Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Remembering Sec. Jesse Robredo

Jesse Manalastas Robredo (May 27, 1958 – August 18, 2012) was a Filipino statesman who served as Secretary of the Interior and Local Government in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III from 2010 to until his death in 2012.

On August 18, 2012 (PHT), the Piper PA-34-200 Seneca I aircraft (registered RP-C4431) carrying Secretary Robredo crashed off the shore of Masbate City. He was scheduled to go home and watch his daughter's swimming competition in Naga City. The Philippine Department of Interior and Local Government  said that the pilot sent a distress call to the Masbate airport requesting an emergency landing. The plane never made it to the airport and crashed in the sea. His body was retrieved three days later, August 21, 800 meters from the shore and 180 feet below sea level.

When he was appointed as DILG secretary in 2010, Robredo brought the same values to the agency, focusing on drumming up public support for the Full Disclosure Policy. This would require local government units to disclose in public places the 12 key financial documents that show how their funds are spent.

"Hindi rin sapat na tayo ay mahusay lamang. Hindi lahat ng matino ay mahusay, at lalo namang hindi lahat ng mahusay ay matino,” he is fond of telling colleagues, according to the DILG website. “Ang dapat ay matino at mahusay upang karapat-dapat tayong pagkatiwalaan ng pera ng bayan.”

Under Robredo’s term, the DILG has initiated the investigation and filing of charges against individuals involved in spurious procurement contracts.

The agency said Robredo had also been "tirelessly improving" the disaster risk reduction and mitigation capabilities of LGUs by introducing the Seal of Disaster Preparedness, an incentive mechanism.

One of his supporters, actress Mae Paner, better known as Juana Change, posted on her Facebook account: "Sec. Jesse rest in peace! Our prayers for you and your family! And our deepest gratitude for your GOOD WORK! Ipagpapatuloy namin ang iyong sinimulan!"

For all his accomplishments, at the time of his death and after a long wait of more than two years, Robredo had yet to get confirmation as DILG Secretary from the Commission on Appointments (CA).

Robredo was appointed in July 2010, among the last to be named to Aquino’s Cabinet. After the government’s inept handling of the August 23, 2010 Manila hostage-taking crisis, however, Robredo was named acting Secretary instead of being issued an “ad interim" appointment for transmittal to the CA.

Eventually, Robredo’s name was submitted to the CA, but he was one of the five Cabinet secretaries whose confirmation was bypassed after Congress adjourned its session last June 6.

Robredo also had an occasionally testy relationship with the President, who revealed to the media that he had disagreements with Robredo during the 2010 campaign, especially when it came to scheduling.

Despite the personal setbacks, Robredo remained steadfast in his vision for the DILG and the country.

“Pinapangako ko po na marami pa tayong pakikinabangan sa mga repormang pinalakas natin sa DILG. Paiigtingin pa natin ang pagbabago sa lokal na pamahalaan at sa Interior sector upang suportahan ang ginagawa nyo sa national,” reads his prepared statement for his scheduled Commission on Appointments hearing.

In college, Robredo wanted to be an engineer, excelling in science and math. Though he was accepted at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, he chose De La Salle University, which enjoyed a good reputation for engineering courses.

“It was the intellectual challenge Robredo liked most about De La Salle. He also found time for sports and played basketball with the engineering school's intramural team. But he shunned parties and nights out with his peers, although he allowed himself an occasional movie. He preferred to stay home to study or to watch television,” according to the RM bio.

Robredo earned two bachelor of science degrees at DLSU in six years, for mechanical engineering and industrial management engineering.

He quickly got a job at San Miguel Corp. and eventually followed his boss who was transferred to Magnolia, the ice cream division, where, at age 26, he met an early challenge at fighting corruption and carrying out reforms.

Amid reports of warehouse pilferage and a questioned promo contest, Robredo cleaned up the plant's warehousing system “by improving the use of resources, cutting down on overtime, and improving productivity.”

But such determination and skill in charting and enforcing reforms would apparently serve merely as a preparation for much bigger challenges in effecting authentic, pro-people change when he later decided to leave private work for public service.

Some of those who followed his career and compared his winning ways to Ramon Magsaysay,  the man honored by the awards bestowed on Robredo 12 years ago, could not help but note the remarkable timing of Robredo's date with destiny in the Masbate Sea last Saturday: August is the RM Awards month, when all laureates from around Asia are introduced and then are honored in gala rites on August 31, coinciding with Magsaysay’s birthday. And, Magsaysay himself died in a spectacular plane crash on Mount Manunggal 55 years ago, stunning a nation that adored him.

Robredo’s own accident evokes memories of that similar national tragedy, a seeming reminder that for those who wish to serve the people, there is no waiting around for opportunities to do so. Every deadline is “yesterday” and every mission urgent.

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