Message at the “JESSE M. ROBREDO: HIS STORY” Biography Launch in Manila
City Garden Grand Hotel Makati, Makati City
Maraming salamat! Maupo po tayong lahat.
Mr. Harvey Keh of the Jesse Robredo Foundation; Dr. Nene Guevarra of Synergeia; Ms. Maria Luz Balmaceda, Senior Director of Brand Marketing and Communications of the SGV Foundation; Ms. Kin Lichauco, Head of Corporate Affairs of San Miguel Corporation; Vice Mayor Amie Hernandez, Executive Director of Kaya Natin; the different groups who are here—Josie and the rest of the Silent Majority, of course, Ma’am Yolly, Ma’am Ching; Mr. Chito Sobrepeña of Metrobank Foundation; sa inyo pong lahat, magandang, magandang hapon. [applause]
Bago ho ako magpatuloy, nasaan si Ma’am Nene? Ma’am Nene, pinapanood ko ulit iyong… pinapanood ko iyong presentation niyo kanina, eh. I was pointing out to Ma’am Yolly: parang 80 percent of the slides—ilang taon iyon saka ilang lugar—isa lang iyong polo ng asawa ko. [laughter] Sabi ko, nahiya yata ako; sasabihin hindi ko inaasikaso ang asawa ko. [laughter] Pero ganoon po iyong asawa ko—mabubuhay iyan na dalawa lang iyong damit na palit-palitan.
But thank you all for coming here today. It has been six years since Jesse left us. Hindi naman pala tayo iniwan. And we are very thankful that you continue to show your love and appreciation for Jesse and the life that he lived. Kami po—iyong buo naming pamilya—will always be grateful, and we are so touched by your show of support and remembrance of all the things that he was to us when he was still alive.
This book is not just an effort to tell Jesse’s story. It is a way of documenting the thoughts and different perspectives of many different people who have worked with Jesse through the years. Hindi lang po ito kuwento—hindi lang kuwento ng isang tao. Pero kuwento ito ng maraming tao: iba’t ibang mga roles na plinay noong asawa ko noong siya ay nabubuhay pa.
We are thankful to Ms. Cris Yabes—she is in Japan now for a fellowship—wala po siya, pero siya iyong sumulat— for her wonderful work in telling Jesse’s story as it is, staying true to her training as a multi-awarded journalist. We are also grateful to those who have been interviewed for the book and provided the perspectives I was talking about earlier. They make the memories of Jesse that much more precious to us.
During his short life, Jesse was many different things for different people. Tatay siya ng mga anak namin, he was a husband to me, he was Mayor to the people of Naga, he was Secretary of the DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government) to President Aquino and to the nation, and many others. We all knew him in many different ways, and the reality is that kami po ng aming mga anak are still continuing to discover the ways he made a mark on people we hardly knew. They came from all walks of life, from Mayors of small towns to Governors of big provinces, to government workers and business leaders. But the most remarkable ones were those who lined up during his wake. Ito po talaga ikinagulat namin kasi alam niyo po, napakatagal na Mayor ng Naga iyong asawa ko and iyon iyong role na nakita namin siya up close.
But when he was Secretary of the DILG, kami po noong aming bunso naiwan sa Naga. So hindi namin masyadong nakikita kung papaano niya ginampanan iyong kaniyang papel bilang DILG Secretary. Naalala ko po noong nahanap na iyong kaniyang katawan, kinausap po ako ni Pangulong Aquino. Sabi sa akin, pinapaalam sa akin kung puwede daw bang dalhin sa Maynila nang ilang gabi lamang iyong kaniyang katawan para daw magkaroon ng wake dito. Ako, hindi naman po ako nakapagsalita, pero noong wala na si Presidente ang sabi ko sa mga kakilala ko, “Bakit dadalhin doon? Sino iyong pupunta? Sino iyong pupunta doon sa kaniyang wake? Wala namang… iyong mga relatives namin nandoon sa Naga. Wala naman kaming masyadong kakilala sa Manila.” Pero dahil Presidente iyon, nahiya akong humindi—dinala dito.
Tapos sabi, dalawang gabi daw. Sabi ko, “Nako, kawawa naman iyong asawa ko. Dalawang gabi sa Maynila.” Eh dalawang gabi na halos walang makakabisita sa kaniya. Noong dinala po siya sa Malacañang, anong sabi sa… akala ko po kasi sa DILG iyong wake. Pero noong sinabi sa amin na sa Malacañang, iyong una kong inaalala, baka hindi makapasok iyong mga ordinaryong mga kahalubilo ng asawa ko kasi mahirap iyong security doon. But Malacañang made sure na masunod iyong aming kagustuhan na lahat hayaang pumasok. Kayo pong mga nakapunta doon sa wake, kung maaalala niyo maulan noon ‘di ba? Maulan noon. Pero gulat na gulat po kaming mag-iina kasi ang haba ng pila kahit umuulan. And those who lined up during his wake—nakita niyo naman po—most of them were in slippers. Naalala ko pa their belongings were carried in small plastic bags, indicating that they have traveled long distances to pay their respects.
Naalala ko pa noong sila Ka Mena iyong nag-eulogy, nag-iiyakan sila. Touched na touched kami, pero hindi namin alam kung bakit ganoon iyong lalim ng pagka… iyong koneksyon, iyong koneksyon sa asawa ko. Kaya every day—until now—every day na nilalagi namin dito, lalo po ako na umiikot sa mga probinsya, may mga pinupuntahan ako na parating nagkukuwento na, “Natulungan ako ng asawa mo. Ganito iyong ginawa niya sa akin.” So iyong araw-araw, kahit matagal na siyang hindi natin kasama, we discover so many things about him still.
And this indicated one thing: although Jesse had many innovative programs that transformed Naga City as well as the lives of the people who lived there, we realized that it really was his character and leadership style that resonated with the grieving nation. Kasi marami namang mahuhusay ‘di ba? Marami namang mahuhusay na mga public servants. Pero siguro kaya maraming naka-relate sa asawa ko dahil sa kaniyang pagkatao.
For almost 20 years as a city mayor, iyong asawa ko po refused to succumb to the lure of patronage politics and entitlement. He was very strict with himself, and very disciplined. He did not demand from anyone anything that he was not willing to do himself or he’s capable of doing. Jesse changed the way things were done in Naga from the first day he assumed office. From small things like showing up at 7 o’clock in the morning every day—iyon po iyong ini-istrikto niya sa sarili niya, na siya iyong pinaka-unang darating sa City Hall araw-araw—to huge gestures like personally seeing to it that establishments that staged lewd shows were shut down.
Ito, na-kuwento ko na ito sa iba pero iyong dinatnan po kasi ng asawa ko, 1988, maraming bars sa Naga na mayroong girly shows. Hindi niya basta-basta mapapasara kasi mayroong mga regulasyon na kailangang sundan. Gusto niyang hulihin na talagang nagpapalabas ng mga malalaswa na palabas. Mayroon po siyang ina-assign na mga employees sa City Hall pero naaaliw yata sa pinapanood nila. [laughter]
Kaya [ang] ginawa po ng asawa ko, siya po iyong nagbabantay gabi-gabi. Matira iyong matibay. Habang nandiyan siya, hindi sila makakapalabas, kaya nalulugi na iyong mga establishments kasi tinatambayan niya. Nagsara na lang lahat. Kaya iyon po iyong paraan ng asawa ko para paalisin sa Naga. Ngayon po, kapag pumunta kayo ng Naga, for a very long time already, wala nang malalaswang palabas.
At first, people did not really understand how critical it was for him to create the Naga City People’s Council. At first, they thought…
Ay, nandito pala si Dan. Siya iyong bagong Pangulo ng Naga City People’s Council. Tayo ka, Dan. Pakilala ka. Siya po si Dan. [applause] Siya iyong bagong Pangulo ng Naga City People’s Council.
Noong binubuo pa lang po ito, at first, people thought it was merely an organization among the many other organizations existing at the time. It was only later on when they realized it was actually a platform where ordinary citizens can take part in the city government’s decision-making process. When it was proven that the Council actually had powers to upend a decision made by City Hall itself, people realized that their leaders were serious in giving power back to the people.
Mayroon po kami nitong example na very classic. Nagdesisyon na iyong asawa ko na payagan iyong isang golf course na magbukas sa Naga—ang Naga City People’s Council, in-oppose ito. Maraming dahilan pero basically ang sinasabi ng Naga City People’s Council, hindi siya good for the environment kasi masyadong grabe iyong demand for water. Walang nagawa iyong asawa ko, walang nagawa iyong City Council. Hindi napayagan… hindi napayagan iyong golf course na magbukas sa Naga. Hanggang ngayon, walang malaking golf course sa Naga and it made all the difference, because Nagueños realized that they had a stake in the way things would be done from then on.
People saw first hand how Jesse was very careful with the finances of the city government. Ayan, si Dan ang makakapagsabi kung gaano kakuripot ang asawa ko. But this was no accidental personality trait. This was a mindful and consistent strategy of making people trust government more.
Parati pong sinasabi ng asawa ko na pinaka-mahalaga—step one—na dapat may tiwala iyong tao sa gobyerno niya. Because it consequently gave birth to a very empowered and collaborative constituency. Iyong tao ‘di ba, mas cooperative siya kapag may tiwala siya sa gobyerno. Sa amin po, iyong mga… halimbawa sa public market. Iyong mga stallholders na ang nagsasabi na, “Sige, i-increase niyo iyong rent namin kasi nakikita naman kung saan napupunta.” Walang mga contest sa ganiyan kasi sabay na pinagdedesisyunan iyong mga bagay.
Those who worked with Jesse in City Hall knew that if you wanted to propose a project, or ask for funding for the city to spend money on, you had to defend it like your life was on the line. You had to [account] for every centavo and must make sure that it will deliver outcomes. You had to ensure that nothing will be put to waste and that you could stretch the benefit from every peso for as long as you could.
Iyong kuwento ko nga doon, iyong ano iyon… iyong kantiyaw sa asawa ko dati, boksingero. Kasi parati daw nakasara iyong [kaniyang kamao.] Ayan, si Louie, kaklase iyan ng asawa ko noong high school. Hindi ko alam, Louie, noong high school kung ganiyan na si Jess. Pero iyong kuwento nila, noong bago pa lang po iyong asawa ko na nagse-seek ng reelection ang sabi ng mga tao, “Ayaw namin sa boksingero kasi parating naka-close iyong fist. Gusto namin mga karatista kasi nakabukas iyong [palad].” [laughter]
But even in his personal finances, Jesse was the same. He made sure that we did not spend beyond our means. All the local officials who are present here today know how many times in a day we are faced with people in need who seek financial assistance for their many troubles. ‘Di ba, ayan, si Vice Mayor Amie nandito, ang makakapagsabi sa atin na ang daming lumalapit araw-araw, humihingi ng tulong. In our compassion, we are often moved to provide as much financial assistance as we can.
This is a very difficult and nuanced situation that we in politics often find ourselves in. But Jesse knew early on that if he did this wrong, it could open the door to dangerous justifications. So, he made sure that the city had sufficient programs for social services for its needy citizens, in the process removing the need to justify dipping into this pocket to help others, not just as a means of shunning the practice of political patronage, but also to prevent him from accepting money that is not his.
Alam naman natin iyon ‘di ba? Ang dami kasi sa ating lumalapit. Kapag pulitiko ka, gusto mo parati kang may naibibigay kasi kapag wala kang ibibigay, magagalit sa iyo iyong botante mo. Pero si Jesse noong Mayor pa siya, sinasabi niya na, “Hindi ako dudukot sa sarili kong bulsa, kasi oras na dumukot ako sa sarili kong bulsa, mate-tempt na akong kumuha ng hindi sa akin, kasi ang liit-liit naman kasi ng suweldo ng City Mayor at iyong kinikita ko, para sa pamilya ko iyon. Hindi ako gagastos noon para sa iba kasi baka maging masama ako.”
He was so aware of the frailties of politicians. Naalala ko nga, malapit nang mag-Ramon Magsaysay eh. ‘Di ba, August 31, Ramon Magsaysay? Noong nanalo siya in 2000 ng Ramon Magsaysay Award, kinakantiyawan siya ng lahat ng radio stations sa amin kasi ‘di ba, Chito, may ano iyon, may cash prize na 50,000 [US Dollars]. So sabi ng mga tao, “Ayan, mayroon ka nang 50,000 dollars. Itulong mo na doon sa mga urban poor na tinutulungan mo.” Pero sabi ni Jesse, “Hindi. Kasi pang-aral ito ng mga anak ko.” [laughter] Hindi niya talaga ginalaw. Nag-set up siya ng pondo na iyong interes, iyon iyong tinutulong. Pero iyong cash prize niya, talagang sabi niya… talagang binilin niya na pang-aral iyon ng mga anak niya kapag nag-college na iyong mga anak niya.
A lot of people think that this is naive and politically unwise, but the numbers speak for themselves. Jesse won the Mayoral seat for two, three-year terms kaya six terms lahat siya nag-Mayor. Kapag kinuwenta mo all-in-all, 19 years kasi, iyong first term niya was four years. He would always tell his team that performance is the best campaign pitch. In the process, he also imparted the lesson that how he lived is something that no public relations stunt can ever sugarcoat. Parang parati niyang sinasabi, hindi mo naman matatago iyong maraming bagay. Iyong kapag magarbo kang mamuhay, makikita naman iyan ng mga tao. Kapag simple kang mamuhay, the same, makikita din ng mga tao. So live by… parang, you teach by how you live.
Jesse’s vision was of a country with local government officials who were not just honest, but also excellent and effective leaders. Siguro narinig niyo naman iyong mga kaibigan ni Jesse dito, ‘di ba? Paulit-ulit niyang sinasabi bago siya pumanaw na hindi sapat na tayo ay matino lamang. Hindi rin sapat na tayo ay mahusay lamang dahil maraming matino na hindi naman mahusay, at maraming mahusay na hindi naman matino. Parati niyang sinasabi, kailangan pareho tayong matino at mahusay para pagkatiwalaan tayo ng pera ng taumbayan.
Jesse’s constant drive to serve people well by being matino at mahusay, I believe, is what motivated him to live simply without fanfare nor entitlement. It was a daily goal and a constant prayer. Naalala ko noong namatay siya, the day na nakuha iyong body niya—August 21 iyon—maraming governors na pumunta sa amin. Nasa punerarya pa siya, ine-embalsamo, so dumiretso sila sa bahay naming. Marami sa inyo nakakita na ng bahay namin, ‘di ba? Parang tinitingnan ko isa-isa iyong mga dumadating, parang parating may question at the back of their minds na, “Dito ba talaga iyong bahay nila?” Until mayroon nang pailan-ilan na [nagtatanong], “Dito talaga kayo nakatira?” As in, “Ilang taon na kayo dito nakatira?” So parang maraming nagugulat na ganoon ka-simple iyong bahay, ganoon kaliit iyong bahay. Parang [ang] sa atin kasi, accepted na norm iyong kapag pulitiko ka, pang-mayaman iyong bahay mo.
As our children grew up watching their politician-father living within our means, they also learned the example that entitlement and a lavish lifestyle can weaken our resolve against temptations.
Jesse once said—narinig niyo na rin ito—“The most important ingredient of leadership is character. Because most of the proficiencies can be learned, but what’s inside you is something that’s difficult to change.” Totoo naman iyon, ‘di ba? Iyong kahusayan naaaral. Pero iyong pagkatao is something you build on every day. Iyong araw-araw na pagbuhay natin, iyon iyong ating pagkatao. This book is an attempt to tell Jesse’s journey as a person and as a public servant: how his character was shaped by his family, by the people he met, and the many struggles he had to overcome. It is also a story of how seriously Jesse took his role as a civil servant. Ito alam niyo ito, iyong mga nakatrabaho niya—he was very serious about his work. Nag-aaral parati, hindi nagpa-pabaya. Parating… he was a student constantly. How hard he worked and how committed he was to make things work for the people he served.
Jesse’s short life and his death is a reminder to us as elected leaders, government workers, and public servants that our time to serve is fleeting and swift, ‘di ba? Sandali lang tayong binibigyan ng pagkakataon, and that not everyone is given this privilege. Totoo naman, ‘di ba? It is a privilege to serve. Maraming gustong sumubok, pero hindi nabibigyan ng pagkakataon.
So the challenge for us is: How do we maximize this short time that is given to us for us to be able to give our all and to really make a difference?
So ito pong librong ito, we hope that this book may inspire you—inspire us—to be better Filipinos as Jesse’s life has inspired us all.
Ngayon po, August 28—hindi ko alam kung naalala niyo—was actually—six years ago on August 28—was actually the day of his interment. Kaya six years ago, ito iyong araw ng kaniyang libing. So, hindi ko alam kung iyong pag-schedule ni Ma’am Nena saka ni Harvey had that in mind, pero iyon iyong ginugunita natin ngayong araw. And even if he is not physically with us anymore, every day, nagpaparamdam. Halimbawa, kahapon: I was at the Manggahan Floodway sa Pasig—hindi ko alam kung sino sa inyo iyong nandoon with us—pero nandoon kami, and naimbita ako kasi they were a recipient of 472 million [pesos] from the 50 billion [pesos] informal settlers fund that was given during the time of President Aquino. Kaya mayroong 15 buildings na tinatayo for them. Mayroon nang walo na natapos; pito pa iyong ginagawa ngayon. Pero you know, talking to them, sinasabi, “Ma’am, tuwang-tuwa sila na kami iyong nag-plano nito. Si Sec. Jesse iyong nag-handhold sa amin. Hindi na kami binabaha. Panatag na iyong mga buhay namin.” Parang those stories remind us every day that Jesse never really left us, ‘di ba.
He is in our hearts, in the hearts of the many people, whose lives he touched. Kaya maraming salamat po, maraming salamat for everyone who made this book possible.
Mabuhay po kayong lahat. [applause]