The LASER Man

Rev. Fr. Carmelo Diola, SSL

Spaces of Hope

“UNLESS the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24).

It was in 2005 when I first met the late Jesse Robredo during a gathering of NGOs in Manila. During an open forum after his speech, he was asked about his six terms as mayor and how he managed to keep getting reelected without buying votes or its variations. People kept electing him, he said, because of his effective good governance work. I was deeply impressed. I asked for his cell phone number and he obliged with his patented winsome smile.

Knowing him to be a very busy man, I did not expect him to respond to my texts. He did. This made me even more impressed by his sincere availability.

Immediately after the elections 2007, I emailed the good mayor a series of questions that Dilaab had developed for its emerging good-governance advocacy. The LASER – lifestyle, action, supporters, election conduct, and reputation – test is a concrete framework for candidates and voters to undertake a prayerful decision-making process for the elections. What I emailed to Mayor Robredo was the LASER test in its nascent stage.

Again he obliged me by taking time to answer the four questions. Here is his unedited answer to the question “How did or will you try to remain a person of integrity once you were or are elected into office?”

 

Avoid spending personal money in helping your constituency (unless you are Ambassador Danding, Jaime Zobel, etc.). Legitimate constituency needs (medical, emergency transportation, burial, etc.) should be paid for by the government. There is what we call the AICS (Assistance to Indigents in Crisis Situations) Program authorized by DSWD that can address these. Never spend what you cannot earn legally. This unburdens you the pressure to get the funds from some other sources.

 

Avoid bad company. Limit you “social life”. Live a frugal life. Request relatives and family members to “stay away” from all transactions with your local government. This might entail some sacrifices because they might have been dealing with the local government before you got elected. Leaders should not only be honest but should be perceived to be honest as well.

 

By 2009 Jesse has become a lead convenor of the good-governance support group “Kaya Natin.” After the 2010 elections, he is appointed DILG secretary. The city mayor takes up the cudgels of leading a nationwide network of local government executives, not to mention the police and other public-safety agencies. It is a daunting task by any standard. He applies himself resolutely to his new role. There are tensions at the start but he soon wins over many skeptics.

In the January 2011 CBCP meeting, Sec. Robredo writes the bishops to consider partnering with the DILG on grassroots good governance. UBAS – Ugnayan ng mga Barangay at Simbahan – was born when Bishop Tony Tobias of Novaliches initially responds to the good secretary’s invitation. Soon two other bishops join, Bishop Iñiguez of Caloocan and Bishop Ongtioco of Cubao.

On 07 April 2011, Sec. Robredo and the three bishops sign a covenant at the St. Peter’s Shrine for Leaders in Commonwealth Ave., Quezon City. It is a red-letter day for Church-State partnership on the local level with priests and barangay officials coming together, a watershed event symbolizing a new approach to promoting the common good.

In 02 February 2012, I had the privilege of being in a seminar alongside the late DILG secretary. This was a gathering of elected officials, priests, and lay leaders of Malolos who came together upon the invitation of Bishop Oliveros of Malolos. His talk was on the “Seal of Good Housekeeping,” a DILG program recognizing and rewarding local government executives who, based on specific indicators, pass muster as proponents of good governance. Jesse spoke directly and effectively. I tried to complement his thoughts by sharing on the zeal for good governance and ethics in government. My reflections paled beside a living embodiment of the aforementioned zeal.

A month later, our paths crossed again, this time for the National Summit on Good Governance held in Manila. Participants come from dioceses all over the country. Judging from his candor and energy, Sec. Robredo was at home with the group as he shares a version of the seal for good housekeeping, providing church participants a mirror to their own challenges. Some words stick regarding his participative approach with constituents regarding raising taxes: “Kapag nagtitiwala ang tao sa katuturan ng kanilang kontribusyon, ayos lang kahit pa makadagdag gastos ito.”

A discernment conference for public servants followed in Cebu last 20 July convened by Archbishop Jose S. Palma. Again Sec. Robredo makes time for sharing his thoughts. It is a moment of sheer euphoria for the good governance champion as his statements: “Walang madumi na politika. Ang madumi ay ang politiko” and “may korap kasi hinahayaan natin” were strongly applauded by the more than 1,000 lay leaders and government officials who had come. People picked up on his “matino at mahusay” theme. Before he leaves for his next appointment, he approves the idea of writing a document for the expanding network to form the basis of the partnership between local churches and the DILG.

Meanwhile, Jesse made his commitment to join another covenant signing, this time in Mindanao, between the Diocese of Kidapawan and the provincial government. Other prospects were in the horizon. Then an 18 August plane crash dashed these dreams and the expanding network to pieces.

Or did it?

I never knew much about Jesse the family man and the believer. Leni Robredo’s interview gave me a glimpse of a very simple man who got solid family support in his journey towards integrity. Can you imagine a cabinet member having no lavish celebration for his silver wedding anniversary? Or a regular guy who did household chores when he got home? Or a devotee of our Lady of Penafrancia who went to confession two to three times monthly?  Or a member of the CFC’s social action group who mentored other politicians? Or a politician who steps down without appointing his wife or a close relative as successor so as not to start a dynasty?

In 2009, in preparation for elections 2010, I was part of a team that asked seminar participations: “What qualities are we looking for in our elected officials and public servants?” Participants of 30 different groups all over the country had a common vision: he or she, above all, must be truly God-fearing. This is followed by two qualities: tested integrity and servant-leadership. Behind these are competence and commitment to life.

Jesse Robredo possessed these qualities and passed the LASER test with flying colors. The grain of wheat that fell to the ground reverberates in the hearts of common Filipinos all over the country who yearn for truly God-fearing leaders. Remembering Jesse, we declare, “Pwede pala Pinoy!”

I have read that the police training school in Cebu, whose groundbreaking ceremony Jesse attended before taking the ill-fated flight, will be named after him. Well and good. Yet we need to do more. Who among our current politicians and public servants will catch the baton that he so bravely carried to carry it through to fulfillment? Let us beware of clowns who even now are trying to form his memory according to their own image and likeness. Shall we go beyond apathy and respond to the call to be discerning voters and engaged citizens? Are there other public servants needing our support and whose confirmation are blocked by petty politics? Can we continue to come together for the common good?

Leni, your husband’s dream will not die with him. It will bear fruits.

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