The Mourning After

by Harvey S. Keh

Much has already been said about the legacy of the late DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo, a legacy of humility, good governance, leadership with integrity and honest-to-goodness public service for every Filipino. It’s certainly a very tough act to follow for many of our current political leaders. More than being a co-founder of our Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, he was a mentor and a very good friend to me.

Yet, after all the fanfare and praises for him dies down in the coming weeks, we are left to ask ourselves: how can we in our own small ways live up to his legacy? How can we ensure that all his sacrifices will not be in vain?

I believe that the first thing that we should do is to stop believing that graft and corruption cannot be totally eradicated in our government.

Many of us have accepted that graft and corruption have become part of our government and thus, we cannot do anything about it. Robredo showed in Naga City that transparency and public accountability can become the norm in our government. He proudly shared in many of our Kaya Natin! Caravans of Good Governance that you can simply go and visit the website of Naga City to see how they are spending public funds. Even the smallest purchases and the details of bidding processes are published on the website for everyone to see.

Aside from this, Robredo institutionalized the Naga City People’s Council that allows ordinary citizens, civil society groups, and other people’s organizations to be represented in all boards of the city government which decide on the programs and projects of the city. Due to this, graft and corruption can no longer propagate in their local government unit since people are more empowered because of the access to information that they have.

If Robredo can do it in Naga, why can’t this be implemented in other local government units all over the country?

We need to start demanding the same transparency and accountability from our Mayors, Governors, and Congressmen. If they cannot show us how they are using our public funds, then how can we still trust them with our vote this coming 2013?

One of the greatest sacrifices that Robredo did was to turn his back on a lucrative corporate career to be able to go back to Naga City and serve his people. He was already moving up the corporate ladder at San Miguel Corporation when he decided to serve in government after being inspired by the People Power Revolution in 1986. Given his talents and skills, Robredo could’ve easily become a multi-millionaire and given his family a more comfortable life had he decided to continue to work in the corporate world. Yet, he chose to use his God-given talents and skills for the greater good and transformed Naga City from a sleepy 3rd class city to what is now known as the most progressive city in the Bicol Region.

I hope that Robredo’s inspiring life will also make bright and talented young Filipinos consider working in government or to consider getting involved in politics and good governance advocacies. Many say that they don’t want to get involved in politics and governance work in the Philippines because it is dirty and hopeless, but if good people continue to have this kind of mentality then we will always be left with evil and corrupt leaders in our government.

Perhaps the main reason why Robredo joined forces with former Governors Among Ed Panlilio and Grace Padaca in forming Kaya Natin! is because he realized that the only way for us to be able to win over evil forces in government is for good people like them to join forces to support each other and work together.

This coming 2013 elections, let us become more proactive in supporting and campaigning for good leaders and encouraging them to run for public office. If Naga City can elect someone like Jesse Robredo, I am sure that we can also find many more effective, ethical and empowering leaders like him in our own province, city, or municipality.

Finally, Robredo represents the many unsung heroes of our country who are tirelessly working without much fanfare.

Perhaps because of his humility it is only in his death that the whole nation has gotten to know how great a man he is.I still vividly remember that around this time two years ago, many Filipinos were clamoring for him to resign for what happened in the hostage crisis that led to the death of eight Hong Kong tourists. Perhaps, these are the same people who are now praising him to high heavens. We all knew that he was not at fault and yet, so many people were quick to judge him without even hearing his side. Thankfully, through the support of his family and friends, he was able to get through that harrowing experience and emerge a much stronger leader.

Lesson in all of this: it’s so easy for us to find fault in good people. Just one perceived mistake and we quickly call for resignation without considering all the good things this person has done.

Instead of focusing just on mistakes committed by our leaders, I hope that media will also learn to share more good and inspiring stories about our government leaders who, like Robredo, have quietly worked hard in their own small way to make a difference in the lives of more Filipinos.

Hopefully, this will encourage more well-meaning Filipino leaders to continue serving our government and more ordinary Filipino citizens to also support these good leaders, so that they can continue to remain in office.

As the famous adage goes, the only way for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. The people of Naga City chose to consistently support a good man in Robredo and because of this, they were rewarded with a great Filipino leader who sacrificed so much just to give them genuine public service. Now, every Filipino is challenged to also find our own Jesse Robredos in our communities because as his life has shown, the Filipino people deserve nothing less.

Harvey S. Keh is the Lead Convenor of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership. Comments are welcome at harveykeh@gmail.com.

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