SILG Jesse Robredo: Gone too soon

(photo credit: GMA News’ Facebook page ~ click image for link)

Each of us has a different view, belief, and opinion about death. It’s like that proverbial sword hanging over our necks, we deal with its inevitability in different ways.

Death has a mystery of its own that’s difficult to completely understand. Maybe full understanding of what it is waits right at its doorstep or in the after life, if there’s any. But there seems to be certain events in life that are like small cracks into that doorway where the departed has gone. Ones that provide us with a fleeting glimpse that make us think about life.

The loss of a loved one or a near-death experience are two life events that in some ways trigger a shift in long-held perspectives. Perhaps it’s because both are personal experiences, which somehow allow the reality of death to breach protective barriers erected around its concept. For many, death is a painful reality that leaves its marks regardless of the circumstances that surround it.

Today’s news about the retrieval of Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo’s body from the Piper Seneca aircraft that crashed off the coast of Masbate last August 18 was as painful for his family, friends, and peers as to some of us who don’t even know him personally. When news about his plane’s crash last Saturday started circulating in various social media networks, I found myself praying as fervently as the rest of the people who were much closer than him. Like a friend of his who tweeted that she never prayed as fervently for the longest time until that moment, I realized I was doing the exact same thing.

I first heard of Sec. Robredo when I was taking up a Masters in Public Management degree in the open university program of my alma mater. He was a multi-awarded leader who steered his constituents into initiating changes and development in Naga City when he served as mayor for several years. His legacy spoke of advocacy and leadership with integrity. As a public management student who was distrustful of traditional politicians, then Mayor Robredo earned my utmost respect. More importantly, he served as an inspiration for many, foremost of which is his family, who would later have the opportunity to become public servants.

In 2010, he was appointed as Acting Secretary of the DILG. For years, I’ve been one of the regular guests of the DILG headquarters. But I don’t visit there on any official capacity. I only go there when I have to meet with my aunt who has been a long-time employee of the agency.

I didn’t know Sec. Robredo personally. In fact, I haven’t even seen him in any of my visits. But I’m observant enough to notice change if I sense one. I recall thinking that there was something different about the general atmosphere at the head office since he took the helm.It’s hard to pinpoint specific cases. There was that improved aura of professionalism, of workers who appear to be more competent, and the awareness that the leader’s in – doing his job.

In the many occasions that I slept over my aunt’s place, I remember conversations that made me feel an unspoken respect for the man and pride in the honor of working for that office. I don’t recall similar conversations in the past before the late SILG’s term. Maybe I just didn’t notice before. All I knew then was that Sec. Robredo seemed like a well-respected man by his subordinates.

There were several times when my aunt rushed for work just before 7:00AM. Government workers officially start working at 8:00AM. I often teased her about it since she lives merely two blocks away from the office building. Her constant retort was, “The Secretary’s always early. Sometimes he’s there at 7. We just want to be there before the boss arrives”. And this statement was often delivered with neither bitterness nor frustration. It was like her boss’ habits challenged her and the other staff to mirror it. I marveled at the kind of man of who would inspire such attitude from his staff.

My aunt didn’t talk much about her work, especially those that are sensitive in nature. But I’ve always gleaned an underlying pride in working under Sec. Robredo’s leadership.

Maybe this is why I feel the sadness that accidents and death befell to families and friends of a person. I may not know Sec. Robredo on a personal level, but I’ve learned enough of his life’s story to be inspired by it.

R.I.P SILG Jesse Robredo, Captain Jessup Bahinting, and co-pilot Kshitiz Chand. The search and rescue efforts over the past three days are but a fitting tribute to men admired by many. For the ill-fated plane not only cost us the life of a great leader but also of a pilot who has saved lives in the past. May your memories continue to leave us with high hopes and serve to remind us that a life dedicated to selfless service is worth living.

Mayor Jesse Robredo’s Commencement Address to the Ateneo de Manila University Class of 2003

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