MANILA, Philippines - Imagine a modern-day Ramon Magsaysay.
If Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo had survived Saturday's plane crash in the waters off Masbate, who knows if he would've been another “Man for the Masses” or a president for the people.
On that fateful day on August 18, however, no one will ever know.
Some observers believe Robredo bore all the characteristics of an ideal Philippine president.
The best president
Galing Pook' Foundation Executive Director Dr. Ed Dorotan said the DILG Chief had the makings of a president, the best the Philippines never had.
"Si Jesse Robredo sa amin was the epitome of good governance, yung governance na di lang sa salita kung hindi sa gawa... He could've been the best president we could have had. He was in touch with the people, had the technical... compassion we need, not to enrich himself," Dorotan said on ANC's "Headstart".
Dorotan, a friend of Robredo, shares a history in public service, having served as mayor in the 1980s and advocated for a change in the minds of the people on how to govern. They both went to school at the Ateneo de Naga. Robredo became mayor at the age of 29.
"We were working on an archipelago, na sana ma-influence namin mayors and governors to push for changes on the local level,” Dorotan said.
Dorotan remembered that Robredo, from day one, was determined to transform Naga from a sleepy third-class municipality - with only P19 million in its coffers and known only for the annual Penafrancia Festival - to a first-class municipality with a fund of P400 million.
Guided by the idea of good governance, Robredo worked on a productive improvement program bent on improving basic services and engaging an empowered citizenry, he said.
It began with an aptitude test that placed employees in jobs suited to their skills.
"Dati mga 30 days ang pagbigay ng business permit, during his time, 30 minutes lang. Pinaganda niya yung frontline services to the point na investments came in, kasi maganda ang pagpapatakbo ng gobyerno, walang mga lagay."
Jueteng in Naga
Dorotan also credits the late DILG chief for ridding Naga City of the illegal numbers game, jueteng, simply because he did not tolerate it.
"Tinanggal niya ang jueteng... Yung mga kabo binigyan niya ng livelihood program."
But it was Robredo's simplicity that he will never forget.
"He would go around Naga without any bodyguards."
He said Robredo would sometimes take the bus to go home to Naga.
Dorotan expressed hope Robredo's death will inspire a new brand of public servants to step up to the challenge of leading the country.
"Nakakalungkot (yung insidente), pero may push rin na sana yung pagkamatay niya humikayat ng bagong leaders, mga taong matino na sumali sa pulitika,” he said.
Robredo earned seven awards from "Galing Pook", a program that gives awards to local government programs.
During the first Galing Pook awards in 1994, only three years after the passage of the Local Government Code of 1991, Robredo drew praise for spearheading the Metro Naga Development Project, a program focused on developing Naga and the 13 municipalities around it on a principle of forming alliances with neighboring communities for solid waste management and water supply, among others.
Dorotan said another program involved preparing the youth for good governance.
Dorotan said, Robredo's 'Kaantabay' program, which prioritizes the marginalized sector, was another pioneering project involved with onsite development for the urban poor.
Robredo's leadership also went beyond Naga.
In 1997, Robredo received the Galing Pook Hall of Fame Award for Excellence in Local Governance.
In 2000, he received a Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service for his stellar leadership as Mayor of Naga City, a role he served for 19 years.
Robredo was a pioneer of ‘tuwid na daan’
Meantime, Dean Edna Co of the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) said Robredo, who brought transparency and public accountability to a new level, left a legacy that is unmatched.
"Speaking from the academic point of view, looking back, bago pa nagsimula ang good governance principles ng transparency and accountability ng UNDP at ng World Bank, ginagawa na ni Secretary Robredo yan... his practice precedes the theory of transparency and accountability... bago pa yung kay President Aquino na ‘Matuwid na Daan.’ Nag-pioneer na si Secretary Jesse dito sa good governance ginagawa and at this point ang hirap palitan and I think he is irreplaceable. I think in the DILG no one can fill the shoes of Secretary Jesse."
"How can you do a good balance between governance sa local level and trying to bring local government people together among units that they should deliver good management, yun yung mahirap... with Secretary Jesse lahat yan magkakasama."
The University of the Philippines and the NCPAG are set to hold a mass for Robredo at 3 pm at the NCPAG Assembly Hall. It will be followed by a tribute from representatives of the UP Alumni Association and the UP Vice President for Public Affairs among others.
Students will also hold a candle lighting ceremony at the State University.