I was in grade school at the Naga Elementary School for two years, took my secondary school at Camarines Sur National High School, college courses at Ateneo de Naga for one semester and three semesters at University of Nueva Caceres and finally finished my bachelor’s degree in Naga College in 1974. While in college I write for the Bicol Mail, one of the local weekly tabloids in the city.
Only a Nagueno can write about the Penafrancia Celebration. But this is not about myself. This is about DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo.
Back then, I only knew Mayor Vicente Sibulo of Naga City. Mayor Carlos Del Castillo came much later. I once interviewed Mayor Sibulo about his quarrel with city councilor Reynaldo Borja, a lawyer-accountant over ordinances on taxation. Councilor Borja was a paraplegic and he never ceased to go to court to attend to his clients despite his physical handicap — ushered in the court room in a wheelchair by his ‘alalay’ and argued his case with passion. He drove a car with gear on the steering wheel and three steel levers hooked up to the clutch, brake and gas pedals which he can manipulate at the steering wheel. He had ambition too of becoming a mayor, but it never came to be.
When martial law was declared in 1972, all newspaper outlets were closed, including the local tabloids until years later when some publications were able to secure permits from martial the law government to continue their publications. Bicol Mail did not ask to reopen during the martial law years. During the first month of martial law, most local newsmen were rounded up and detained at Camp Canuto in Pili. I was one of those taken into custody. No charges were filed. We were released from the stockade after more than a month in captivity. We were not tortured though.
Nothing to do in Naga City after college, I went to Manila to take up law. Somehow, Councilor Borja, Attys. Vicente Bonot and Augusto Pardalis inspired me to study law. They were the best lawyers in Naga City. But later, I found out that Judge David C. Naval was a great judge and a Supreme Court Justice material. Only that he did not have the right connection and he retired as a humble judge of the regional trial court of Naga City.
In 1972, Jesse Robredo must be 14 years old; may be a first year or second year high school, while I was already a third year college. I have never met him nor heard of him at the time when Naga was in turmoil; student activism was at its height and labor movement was on the rise.
It was much later that I have heard a lot about Mayor Robredo. He has done a lot of good things in Naga City. He put the city in the world map because during his 18-year tenure as a mayor, the city received lots of international awards. No other city executive have done that. Not even the dyed-in-the-wool politicians, of the province, the Villafuertes and the Rocos.
It was not an easy feat. It was hard-work, dedication and honesty — it was a “tsinelas” leadership that transformed Naga City from a third class to first class city.
For the past days, I was reluctant to join the chorus of people praising the departed Mayor for his exemplary and splendid service rendered to Naga City where I grew up and as dedicated DILG secretary until his tragic plance crash on August 18 this year. I don’t want to be seen as a bandwagon free rider like most politicians who dilly-dallied in the confirmation of Jess Robredo as DILG Secretary, only to announce that they were ready to confirm his appointment now that he is dead and after a massive public outpouring of sympathy for his excellent public service.
His uncle, Luis Villafuerte, a member of the powerful Commission on Appointment found it opportune to pussy-foot in confirming the appointment of Jess Robredo as DILG Secretary, after all, the old politician proves to be a formidable nemesis of Jess Robredo, the former was relentless in his campaign to unseat Robredo as a Mayor of Naga City for being a “chinese.”
Now that he is dead, the CA indicates its willingness to proceed with the confirmation process.
Everyone wants to be seen as a ‘friend’ and a ‘sympathizer’ of this honest public servant.
But as his ashes had been interred, and the bandwagon had slowed down, I thought I can say something now.
Somehow, the late Mr. Robredo took the same route Ferdinand Marcos did. He cultivated the support of a kingmaker in Camarines Sur, Luis R. Villafuete, his uncle to become Mayor of Naga City in 1988 the way Mr. Marcos enlisted the support of the national kingmaker, the Lopez clan to become President in 1965.
Villafuerte and the Lopezes thought that by investing in their wards, they can expect from them the blind obedience of foot soldiers ready to fight their battle in the political trenches. Both Villafuerte and the Lopezes were wrong. Marcos and Robredo went against their political patrons.
But the parallel ends there.
Marcos robbed his benefactor; Robredo only refused to obey the biddings of his uncle whom he faulted for protecting illegal gambling in the province and in the city. He wanted to rid the city of illegal gambling and prostitution and bring its finances in order; Marcos promoted everything illegal and bled the national treasury dry.
The Marcos family would want a hero’s burial of their patriarch at the “Libingan ng Mga Bayani”, the Robredo family refused one for Jesse.
Marcos was active in myth-building in his lifetime; Robredo does not need one, but his constituents considered him a myth and a legend — too good to be true as leader and as a politician. Marcos had embellished his chest with medals of heroism, mostly fake and Robredo has one that is genuine.
One is well-loved, the other hated!
The nation, the Bicolanos most especially, grieve over Jesse’s departure; but he can rest in peace now. The good Lord must be upbeat, welcoming one of His superstars!