As I sat down to write this speech, I struggled to try to make it profound, because Jesse Robredo’s influence on me and the country was profound. But as I thought about it, I realized that Jesse was a straight and plain talker, and that’s probably how he would want us to talk, especially about him. Of course, self-effacing as he was, he would probably say that all these ceremonies and the public mourning are too much. But the public grieving is not about Jesse, but about the people he left behind and the loss we are suffering.
I didn’t know Jesse as well as many of you, any many of you probably have better stories to tell, but nonetheless I am honored and privileged to be able to share with you the Jesse I knew.
I will admit that President Aquino has made many good appointments to his cabinet. Jesse Robredo had to be my favorite. He was so, even before he was appointed. His success in Naga City is legendary. If ever there was anyone that should have been the interior and local governments secretary, it was Jesse. In fact, many believed, as I did, that he would have been perfect to succeed President Aquino as the next chief executive. I say these things not merely to memorialize him today, but because I believe with all my heart in Jesse Robredo.
He was a good governance advocate’s dream. He was a living, breathing embodiment of the ideal public servant: humble, hardworking, dedicated, competent, accessible, selfless and always moving forward. It was hard to keep up with Jesse. With him, I felt that any reform was possible. Within days of being appointed secretary of DILG he was meeting with civil society organizations, so we could be partners in the DILG. In less than a month, we had signed a memorandum of understanding with the department. For the first 10 years of the history of our organization, we had never worked with the DILG, and here we were, just weeks after his appointment, signing an MOU with the secretary. He understood the value of partnering with citizens and citizen organizations. And it wasn’t for the cameras or for show – he truly believed in partnerships with citizens, first in his time as mayor of Naga City, then as secretary of DILG.
The last time I saw Jesse, of course I had no idea it was going to be the last time, was about a month ago, when a colleague and I met the Secretary at the Makati office of Napolcom to get his support for a project we were proposing. I had never been to Napolcom, so we got lost looking for it. When we finally got there, 30 minutes late, there he was, casually seated on a couch in the hallway in the first floor waiting for us patiently. He wasn’t angry, or upset, or maybe if he was, he didn’t make us feel that way. Because we were late, he only had about 10 minutes to spare for us before going to his next meeting so we went straight to business. He knew exactly what our proposal was, and in those short 10 minutes he identified his concerns, proposed solutions and gave us his support. His last words to me were, “Send us a draft letter of endorsement and I’ll sign it,” and off he went in the rain to his next meeting. Always on the move. Ten minute with Jesse Robredo is like 60 or 90 minutes with most other government officials. It is 10 minutes that I will always remember.
As we witness the spontaneous outpouring of grief, admiration and adulation at the level of which we haven’t seen since President Cory died 3 years ago, I can’t help but wonder if other public servants think about what people will say when they pass on. I pray that others in public service were inspired by Jesse as much as we were.
Jesse will continue to live on in the work of those that he touched. As one of those that had the great opportunity to work with him, I can only hope that what we do going forward would live up to his standards and expectations of us.
Jesse, you spoiled us. You have set the bar high. You made us believe in ourselves. You gave power to the powerless and a voice to the voiceless. Most of all you made us believe that a better Philippines is possible if we all work together. I know that if each of us is just a bit like Jesse, then we have more than an even chance of making that happen.
Jess, you will be missed.
* Drafted and delivered by Vincent T. Lazatin, Executive Director of the Transparency and Accountability Network, during the DILG Memorial Service at the Kalayaan Hall, Malacanang on August 24 2012