Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Exemplar of Public Service: Secretary Jesse M. Robredo (May 27, 1958 - August 18, 2012)

It is a tragic and senseless death for the country. The mortal body of Jesse Manalastas Robredo, Secretary of the Interior and Local Government of the Philippines has been found about 800 meters from the shore of Masbate City at a depth of 180 feet. Who is Secretary Jesse Robredo? Why is the whole country mourning for this man?

From his DILG page, it is written that he was a multi-awarded local chief (Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Government Service in 2000) executive of Naga City and under his leadership, Naga has transformed into the premier city of Bicol Region.  Further, he is an Edward Mason Fellow and a graduate of Masters in Public Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Previous to that, he completed his Masters in Business Administration at the University of the Philippines, finishing at the top of his class as university and college scholar. He is an alumnus of Naga Parochial School for his elementary education and Ateneo De Naga for his secondary schooling. He then went to De La Salle University, for his undergraduate degrees in Industrial Management Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

But more than all that, Jesse Robredo was a dedicated, honest, humble and transformative leader. He made himself accessible 24/7 to those who needed him especially the poor and disenfranchised. He never ran out of energy or if he did, he never showed it.  His concern for others and commitment to service was unmeasurable.  When he was on his last term, he could have endorsed his wife, a lawyer to take his place and run for the mayoralty post in Naga but, he never did. He espoused meritocracy and professionalism in public service. To elucidate this further, please read the citation for the Ramon Magsaysay Award that he was conferred with in 2000. 

CITATION for Jesse Robredo
Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 2000, Manila, Philippines

It is sad but true. Democratic government is not necessarily good government. Too often, elections yield power to the few, not the many. Injustices linger beneath the rhetoric of equality. Corruption and incompetence go on and on. Voters, alas, do not always choose wisely. And yet, in Asia and the world at large, much is at risk when democracy founders, because democracy is the hope of so many. Jesse Manalastas Robredo entered Philippine politics at a time when hope was high. As mayor of Naga City from 1988 to 1998 he demonstrated that democratic government can also be good government.
In the wake of his country's People Power Revolution in 1986, Jesse Robredo responded to President Corazon Aquino's call to public service. He abandoned his executive position at San Miguel Corporation to head the Bicol River Basin Development Program in Naga, his hometown. In 1988, he stood for election as mayor and won by a slim margin. He was twenty-nine.
Once the queen city of the Bicol region, Naga in 1989 was a dispirited provincial town of 120,000 souls. Traffic clogged its tawdry business district and vice syndicates operated at will. City services were fitful at best. Meanwhile, thousands of squatters filled Naga's vacant lands, despite the dearth of jobs in the city's stagnant economy. Indeed, Naga's revenues were so low that it had been downgraded officially from a first-class to a third-class city.
Robredo began with a strike against patronage. He introduced a merit-based system of hiring and promotion and reorganized city employees on the basis of aptitude and competence. He then moved against local vice lords, ridding Naga of gambling and smut. Next, he relocated the bus and jeepney terminals outside the city center, ending gridlock and spurring new enterprises at the city's edge. In partnership with business, he revitalized Naga's economy. Public revenues rose and by 1990 Naga was a first-class city again. Robredo's constituents took heart and reelected him.
Spurning bodyguards, Robredo moved freely among the people. By enlisting the support and active assistance of Naga's NGOs and citizens, he improved public services dramatically. He established day-care centers in each of Naga's twenty-seven districts and added five new high schools. He built a public hospital for low-income citizens. He set up a dependable twenty-four-hour emergency service. He constructed a network of farm-to-market roads and provided clean and reliable water systems in Naga's rural communities. He launched programs for youth, farmers, laborers, women, the elderly, and the handicapped -- drawing thousands into civic action in the process. No civic deed was too small, he told the people, including the simple act of reporting a broken street lamp. He sometimes swept the streets himself.
Consistently, Robredo prioritized the needs of the poor. Through his Kaantabay sa Kauswagan (Partners in Development) program, over forty-five hundred once-homeless families moved to home-lots of their own. They became part of Naga's revival. So did a revitalized city government. Applying techniques from business, Robredo raised performance, productivity, and morale among city employees. As a culture of excellence overtook the culture of mediocrity at City Hall, Naga's businesses doubled and local revenues rose by 573 percent.
Reelected without opposition in 1995, Robredo urged the Naga City Council to enact a unique Empowerment Ordinance. This created a People's Council to institutionalize the participation of NGOs and people's organizations in all future municipal deliberations. When obliged by law to step down after his third term, the popular Robredo made no effort to entrench his family. His advice to would-be leaders? "You have to have credibility."
In electing Jesse Robredo to receive the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the board of trustees recognizes his giving credence to the promise of democracy by demonstrating that effective city management is compatible with yielding power to the people. (source: Rappler.com)

Last Saturday, Secretary Robledo went to Cebu to attend a function of the Philippine National Police.  Because it was a long weekend and a chance to spend more time with family, he decided to take a chartered flight straight to Naga instead of taking the regular flight back to Manila.  He never made it home.  They say that the good die young...I would rather say that the good die young and go to heaven.

Secretary Robredo is an exemplar of a new breed of politicians, the kind whose positive actions speak louder than their words. May his life of unselfish service to the people be the gold standard for all government workers, elected and appointed from hereon onward.  Rest in Peace noble man, you so deserve the title "Honorable".

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Treachery Of Emilio Aguinaldo

Today is June 12, 2012, the 114th year of Philippine Independence from Spain.  Yes, I say Spain because soon after this, the Americans took over, so technically we were not an independent nation until 1946.  This day also reminds me of the treachery of Emilio Aguinaldo.  How can I call this revolutionary leader, cited as the first Philippine president and who declared the Philippines independent in 1898, a treacherous person?  

I have always said that it will be history that will decide if a past leader was good or bad. History has not been kind to Emilio Aguinaldo who has never been declared a hero of the Philippines.  Instead, he will always be better known as the man who sent the Father of the Philippine Revolution, Andres Bonifacio to his death. The irony here is that it was Bonifacio himself who inducted Aguinaldo in 1894 into the Katipunan. The Katipunan or Kataastaasang Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (English translation: "Highest and Most Respected Society of the Children of the Country"), was dedicated to the ouster of Spain from the Philippines and if necessary, by armed force. It's membership comprised mostly of people from the middle and lower income class and soon enough established chapters in a number of provinces across the country.  In 1896, when the Spanish executed Jose Rizal, Bonifacio and the Katipunan began its armed revolt against the Spanish Colonial government. Among the rebel groups was that of Aguinaldo in Cavite. He had better trained, better equipped troops and they were in fact successful in driving out the Spanish from Cavite, although according to Apolinario Mabini, the Cavite rebels did not really have a hard time because only a handful of Spanish soldiers were left since most were deployed to Manila in anticipation of Bonifacio's attack.  But despite these successes, all was not well between Bonifacio and Aguinaldo.  They may have shared the same dream of an independent Filipinas but they were miles apart in terms of social class, education, and temperament. Aguinaldo was an ilustrado indio while Bonifacio was just a poor and common indio. Aguinaldo and his group looked down on Bonifacio for his lack of education.  Indeed Bonifacio was not "educated" in formal schools but he was not illiterate.  He was self taught and even spoke English. In fact, Bonifacio was perhaps better educated than many of the so called ilustrados around him.  And so with this scenario, the wheels of treachery turned.  When it seemed that the revolution was taking more ground, Aguinaldo's group could not accept the possibility that an ordinary poor indio may become President once the Spaniards were defeated. Thus, in Tejeros they met on the guise of settling the conflict between the Magdalo and Magdiwang rebel factions, but actually forced an election which they rigged in favor of Aguinaldo as President.  Bonifacio got the second highest votes but even then he was not given the Vice-Presidency but relegated to a minor role as Secretary of the Interior which was further questioned by Daniel Tirona, as to his qualification of not being a lawyer. Bonifacio, humiliated and angered voided the convention in his capacity as Supremo.  And what did Emilio Aguinaldo do?  He alleges that he was not able to attend the convention because he was busy in the "field".  And in spite of Bonifacio's statement of voiding the outcome, Aguinaldo covertly took his oath as President the very next day.  
"Meanwhile Bonifacio met with his remaining supporters and drew up the Acta de Tejeros (Act of Tejeros) wherein they gave their reasons for not accepting the election results. Bonifacio alleged the election was fraudulent due to cheating and accused Aguinaldo of treason due to his negotiations with the Spanish. In their memoirs Santiago Álvarez (son of Mariano) and Gregoria de Jesús both alleged that many ballots were already filled out before being distributed, and Guillermo Masangkay contended there were more ballots prepared than voters present. Álvarez writes that Bonifacio had been warned of the rigged ballots before the votes were canvassed, but he had done nothing." (retrieved from wikipedia)
Aguinaldo sent a delegation to Bonifacio to get (bully, most likely) him to cooperate but he refused. Soon after, Aguinaldo's government ordered the arrest of Bonifacio. After being charged with sedition and treason against Aguinaldo's government and conspiracy to murder Aguinaldo, Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were sentenced to death after a one-day sham trial. Is it not a sham when the entire jury was composed of Aguinaldo's men and Bonifacio was denied the privilege of confronting the state witness who the prosecutors claim had been killed in battle, but after the trial the witness was seen alive with them? Aguinaldo claims that he wanted to commute the execution order to exile, but his generals convinced him otherwise.  What baloney!

My mother met Emilio Aguinaldo in the late 40's when she was in high school during a field trip to Cavite and being young asked him outright, "Sir, what happened to Andres Bonifacio?"  Aguinaldo told her that "the answer will come out when I die."  Well, Aguinaldo has been dead for 48 years and still that question has never been answered.  There are a lot of conjectures, speculations, research, analysis but no honest answer.  

Personally, I believe that politics killed Andres Bonifacio just as politics today continue to eliminate anyone who is considered or perceived as a threat to the powerful and the powers that be.  Emilio Aguinaldo may have fought hard for the independence of the Philippines but his ambition for power also made him a treacherous man.  It was not only Bonifacio that he sent to death because his men also assassinated General Antonio Luna in 1899. I also believe that Aguinaldo has heavily paid for his transgressions. The power and honor he sought has eluded him to his death. The Americans whom he trusted made a fool out of him. The Filipino people did not elect him into office (he was never elected by the people) when he overwhelmingly lost to a Spanish mestizo, Manuel L. Quezon during the 1935 Commonwealth Presidential elections. And worst, was when he was arrested briefly after World War II for collaborating with the Japanese.  There is one good thing though that happened for the fighting men of the revolution.  They were never forgotten by Aguinaldo. For them, he established the Veterans Organization which provided them pensions and land to own.

I told my mom just as I was finishing writing this, that the better question she should have asked General Aguinaldo was "if you had the chance to change history, what would you do?"  Maybe then she would have gotten an answer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Today, May 29, 2012, the highest magistrate of the land, Chief Justice Renato C. Corona has been impeached, 44 days after his impeachment trial began.  Most of the senator judges based their guilty judgement on the fact that the Supreme Court had precedent cases of dismissal from office of government employees who did not fully disclose their assets in the Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN), like that of a lowly clerk who failed to disclose the fact that she had a small store in her town market, among others.  If this clerk was dismissed for that, why should there be a different standard for a chief justice?  The message of the verdict to the Filipino people is that justice in this country is equal for all. But is it really? I am not a lawyer, so I will not even attempt to analyze this impeachment case.  My late father was a lawyer and a municipal trial court judge...it is during times like this that I wish he was still alive because I wonder now, what he would say? 

retrieved from http://www.philippinenewsdaily.com

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Inday Varona: A personal appeal to PDI (or, When is an apology not an apology?)

This post is written by my nth degree cousin Inday Espina Varona (our common ancestor- Graciano Lopez y Jaena).  She is chairwoman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and editor in chief of the newsweekly Philippine Graphic. The article speaks for itself and needs no further explanation.

Dear friends from the Philippine Daily Inquirer,

If I ruffle some feathers, forgive me in advance. Take this as a letter of protest from the daughter of a woman felled by stroke and the colleague of many journalists who’ve suffered the same.

My Nanay was a beautiful woman with the classic Asian face, a perfect oval with high cheekbones and a firm chin. She was not prone to dramatics. She did not need that; her eyes – and her words – guaranteed people listened to her, even when they did not want to. She was the nurturer in the family, the doctor content to walk behind her journalist-husband. Then stroke felled Nanay and forced her into a slow, year-long recovery. There was a period of hope before a series of smaller but successive strokes weakened her to the point of no return.

So I have seen, up close and personal, the anger and frustration of a recovering stroke patient, seen the rage that erupts now and then when memories of strength and brilliance and eloquence crash against the formidable bars of a new reality. I saw Dad dive into the reversal of roles, never resenting the tantrums from a woman he had long regarded as a saint. I saw him cry silently when Nanay slept, not because he was tired — though he was — but because he saw how she suffered – even with her vaunted humility.
 And then I see your FRONT PAGE.
A series of pictures that, forgive me, seem to exist for nothing else but to make a laughing stock of Demetrio Vicente.
I have tried to look at the photos from different angles, hoping to see some significance that would make your action more understandable. I see absolutely no extenuating circumstance.
Then you give us a one-paragraph “apology”, which isn’t that at all. You apologize for hurting people’s feelings. You do not apologize for bad judgment and taste better fit for the gutter.
You conveniently forget to cite what great and noble cause prompted you to chuck out the admonition of the PDI Stylebook. That sacred document clearly states that you must weigh every controversial photo and ensure that, “the positive reasons for publishing the photos outweigh the almost certain negative reaction they will elicit from a sizeable portion of the readership.”
If you totally forgot about this document, then please  say so.
Today’s “sin” is not, in the scheme of things, equal to plunder or murder by government officials. Not by a long shot. But journalists, whom people look up to for help in parsing oft-befuddling facts of life, do have an obligation not to unnecessarily compound the chaos they feel.
Stroke, friends, is among the top killers in this country. Your newspaper has reported on this – second only to heart attack. The survivors face horrendous challenges on the road to recovery. And some never do fully recover.
Even if just on account of all our parents, kin, lovers, colleagues – and you have had one heart-wrenching case that galvanized the goodwill of this nation – and with the thought that all of us may, one day, face the same hardships visited on Mr. Vicente, please summon the grace for a genuine apology.
You see, there is no shame in admission of an error. There is only honor there. Conversely, there can be no pride in false “I Am Sorry’s”. The last thing you want is comparison to a certain woman with a neck brace.