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Robredo: A life of public service

Robredo was a rare breed in Philippines politics

The late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo raises a tribal sword after being named an honorary tribal chief in the province of North Cotabato last year (photo by Alloha Solmerano) The late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo raises a tribal sword after being named an honorary tribal chief in the province of North Cotabato last year (photo by Alloha Solmerano)
  • Kerima Bulan T. Navales, Davao City
  • Philippines
  • August 22, 2012
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For a few minutes just after four o’clock on Saturday afternoon, it looked like the Piper PA 34-200 Seneca light aircraft carrying Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo was going to plough into Ibingay, one of the most populated villages in Masbate City.

At the last moment the pilot, Captain Jessup Bahinting, managed to steer the nose away from the village and out to sea, according to a statement by the only survivor, June Paolo Abrazado, Robredo’s aide.

Although hardly the work of the late interior secretary, it was perhaps a fitting end to the life of a man renowned for considering the people around him, according to those who knew Robredo, a rare breed in a country whose politicians have been notoriously self-serving.

Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar remembers one day in 2009 when he met to chat with Robredo, then the mayor of his home town Naga City.

Although there was a long line of people waiting to meet with Robredo, known as ‘Pogi’, or handsome, in his hometown, the mayor took an hour out of his busy schedule to sit and chat, said Gaspar.

“Those of us who had the privilege of meeting can’t help but revisit the moment,” said Gaspar.

At the time, he was writing a book about faith called Masses are Messiah in which he quotes Robredo as saying that his goal in life was to “make a difference in the lives of other people.”

In terms of what he achieved in his hometown, most people seem to agree he achieved his aim.

When Robredo became the youngest mayor in the Philippines in 1988 at the age of just 29, Naga City was in the midst of rampant overspending by local officials and an economic climate which was sluggish at best. Some 20 percent of the city’s residents were classed as squatters and illegal gambling was rife.

By 1998, its economic growth rate of 6.5 percent was among the best in the country, instances of poverty were well below the regional average, malnutrition had declined to almost nil and per capita income had climbed to nearly 50 percent above the national average.

In 1999, Asiaweek called Naga City among the “most improved cities in Asia.”

As a result, Naga received well over 100 national and international awards, while Robredo himself was given the regionally renowned Magsaysay award for government service in 2000.

“No civic deed was too small, [Robredo] told the people, including the simple act of reporting a broken street lamp,” read the citation when he received his award. “He sometimes swept the streets himself.”

For Robredo, religion and good public service were interconnected.

He studied at a private Catholic school in Naga City for his elementary education and was later a student at the Ateneo de Naga University, a school run by the Society of Jesus in his hometown.

“Spirituality is important for me because it helps to have a clear sense of what is right and wrong,” Gaspar quoted Robredo as saying in his book. “I am willing to make sacrifices.”

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