Manila: Common folk hailed the late Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo as a man of the masses with a “genuine heart” for the poor and the homeless, a deep-seated hatred for illegal doers, and above all, an unusual faith that all Filipino politicians would eventually metamorphose into decent public servants and governors.
“He made us, the urban poor and informal settlers, feel that we are not an eyesore, but an important pillar of the society. He never made us feel small,” a woman named Nena of the Estero San Miguel urban poor, said in a radio interview.
“He would answer our text messages regarding solutions to our problems. He would accept us in his office without protocols. Every time we left his office, we always felt good,” said Nena.
“He is an endangered species. We hope his kind of government servant is not yet extinct, otherwise Philippine politics would remain hopeless” lamented radio announcers of DZBB who editorialised as they tirelessly covered thousands of people who lined up on Friday the start of a two-day wake for Robredo in Malacanang, Manila’s presidential palace, nearly a week after he and two pilots had died in a plane crash on Masbate Bay, central Philippines last August 18.
Students and sectoral groups that represent the different kinds of people whom Robredo had intimate relationship with lined up as early as dawn near the presidential palace, hours before Robredo’s funeral cortege arrived from Naga City in southern Luzon, at the Pasay City’s Villamor Airbase at 10am, and at Manila’s presidential palace at 11.30am.
The 19-gun salute that welcomed Robredo in Manila was drowned by stories that came from the mouth of ordinary folks.
Robredo’s wife lawyer Leni and daughters Aika, Patricia and Jillian, brother Butch and other relatives also cried as narratives of Robredo’s true warmth and heart filled the air.
Cabinet members cried as they heard common folks talked about being lost with Robredo’s demise.
“When ordinary folks talked about Robredo, this gave government officials a vision of an ideal public servant, of what they could also be, now that they heard the people’s hankering for a man like Jesse Robredo,” explained Pastor Alfredo Crespo, also a socio-political analyst.
A compassionate and socially-aware Robredo who exercised leadership in favour of the weak was half the portrait of this unusual politician who survived when he was mayor of Naga City for 10 years starting 1998, when he was 29, the snake pit of a local government unit. He tamed its crowd of illegal gamblers, illegal loggers, and drug lords, some of whom were even his relatives in the Bicol region.
When he was appointed secretary of the interior and local government department in 2010, his politics of the grassroots was further enhanced as he hoped against hope that local government leaders could destroy the typical image of powerful local leaders who cuddle almost all forms of illegal doers.
Since 2010 in his office at the DILG, he established transparency in expenditures; he continuously encouraged local government leaders who were always besieged by disasters.
He was already a lone legend, a high benchmark to hurdle, even if he has not succeeded in his lifetime, to eradicate “jueteng,” an illegal numbers game allegedly promoted by gangs of elected local government leaders and the police.
“He [Robredo] gave it his all in wiping out jueteng whether it was a hot issue or not. He was disappointed very early on when he felt alone in his fight. He was resigned to the fact that jueteng was too big a problem to be solved in the first few years of the administration. So, he took it upon himself to try and finish the job until the end of President Aquino’s term,” Grace Padaca, former governor of Isabela in northern Luzon, told the Inquirer.
“He was frustrated because no matter how passionate he was in wanting to remove jueteng, he realized the problem was systemic. But he remained optimistic he could do it,” Harvey Key, lead convenor of We Can Do It Foundation that Robredo co founded.
Recalling Robredo’s disappointment after a meeting with Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Nicanor Bartolome to discuss a crusade against jueteng, Padaca recalled, “We all came out feeling that he (Bartolome) had little desire or interest in driving out jueteng.”
Robredo left voluminous documents which identified jueteng-proliferated areas. The government-sponsored jai alai and small town lottery were used as fronts for jueteng, with the support of the governor, mayor, vice-mayor, and the police, said his report.
Saluting Robredo’s perseverance, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz also told the Inquirer, “I gave him a crucifix and told him that many would crucify him as secretary [in his fight against jueteng].”
Robredo also pushed the Philippine National Police (PNP) to run after illegal logging activities, Justice Secretary
Leila de Lima told the Bulletin. Eight police commanders, a police regional director in the southern Philippines were ousted for alleged involvement in illegal logging that resulted in the fatal flooding of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro Cities in the south last year. Six mayors in Mindanao were investigated by the DILG for alleged illegal logging activities.
“The people would not sleep on Robredo’s unfinished crusade. His intention, his voice would reverberate. This way, his legacy would shame traditional politicians and inspire younger people to act more vigorously for good governance and people’s participation in government which he started as a mayor in Naga City,” said Pastor Crespo.
The Robredo family opted that he would be cremated and buried in his beloved Naga City after President Benigno Aquino offered the National Heroes Cemetery in Metro Manila’s suburban Taguig for his burial. It was the first time that a cabinet member was given a six-day national day of mourning, which is often accorded to state leaders.