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Transcript of the response delivered by Atty. Leni Robredo after accepting the Philippine Legion of Honor conferred by President Benigno S. Aquino on the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo during the Concelebrated Requiem Mass at the Basilica Minore de Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia on August 28, 2012, in Naga City.
In behalf of my children, my brother- and sisters-in-law, and our entire family, I accept this Legion of Honor award with deep and respectful gratitude. This award recognizes my husband’s achievements in public service, an affirmation of his life and work. I am honored. Our entire family is honored. If Jess were here with us today, I know he would shy away from excessive praise. He might find all the fuss, pomp and pageantry a little uncomfortable. But Jess, just this one time, allow us to celebrate your life in the way we think you deserve to be honored.
Mr. President, I know that my husband would have felt deeply touched not only with the award you have bestowed on him today but with what you have done. From the time we were all still hoping that he was still alive somewhere in Masbate until we learned that he was indeed gone and up until now when we are about to lay him to rest is way beyond what we expected. If we could hear Jess speak, I know he would be saying, “Sobra-sobra na ito.” We’ve all felt your care and commitment to Jess in a very personal way that you have ensured that my children and I can grieve and not worry about anything. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
My heartfelt gratitude also goes to Secretary Mar Roxas, Secretary Butch Abad and Congressman Jun Abaya who were always with Jess not just in death but also in life. Thank you for dreaming with him. Thank you for walking with him. Thank you for staying with him until the very end. To Secretary Dinky Soliman, who stayed with us and made sure that during those dark moments when we learned Jess was missing, the children and I were eating and sleeping and not worrying too much, thank you. Thank you also to Secretaries Ricky Carandang, Edwin Lacierda, Rene Almendras, Ging Deles and Leila de Lima, who rescued us and took charge of all the preparations for the wake. You really made things very easy for us. To the other members of the Cabinet, the search and rescue teams, the local government officials of Masbate, the Naga City officialdom, the divers, and everyone involve in finding Jess, you pushed yourselves beyond your limits of your physical and mental capabilities to rescue him. The intensity of your dedication became a beckon of hope, and then comfort for those of us waiting for him to come home.
His death was unexpected and we have to deal with the searing grief of losing him. But I believe that for Jess it was not tragic, and he was not taken before his time. He was never fearful of his life. He was always ready to face his Creator. He often said, “Kung panahon mo na kahit anong gawin mong pagtatago, panahon mo na. Kung ano ang nakatakda siyang mangyayari.” Maybe for him it was the perfect end to a life well lived. Jess often told me he felt he would die young. During our moments together he would always say that between the two of us, he would be the first to go. I never believed him then.
When he became a member of the Cabinet, I was always nervous whenever he would take a private plane or a helicopter. We constantly argued about the necessity of it all. But he made me understand that sometimes this could not be avoided because of his work. He promised me that he would take commercial flights whenever possible. But sometimes he still did not heed my request. He shielded me from the fear by simply not telling me about it.
Last Saturday, the day of the crash, I was already on the phone with him early in the morning. There was a flurry of calls and text messages between us throughout the day. Early in the afternoon, I told him not to hurry home because my daughter’s competition finished early. I thought he would just be taking the bus bound for Naga that same night. But in true fashion, he still decided to fly home. He just wanted to surprise us and make us happy.
When I first learned that he was pushing through with the trip, I texted him and he confirmed that he boarded the plane already. I was already very near the airport to pick him up when he texted me again that his plane was going back to Cebu. He never told me why. I was able to reach him at 4:40 in the afternoon, just before the plane plunged into the sea. He told me in the calmest voice that he would call me later. He said he was just taking care of something. He never called me back.
When the body bag carrying his remains was opened before my eyes, I was not at all surprised to see that he was wearing his DILG uniform, the same uniform that he wore in that picture in front. That was Jess to the very core. He was always working so hard but at the same time always rushing home to be with his family.
When Jess was still mayor of Naga, we both worked hard in making sure that the children will not feel any sense of entitlement because of his position. He always told us that the greatest gift he could give our children is a good name. In death, he gave my children that gift and the best way we can all honor him is to guard that name and make him proud. My husband was always cautious not to enjoy the perks of his position because he was always afraid that he’d get used to it and be tempted to do all means just to stay in power. He used to tell me, “Mahirap nang masanay at baka hanap-hanapin ko.” He was conscious not to spent beyond our means. He felt that if our needs and wants become unreasonable, he would be more vulnerable to temptations. He was never attached to material things.
During one of his recent birthdays while he was already Secretary of the DILG, he received a number of signature shirts as gifts. He piled them up inside his closet and told me while looking at those gifts, “Magagalit na nito sa akin ang Diyos.” When he became DILG Secretary, coming home to Naga every weekend kept him grounded and made him stronger against temptations. The weekend before that fateful crash, he fixed everything in the house---busted lights, broken doorbell, leaking faucets. He always looked for work to feeling like a regular man of the house. He said these simple tasks made him feel important to his family and strengthens him.
Much has been said about how great Jess was as a public servant. But to us, his family, we will remember him most as an exceptional husband and father. He died with nothing left unsaid. He constantly showered us with “I love you’s.” He always told me he was lucky that he married me. He constantly told my children he was proud of them. On a normal day, he would text or call me several times. His first text message of the day would always be, “Ma, gising na ako.” Between us there is a constant narrative of, “in the car already,” “going to the office na,” “proceeding to the next appointment,” and so on and so forth.
Sometimes, when he was in the middle of a difficult conversation, he would text me, “hirap naman nitong kausap ko.” Or sometimes when attending a formal function at some flashy hotel, he would text me, “Bok, fine dining na naman, siguradong gutom na naman ako nito.” Often, he is home early enough to eat dinner with Aika and Tricia. After dinner he would often text me, “tapos na kaming mag-dinner ng mga anak mo. About to start my evening ritual.” By this, he meant that he would now start signing the voluminous office documents that are brought home for his signature. Before he sleeps, he would call and talk to Jillian and me.
He would drop everything for our girls. He wasn’t there just for the big events but also for the small ones. He would badger many people, Secretary Mar included, just to ask for UAAP tickets for Aika, who almost never misses an Ateneo basketball game. Whenever Tricia had an upcoming exam, he would text me, “Ma, please go to the blessed sacrament, Trish has exams today.” He tutors Jillian in Math by telephone and he would even do sample math problems for her to solve while attending important meetings. He was never too busy for all of us.
2012, was supposed to be a banner year for us. Two months ago, we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary. The day of our anniversary fell on a weekday. Although we already celebrated the prior weekend, he still came home for a few hours to surprise me bringing with him a hodgepodge of flowers he got along the way. This loving gesture was all that was needed for our last anniversary to be memorable.
In a moment of reflection, we agreed that we have been truly blessed not only because we have three wonderful children, but also because life has generally been good to us. That was when he first told me that he had already fulfilled all his dreams for himself.
People would remember my husband as a hardworking and dedicated public servant, who made a difference in the lives of people. He had his own brand of leadership and preferred to keep everything simple. His heart always cries out to the poor and the marginalized. When he talks to me about his work, he would always tell me, “kawawa talaga ang mahihirap,” and hope that he could do more to make life easier for them. He found fulfillment when he worked as Mayor of Naga City because outcomes could be seen and felt quickly. Things were different at the national level. He worked so much harder, but he often wondered if his efforts were appreciated. “Hindi ko alam kung may patutunguhan ang lahat na ito,” were his exact words. But the immensity of the public response to his death and the collective grief being displayed gives us comfort that his efforts have made their mark. We did not expect this kind of reaction. I am sure Jess did not expect this either.
I am amazed to see big burly men crying over his death. When the funeral cortege passed by the streets of Manila and Naga there were as much cheers as there were tears. So many people have said very kind and inspiring words to us, and tell us how Jess touched their lives. It seems that everyone had a personal encounter with him and had a story to tell. During his last Sunday with us, he told me in the car, while I was driving him to the airport, “Quotang-quota na ako. Hindi ko na pinangarap ang lahat na ito. Sobra-sobra na ang ibinigay sa akin ng Diyos.” His cup was indeed overflowing, his dreams for himself were simple and God gave him so much more than he asked for.
Jess, thank you for the gift of your life. How lucky we are that you shared your life with us. We are truly blessed to have been loved by you. As my daughter said you may have been prepared to die, but we were not prepared to lose you. We are devastated by your loss, but even if we are grieving we will continue to live because your spirit lives in us. I will make sure that your dreams for our children will be fulfilled. I will not say goodbye because I know that you will never leave us, and will always be in our midst. You are home now. You are back where you truly belong. Rest well. We will love you forever.