THE CITIZEN-HERO: Sec. Jesse Robredo’s Legacy of People Empowerment and Community Contribution to Nation-Building

by Akbayan Representative Kaka J. Bag-ao

Hindi maikakaila na mahusay na lider si Jesse Robredo. Sa katunayan, alam na alam ni Sec. Jesse Robredo na mahusay siya. Sa katunayan, labing-apat na Galing Pook Awards ang pinaghirapan na sinungkit ng Naga sa kahabaan ng kanyang termino bilang mayor nito. Pero ano ang pinagkaiba niya sa iba pang mahuhusay na lider ng samabayanang Pilipino? Ang sagot: busilak at lubusan niyang pinaniwalaan na hindi lang siya ang magaling, na hindi lang sa kanya ang tagumpay kundi sa komunidad at sa mga indibidwal na mamamayan nito. Pilit niyang binigyan ng pagkakataon ang maliit na tao na hanapin, gamitin at ipagtanggol ang sarili nilang husay para sa pagpapanday ng kanilang lipunang kinabibiliangan.

Indeed, Sec. Jesse institutionalized a brand of leadership which has people empowerment as its basic foundation. By his actions and responses to local government concerns, he taught people how to take responsibility for the progress or decline of their own community. He took to heart the precepts of consultation and participation which the people he was able to engage with realized to be the essence of citizenship. He was quoted to have said that “Collectively, successful local governments, driven by constituencies who are well-informed, constructively engaged, and willing to share the burden of community building, can build our country”.[1] To my mind, he is saying simply that you have to lead people in such a way that they become leaders themselves. Empowering the community member encourages good governance.

He was right. And at this juncture of our country’s history we should take the rare opportunity to lead and nation-build on the basis of such well-proven formula. Tama na ang pogi points brand of constituency engagement. It’s time we treat our people like intelligent members of a community who can become able partners in lessening poverty, reducing crime, and achieving inclusive progress. Sec. Jesse showed us that people who seek remedies from the government are not asking to be spoonfed with ready-made quick fixes. They are, instead, asking that we tap into their rich base of knowledge and experience on the issues-at-hand and they are seeking for a partnership with government to solve the problem and not just its symptoms. Kaya nga sabi niya di ba, “kaya natin” hindi “kaya ko” o “kaya mo”!

That is the best thing about Jesse Robredo’s leadership: the concept of “tayo” which is the core of the Filipino culture of bayanihan in times of opportunity or difficulty.

But he did not only stop with the principle of “tayo”. Sec. Jesse also pushed for the importance of the sectoral groups themselves, which is key to their empowerment and eventual success.

I still remember when we were still campaigning on the Sumilao Farmers case in their “Walk for Land, Walk for Justice” where 54 farmers walked from Bukidnon to Malacañan in 2007.  When the farmers reached Naga City, they were warmly received by the Nagueños.  Sec. Jesse, who was then the mayor of Naga, even organized an entire program for the farmers and served meals and a place where they could rest. What was more surprising was that Sec. Jess literally took the extra mile when he walked with the farmers in the 10-kilometer stretch upon meeting them. Aside from the Sumilao Farmers, Sec. Jesse also welcomed with open arms the farmers of Banasi, Camarines Sur and other peasant groups in their struggle for land rights.

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I also remember that before we left Naga, Sec. Jesse left this message to farmers, “Mahalaga ang tunay na pakikibaka, hindi dahil sa tayo ay magtatagumpay o di magtatagumpay. Subalit, sa palagay ko, mahalaga na may taong naninindigan sa kanilang karapatan, may mga taong ipinaglalaban ang hustisya, at may mga taong naniniwala sa matuwid. Dahil paminsan-minsan, mahirap ipaglaban ang paniniwala.”


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While losing one of our great leaders may be considered to be a time of crisis, I personally do not consider it to be so because it has become a great opportunity for the Filipino people to get to know a national leader of Sec. Jesse’s caliber and integrity; the Filipino youth to find another hero to emulate; and public officials like us to take the challenge and inspiration to blaze our very own trails towards partnering with instead of herding our constituencies.

As he passed on, Sec. Jesse gifted the Filipino nation a moment of collective, national epiphany, a bayanihan sort of “a-ha” moment and left us all with the question of “What will you do now?” What can we contribute to this nation as individuals, as a people, as interest groups, as civil society organizations, as public officials, as a government, as leaders entrusted with the power to effect change, as citizens burdened with the duty to push for accountability?

As Sec. Jesse did, we will seek to know what “general welfare” really is, by consulting with the farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people, urban poor, and other marginalized groups. We will show respect for the needs of our police force so they will in turn look after the needs of our citizens. We will institutionalize government linkages with civil society organizations which unhesitatingly complement efforts in good governance and protecting human rights. We will fight for transparency and public information in government transactions. We will seek community input on concerns directly affecting them such as peace and security, health, education, environment and natural resource allocation.

As Sec. Jesse did, we shall consider as an important source of policy and legislation not only the gripes and ideas brought to us by our constituencies. More importantly, we shall take steps to reform our offices from within, taking the hard, even dangerous, but necessary steps to take out the long-entrenched culture of self-enrichment, non-transparency and ivory tower type of leadership. If we carefully ponder on the many tributes, accolades and testimonials given by people from all walks of life for Sec. Jesse, we will see that these only prove one thing: The Filipino people are done with the traditional type of politics in which they do not really have the power to choose their leaders and in which leaders impose their will on their constituency as the power flows from top to bottom. Because of the revelation that was Jesse Robredo, they have realized that they should participate in the all-important task of governing themselves and that they can seek accountability by being themselves accountable for their contribution to the community.

As he once said, “Our political history has shown that we have put the burden of running this country to our ‘best’ people for too long.  And yet, the gap between the rich and the poor has grown wider.  For this country to succeed, we need to make heroes of the ordinary people.  We need to make heroes of ourselves”.[2] Salamat Sec. Jesse sa iyong paniniwala sa mamamayang-bayani. ###

[1] Follow Your Heart; Pursue Your Dream.  Jesse Robredo’ Speech during the Commencement Exercises of the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City held on March 29, 2003
[2]Follow Your Heart; Pursue Your Dream.  Jesse Robredo’ Speech during the Commencement Exercises of the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City held on March 29, 2003
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