By Raïssa Robles
When former President Corazon Aquino died three years ago, a grief-stricken Jesse Robredo wrote in his blog:
Bakit nga naman ngayon na muling nababalot sa krisis ang Pilipinas lumisan na siya? Hindi pa tapos ang laban ni Ninoy. Hindi pa tapos ang laban ni Cory.
Hindi lamang demokrasya bilang isang paraan ng pamamahala, kung hindi higit sa lahat, demokrasya na mag-aangat ng antas ng buhay ng ordinaryong Pilipino.
Rather than despair, Robredo drew courage from her death:
Dahil sa pagpanaw ni Pangulong Cory muling matatagpuan natin sa ating mga sarili ang pagmamahal sa bayan, ang manindigan para sa matuwid at ang paggamit ng ating mga kapangyarihan para mabago na ang kalakaran sa ating lipunan. Ito lang ang tanging paraan para magkaroon ng saysay ang ating pagdalamhati, ang pagkamatay ni Ninoy at pagpanaw ni Cory.
Ituloy ang laban ni Ninoy at Cory!
His blog entry was dated August 16, 2009 – or three years before his own death on August 18, 2012.
It was Robredo’s last entry in his blog which he had named “Oddball”, perhaps to describe himself because he was an odd man out in Philippine politics. I’d like to thank a commenter named @Noggy who had pointed me to Robredo’s blog. I really appreciate it because I had been looking for it.
In more mature democracies, a politician like Robredo would not be unusual. But in the Philippines, he is indeed a rarity and an oddity.
Boy, was he odd
In the Philippines, most politicians once elected lose no time acquiring the trappings of power. Especially what I would call the two “M’s” – mansions and mistresses.
Philippine society aids and abets this practice and in fact heaps attention on such “successful” polticians. Their mansions are featured in loving detail in glossy mags. Their mistresses grace the annual best dressed list wearing high-end creations.
But Robredo was odd. Although a former San Miguel Corporation senior executive, he chose to live a middle-class existence. This was even though he could afford a higher lifestyle. His official Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for 2011 posted on the Interaksyon blog showed he had a net worth of P9 million. Still, he casually went about the city – where he was mayor for 18 years – wearing floppies and baggy shorts sometimes. During the annual Peñafrancia festival, he would go barefoot.
At work as the powerful Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Governments, he wore short-sleeved barong and a locally-assembled watch that survived his undersea tragedy.
In more mature democracies, senior government officials riding public transport isn’t unusual. Not so in the Philippines.
Robredo believed in being thrifty when spending the people’s money. In one blog entry entitled “Luho”, he scolded the Department of Foreign Affairs officers who had pulled out the “mobile passporting” service from Naga City because they disliked the accommodations provided by the city government. He wrote –
Ang kanilang reklamo ay tinitira daw sila sa Naga City Hostel. Hindi ”5-star” ang hostel. Subali’t lahat ng kuwarto nito ay air-conditioned at may sariling banyo.
Robredo recalled that when news broke about the million-peso supper of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her entourage in the United States, he thought at once of the picky DFA personnel and wondered:
Ito na nga ba ang kalakaran sa pamahalaan ngayon? Utusan ang ordinaryong kawani magtipid. Subali’t ang mga may tungkulin at kapangyarihan ay di-sakop sa mga utos na ito. Sa gitna ng kahirapan, may karapatan pa ba tayong maging “class”?…Kawawa mga mamamayan. Hindi niya kaya ang luho ng mga naninilbihan sa kanya!
Robredo went on to write a column in Abante but these were not as frank and as personal as those entries in his blog where he expounded on his political philosophy.
He believed in trying to find common ground with those whose views he differed from. Politicians of various stripes trooped to Naga City and he welcomed them all. It is for this reason that many were grief-stricken by his death, regardless of their political bent.
Many feel a profound loss with his passing. It is perhaps the same way Robredo himself had felt over the death of Ninoy Aquino – which had pushed him out of his comfort zone and made him enter public service. Sixteen years later, the death of Cory Aquino made him carry on. On President Cory’s death, he noted that many Filipinos desired change but without working hard for it:
Marami sa ating kababayan ang nagnanais na makamtan ang pagbabago subali’t ayaw niyang makilahok. Sana sa pagpanaw ni Pangulong Cory, maantig ang ating isip at damdamin at tatanggapin natin ang hamon na sinimulan ni Ninoy, pinagpatuloy ni Cory at magiging daan para sa tagumpay ng bawat mamamayang Pilipino. Hindi lamang demokrasya bilang isang paraan ng pamamahala, kung hindi higit sa lahat, demokrasya na mag-aangat ng antas ng buhay ng ordinaryong Pilipino.
I guess that’s Jesse Robredo’s message for all those weeping over his death like me – that it’s OUR TURN to carry on.
Somehow, that makes me smile. I realize that he doesn’t need to be confirmed as DILG Secretary by the Commission on Appointments because he has shifted the burdens of that office to all of us.
And he’s right. The only thing that can make LGUs (local government units) really work and cities and towns prosper is if ordinary people continuously hold the feet of their local officials to the fire.
This also means we have to change our way of measuring the success of our government officials. For instance, no more tolerance and even admiration for politicians’ mansions and mistresses.
It’s time to adopt the Jesse Robredo standard of modest living and pro-poor thinking.
Turn the Oddball into the Norm.
Go on. Laugh your heart out, Sir. The tables have been turned.