the marginalized,” and actively engaged them in governance. Participation, in effect, served as the very foundation of the Good Governance Model.
From this model evolved award-winning programs, all of them institutionalized (and, therefore, still being implemented in Naga) and anchored on people’s participation. These are, among others, the i-Governance Program, Naga City People’s Council, Productivity Improvement Program (PIP), Urban Poor Development Program, and Quality Universal Elementary and Secondary Education in Naga (QUEEN) Program.
The PIP’s impact in the Philippine setting can be best appreciated by reading the foreword, written by Robredo himself, of the second edition (2006) of the Naga City Citizen’s Charter. “A citizen’s charter—an enforceable contract between the city government and its constituents—is a concept that has long been there, up in the air, tickling our minds, lurking in the depths of the city hall’s institutional memory,” he wrote. He then proceeded to trace the roots of Naga’s pioneering efforts to document its services to the PIP, specifically “the ubiquitous Performance Pledge that became … part and parcel of every City Hall office.”
The connection is evident: The Performance Pledge’s three-column structure (service, response time, responsible persons) was retained in both the first (2001) and second (2006) editions of the Naga City Citizen’s Charter. Other national and local government agencies would later expand it as mandated under the Anti-Red Tape Act (Arta), but this trinity of key information which, as Robredo noted, “unilaterally removed the cloak of anonymity in public service,” still forms the core of every citizen’s charter in the country. By the time the Arta took effect in 2008, and scaled up the innovation nationally, Naga was on the third edition of its citizen’s charter.
The i-Governance Program is built on the bedrock principle of “information openness”—where government actively discloses data to the various publics on local government finance, budgeting, procurement, legislation, and service delivery. The key assumption is that citizens will take advantage of the information made available to better engage their government. Under i-Governance, active disclosure is a defining characteristic of Naga’s open-government regime, which distinguishes it from the freedom of information bills that previous Congresses had failed to pass.
When Robredo was tapped by President Aquino to head the Department of Interior and Local Government, he took the opportunity to use its supervisory powers over LGUs and to use it as a platform to promote and scale up policies that opened local governments to their constituencies.
The memorandum circulars that collectively formed the cornerstone of his “full disclosure” policies can very well be traced to the i-Governance Program and his open-government philosophy. These policies form the core of reforms that his widow, now Camarines Sur (Third District) Rep. Leonor Gerona-Robredo, filed as her first bill in the House of Representatives.
The QUEEN program was conceptualized and implemented at the tail-end of Robredo’s 19-year incumbency as mayor of Naga. Still, it underscored his determination to use people’s participation in an area that can make or break the nation’s very future: education.
To sum up, the legacy—defined by Macmillan Dictionary as “something that someone achieved which continues to exist even after his death”—of Robredo insofar as people’s participation in local governance is concerned, can be considered secure not only in his beloved Naga but in the entire country.
As Robredo once said: “We will emerge stronger and better because this kind of governance is inclusive, propelled by the power of the very people it embraces to serve.”
Gabriel Hidalgo Bordado Jr. worked closely with Jesse Robredo for almost 25 years. He was Robredo’s vice mayor for two terms (2004-2010). This article was drawn from his field study submitted to the University of the Philippines College of Public Affairs and Development, where he obtained a master’s degree in development management and governance last April.