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The first title is a reminder to the powers-that-be that these five reasons are exactly the very same qualities that Jesse Robredo’s successor should possess. The second is an invocation, if not a cynic’s self-defense against disappointment, since it puts “amazing” and “politician” in one phrase.
1. He served the people.
And he served especially the least of them, the informal settlers. Despite his middle-class upbringing, Jesse Robredo did not blame the “squatters” for most of society’s ills: the crimes against property (or what Anti-Poverty Commission Undersecretary Jude Esguerra calls the Jean Valjean crimes), the trash, and the floods. He saw them as people trapped in a system that forced them to live as rats, in sewers and sewer-like conditions.
While one Cabinet member talked about “blasting” them away from the danger zones by creeks and waterways at the height of the habagat floodings, Robredo was meeting with them almost every day, hammering out the details of their immediate relocation within the city, following the P50-billion multi-year shelter program that he cobbled together with urban-poor groups and shelter-as-human-right advocates.
2. He shared power.
The nature of power is to amass more power. It is jealous and greedy. Robredo fought the nature of power—and won. How was he not devoured by the system? He invented a better one.
When he was first elected mayor of Naga City, he immediately institutionalized participative democracy, a difficult concept to actualize—even for activists who had used it in slogans and tried to give life to it in “collectives.” He established a system whereby the organized sectors (urban poor, women, labor, elderly, disabled, etc.) were given space in all aspects of governance—from brainstorming to implementation to monitoring to fine-tuning/correcting the plan. Unheard of in politics, especially in feudal Philippines.
While Bayani “BF” Fernando achieved practically the same things for Marikina City—a clean and healthy environment, efficiently delivered public and social services, and international awards, Robredo did not use an iron fist.
3. He was an activist—without claiming to be one.
He acted. He initiated. He made things happen. Solve traffic mess, check. Eliminate jueteng, check. Streamline bureaucracy, check. Plus a host of other things. He was a kindred spirit to many activists who chose to engage the government, find solutions to pressing problems, and make an impact on people’s lives—instead of simply finding fault. In his wholistic approach to governance, he minded that the means is also the end.
4. He is world-class.
His innovations are recognized by his people (those who benefited from his efforts) and by international bodies (those who want to replicate them). These are some of the awards—in a variety of categories—that Naga City received because of what Robredo started:
* Housing Rights Protector Award: Center for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), Geneva, Switzerland, City Government of Naga honoured with Housing Rights Protector Award for its exceptional commitment to the human right to adequate housing | December 5, 2007
* Cost Effective (City Category) in the search for Asian Cities and Regions of the Future (for year 2005-2006): Conferred by London-based Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Magazine London, United Kingdom
* Global 107 Best Practices, 2004 Dubai International Awards, i-Governance Program of Naga City (Best Practices in Improving the Living Environment): Conferred by the United Nations - Habitat and the Municipality of Dubai
* Recipient, United Nations Public Service Awards, Application of Information and Technology (ICT) in Local Government: Local eGovernment: Conferred by the United Nations - Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), United Nations Public Service Day | June 23, 2004
* Recipient, Award for Women-Friendly City, Contest of Gender Responsive Local Government for Asia Pacific: Conferred by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), Fukouka, Japan | March 8, 2004
* Recipient, CyberCity Award for Asia-Pacific, For Developing Effective & Efficient Model of Utilizing ICT for promoting good governance: Conferred by Urban Governance Initiative (TUGI), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
* Finalist, World Habitat 2002, Naga Kaantabay sa Kauswagan Program: Conferred by the Building and Social Foundation and UN-HABITAT, World Habitat Day | Brussels, Belgium
* Finalist, World Habitat 2001, Naga Kaantabay sa Kauswagan Program: Conferred by the United Nations Center for Housing Settlement (UNCHS)
* Acclaimed as one of the Most Improved Cities in Asia: Asiaweek Magazine, November 1999
* Awards Winner, Naga City Participatory Planning Initiatives, 1998 Dubai International Award for Best Practices in Improving the Living Environment,
Municipality of Dubai and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN HABITAT), Municipality of Dubai, United Arab Emirates
* HABITAT II TOP 40 Best Practices, Naga Kaantabay sa Kauswagan Program: United Nations Center for Human Settlements (UNCHS), Istanbul, Turkey
5. He is a good and great man.
A unique combination of these traits, he himself required it from those who would join government, only he called them matino at magaling. By all accounts, he was a happy worker. No job is too small for him to do, no dream too big for him to realize.
My first encounter with him was in late 2004 when I was doing research for an article on great cities for the local Good Housekeeping magazine. (I’d like to think his Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to performing local government units was an idea he got from that piece.) Naturally, Naga City was on the list. I wasn’t able to interview him for the news feature, but was satisfied with the interviews of the empowered people of his government and his community.
So when I saw him later at the Senate several years back (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was still president then), I approached him, introduced myself, and told him how that writing assignment turned me into a Robredo fan. He remembered the article and told me it was posted on the Naga City website. I told him what he did in Naga City must be replicated throughout the country, and that he needed a job with a national scope. That was my second encounter with him.
His death is a personal loss because he could’ve done much more.
I would have liked to see the results of his experiment at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm). I wonder how he would have navigated the intricate, long-standing issues that have kept Armm at the bottom of every governance test. My third encounter would be when I join the multitude of other Jesse’s girls and boys who have been inspired by his example, to pay our last respects to an amazing human being.