Public Service

It’s probably just as well that I am alone in this hotel room, because I’m sobbing like hell over an article about Jesse Robredo‘s last hours. Although I interviewed him for my college thesis, I didn’t know the man personally.  But his death hurts a lot. It’s not a personal kind of hurt. It’s bitter regret that competent and clean public servants like him have to leave so soon. The tears are for the unfairness of it all, for the feeling of almost-despair for this country where the good guys die young.

Robredo served as DILG secretary, but I will always know him as the Mayor who turned my hometown–Naga City–around.  Growing up, I didn’t really care what leaders around me did; I was always busy getting away from my seemingly overprotective mother. When Robredo first became the youngest mayor in the country in 1988, I was in 3rd Grade. I would go away for college and go home during holidays.

That’s when I knew Naga was progressing and I started to notice, to care, what the local chief executive was doing.  Whenever I went home, there were always new business establishments in the city. The tall grasses along the main road that hid my school from sight disappeared.  In their place were more local businesses. The streets were cleaner.  Coffee shops sprouted everywhere. Magsaysay Avenue was becoming a gimmick spot, almost like Tomas Morato.

People spoke highly of Robredo. Naguenos especially loved him when he would sweep the streets along with many others after Naga was hit by a typhoon. My city would win award after award for good governance.

Whenever I heard his interviews over the radio, he would come across as a no-nonsense kind of man. He seemed to be interested in effecting change, in doing, and not in making himself look good, as most politicians do. I don’t think I ever heard him speak badly of other leaders in government, as most politicians do. He defended his stance over certain issues against then Governor Luis Villafuerte, but I don’t remember Robredo speaking in the same crude manner as the former.

When my thesis partner and I set an appointment with his office for our own interview, our request was granted right away. I didn’t think a politician would give students the time of day, but Robredo was no politician. He was a public servant.

We came to his office on a weekend. He was dressed in T-shirt, shorts, and slippers. I wasn’t surprised about it, as Naguenos often see him in this attire. My friend from Manila found it amazing.  Mayor ba talaga ito (Is he really a mayor)?

I don’t recall now details of what he said during the interview; I should unearth that VHS recording. I do remember having the impression that here was a man who loved and who knew what he was doing.  His pride for our city showed.

I wish he could have lived longer, led longer. His brother said over the radio this morning that Robredo had a choice between the World Bank or DILG after completing his mayoral term in Naga. His brother advised him to take the World Bank job as it would be safer; he had already served his fellowmen with what he did in Naga anyway. But Robredo still chose public service.

I should stop bawling like a baby and thinking that life could be so unfair sometimes. Robredo said in a speech that “we need to make heroes of ourselves”. It’s fitting to think of this as the National Heroes’ Day draws near.

Robredo isn’t the last of the good guys. We’re all good guys. We’re all into public service even if we don’t work in government.

Mabalos (Thank you), Mayor Jesse, for showing us what those two words really mean.


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