On Public Service & A Premature Farewell

This past weekend, a small plane carrying DILG secretary Jesse Robredo crashed into the sea just off the island of Masbate. A search and rescue operation ensued almost immediately, but after a couple of days the operation evolved into a recovery mission instead. Early this morning secretary Robredo’s body was found underwater inside the wreckage, along with the two pilots who were flying the plane (the senior of the two happened to be a local hero in Cebu).The Robredo family lost a father and a husband, and the Philippines lost a public servant whose work touched the lives of many.

Jesse Robredo was particularly well-known and loved in his hometown of Naga city, where he served as mayor for six terms. Having worked his magic for Naga by working closely with the people and empowering them, President Aquino hoped Robredo would have a similar effect on local governments all over the Philippines as secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, the position he held at the time of his death. I won’t talk about his career in too much detail (you could Google that, if you like) and neither will I make a sweeping statement that his career was flawless. He most certainly had his ups and downs. What stands out about Robredo though is the way he served his constituents in the true sense of the word. In a country where most public officials expect to be exalted instead of actually doing work for others, Robredo was a rarity.

Much of the news was coming to me via Twitter and Facebook, this being the age of the internet and bladibla, and pretty soon the hashtag #SalamatJesse (Salamat is “thank you” in Tagalog) was trending on Twitter while photo tributes were popping up all over Facebook. I kept wondering why we have to wait until people are gone before we honour them. I felt a deep sadness for my country because losing one good government official weighs on us so heavily. I felt a sadness for the 20 good years of public service behind Robredo and the many years he could have had to give more. That second one seems a little selfish, huh. So I got to thinking about how we demand so much of those like Secretray Robredo, and how we so easily forget that we have a duty of our own as citizens of this country. In his 2003 commencement address to the graduates of Ateneo de Manila, Robredo had said: “For this country to succeed, we need to make heroes of the ordinary people. We need to make heroes of ourselves.” 

I admire him most for the philosophy of working first with those closest to you. In the same commencement address Robredo also said that “You must always remember that you can not give what you do not have. Measure success in terms of how pleased you are with what you have done and not as to how people define it, with its attendant perks.” What better way to be pleased with what you have done than to serve those you are closest to in little ways and allowing those little acts to grow through them? I’m not saying that large scale plans to help many people in one go are bad because they are impersonal. Obviously if you have the means then you should help as many people as you can. But I appreciate how people like Robredo can see and constantly remember that it is individuals that make up a community, in the same way that local governments make up a nation. He saw it within his capacity to give back to his home town, so that is what he first focused his energies on. He gave what he could, when he could.

Following that line of thought, I got to thinking about those who were really closest to him: his family. I thought of how he must have been such a great father and husband. I imagined the pain the family must be in and I prayed that they find the strength to pull through. I also felt reassured, in the strangest way, of his having loved them the best he could until the end. How presumptuous of me, I know, and if anyone related to the Robredos comes across this then I hope you take that in the best way possible. I simply mean to say that because of his being a good public servant, Robredo seemed like a man who would have truly understood love–for what is true public service at its basest but unselfish, giving love?

The Philippines was lucky to have had a public servant who can inspire others. Once again, I don’t pretend to know everything about the man, but if Robredo’s life can spark a wave of hopeful thoughts as it has already done, then I dare say it was a life well-lived. We can never be truly ready for goodbyes, especially when they happen too soon–especially when they are for someone we think we need… but as humans we continue on through one another, and if we can find the courage to follow sec. Robredo’s lead, then fight for good governance will continue on.

Salamat, Secretary Robredo.

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