Jesse Robredo Is Not “Useless”

by John L. Silva

Mr. Amando Doronila’s column (Philippine Daily Inquirer Sept 3, 2010)  entitled “Whose Heads Will Roll” – about pointing blame for the recent hostage tragedy – is in the weekly predictable contrarian tone that he has assumed with regards to the Aquino administration.  This time he takes aim at Malacanang’s communications office for its supposed inconsistent statements during the crisis but retains much of his venom for Department In Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo.

Mr. Doronila wants the Secretary’s head to roll despite admitting that the President did divide responsibilities in the department prior to the crisis.  Mr. Robredo was to administer the local government functions and his Undersecretary Rico Puno would handle the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Mr. Doronila insinuates that such a partition gets Mr. Robredo off the hook and makes him powerless.  He concludes Mr. Robredo’s role as that of  “…a figurehead” and logically “…the country would lose nothing if he were removed.”  He ends the paragraph by stating “He is useless any way.”

His dismissive conclusion escapes many of his readers.  The piece loses cogency and turns mean-spirited towards a well-respected public servant.

Jesse Robredo was chosen as DILG Secretary not for his police skills but for his exemplary work in local government earning him numerous praises and awards.  His tenure as Naga City Mayor and achievements while in office is the stuff of legends.  What other city could boast that their budget and expenditures were available to the public online or just a phone call away?  What other city in the country has a Mayor who spoke like an education official and can rattle off student achievement scores and public school needs so fervently?

In tirelessly promoting honest and accountable government and helping other cities replicate the same, Mr. Robredo  was honored in 2000 with the coveted Magsaysay Award, the first ever for a Philippine mayor.  Anyone who knew and followed his work could see early on what an asset he would be in national government.

The fact-finding committee which began their first  interviews on Sept 3, 2010 will confirm what many of us citizens have concluded for the past week.

Despite administrative supervision by the DILG, the Philippine Police has a mind of its own with more powers and experience to conduct and resolve matters like a hostage crisis.  With an incoming head such as Mr. Robredo, there are learning curves to master and it would be reasonable for any newcomer to defer to and trust that an institution like the police force would do its job right.

Tragically, the police and Manila city officials bungled the job and that’s where the inquiry should focus on because decisions were made there and not in Mr. Robredo’s office.  To invoke command responsibility in knee-jerk fashion and dash his appointment as DILG Secretary is not clear-headed thinking and we will lose a person whose contributions to that post is still forthcoming.  The same kind of knee-jerk thinking is being directed at President Benigno Aquino III as also being responsible for the tragedy.

If one were to lay responsibility on the President’s feet, it should be specific, like reviewing the accessibility the hostage taker, a former policeman had to controlled firearms.  We have long been characterized as a gun toting society, which has serious implications for tourism, investments, and law enforcement.  As a gun owner and a defender of private arms ownership, the President needs to connect that with the rampant killings committed daily in the country and come up with stiffer requirements and laws.

The inquiry should be thorough and complete to give the consolation of justice and closure for the families of those killed in the hostage crisis.  There are though venal opportunists who will use the inquiry to prevent conscientious public servants like Mr. Robredo from taking office and cleaning up DILG. 

Unfortunately, pundits like Mr. Doronila, way off the mark in appraising Mr. Robredo, inadvertently feed the same cabal that wish this government to fail early on.

John L. Silva is a Trustee of Synergeia Foundation

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