The news of his death was devastating to those in both government and non-government circles, including myself, who knew Secretary Jesse Robredo of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). The state of denial and the clinging to the last shreds of hope gave way to national grief and a celebration of his fabled life.
For many people, the death of Secretary Robredo will have the same impact as the death of Antique Governor Evelio Javier, and even that of the death of the late president Cory Aquino. Certainly, Bicolanos—especially the Nagueños—are expected to give him the accolades and honors due him as the Naga City mayor who put good governance in their dictionary and in the process put the city on the international map as a model local government. Mayor Robredo himself was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Excellence.
The citation says it all:
“Spurning bodyguards, Robredo moved freely among the people. By enlisting the support and active assistance of Naga's NGOs and citizens, he improved public services dramatically. He established day-care centers in each of Naga's twenty-seven districts and added five new high schools. He built a public hospital for low-income citizens. He set up a dependable twenty-four-hour emergency service. He constructed a network of farm-to-market roads and provided clean and reliable water systems in Naga's rural communities. He launched programs for youth, farmers, laborers, women, the elderly, and the handicapped -- drawing thousands into civic action in the process. No civic deed was too small, he told the people, including the simple act of reporting a broken street lamp. He sometimes swept the streets himself.”
“Consistently, Robredo prioritized the needs of the poor. Through his Kaantabay sa Kauswagan (Partners in Development) program, over forty-five hundred once-homeless families moved to home-lots of their own. They became part of Naga's revival. So did a revitalized city government. Applying techniques from business, Robredo raised performance, productivity, and morale among city employees. As a culture of excellence overtook the culture of mediocrity at City Hall, Naga's businesses doubled and local revenues rose by 573 percent.”
“Reelected without opposition in 1995, Robredo urged the Naga City Council to enact a unique Empowerment Ordinance. This created a People's Council to institutionalize the participation of NGOs and people's organizations in all future municipal deliberations. When obliged by law to step down after his third term, the popular Robredo made no effort to entrench his family. His advice to would-be leaders? “You have to have credibility.””
In his short stint as DILG Secretary, he tried to make the country another Naga. In so doing, Secretary Jesse became one with the Filipino people.