Dealing with the Vacuum

By Marisa Lerias

Posted at Sep 01 2012 01:51 AM | Updated as of Sep 01 2012 09:51 AM

(Editor's note: This article was written before President Aquino named Mar Roxas as DILG secretary and Cavite Rep. Jun Abaya as DOTC secretary.)

I was all set to board the bus and join colleagues in Naga for the final send off for Sec Jesse Robredo. I guess he didn't want me there. My son had been in bed for three days nursing a fever so I thought he was on the road to recovery. He was lively and maintained a healthy appetite so I saw no cause for serious concern. Somehow, a few hours before scheduled departure, I had the sudden urge to take him to a hospital for some random blood tests. The results were supposed to be out after four hours. In which case, I would be on board the bus for the journey to Bicolandia. It was a holiday so I got the test readings after an hour. My son was a possible dengue case. Circumstances seemed to have fallen too convenienly in place that I would be dumb not to heed the message. I had to be mom and attend to my son before anything else. Sec Jesse would be the first to give me a hefty scolding if I did otherwise.  I ended up glued to the TV set watching the funeral rites and bawling my eyes out.

As for the Robredo girls, I have only words of praise for them.  To describe it in modern day linggo, I can only say  AWESOME. The gift of strength, courage and unwavering faith showered upon them can only come from Divine blessing. No truer words could be said than Mrs Leni Robredo claiming that Jesse's spirit would always be with them.

Two of my colleagues at Kaya Natin, Harvey Keh and Jess Lorenzo, were not able to attend the funeral either because of compelling personal reasons. We decided to get together for lunch to see how we can move forward from this. I still get a lump in my throat when I think of Sec Jesse Robredo as a national figure in history.

We have been getting numerous inquiries on how to be a member of the KN movement. All of a sudden, everyone wanted to solicit the opinion of our organization on various matters. The man whose last name was once a tongue twister (Robredo), has elevated Kaya Natin's profile to unbelievable heights. The burden of responsibility sits heavy on our shoulders as we do our best to rise to the occasion and meet the public's expectations. Sec Jess would expect no less from us. Armed with faith and conviction that we are treading on the right path, we carry on.

The tasks ahead are numerous and challenging. President Noynoy Aquino said "mission accomplished" for Jesse Robredo. I nervously join the President in affirming that claim. To a certain extent, his words  are beginning to prove themselves true. The DILG Undersecretary, Austere Panadero, has been in touch with Kaya Natin to closely coordinate the programs that we have started involving LGUs. They want to see to it that these continue. The DOTC has also been in touch with Kaya Natin to extend its assistance for on-going programs. Philhealth, Office of Sen Guingona, Office of Sen Pangilinan, DSWD, various private companies, private individuals and volunteers from all walks of life have expressed their willingness to participate and preserve the Robredo legacy. It seems like all commitments entered into by Sec Jess have been considered "sacred" by all parties concerned. I can only find one reason for its sanctity. None of them were self-serving.  Everything he did was for God and country before self. It is indeed overwhelming.

It took a while for Jess Lorenzo, Harvey Keh and me to confront the inevitable. The three of us have been asked separately on our "picks" for the next DILG Secretary. It is something that needs to be done so avoiding the issue would be very immature. We agreed that there are many qualified individuals within the Kaya Natin circle. Both co-founders former Gov Grace Padaca and former Gov Ed Panlilio can definitely step up to the plate and can be relied upon to be ethical and effective. Cong Teddy Baguilat, who was former Governor of Benguet, can take on the job and former Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija is definitely qualified too. Congressman Erin Tanada, whose skill and credibility is beyond question can also be considered.

They are not called Kaya Natin Champions for no reason. Their track records in public service will prove that they have selflessly served the nation. It is not easy to carry the title of "Kaya Natin Champion" as this means accepting the responsibility to uphold certain values that are common to the circle of champs. It is a shared responsibility. Therefore, those who have accepted the recognition will be answerable to his fellows for any deed that is in violation of the common commitment to pursue good governance. We, at Kaya Natin, claim neither purity nor perfection. But, we make the conscious decision to fight against the deeply imbedded culture of corruption in our midst. The choice to do the difficult right as opposed to the easy wrong is a constant struggle. Thus, the need to find strength in each other and provide sanctuary for fellow advocates when the need arises. This is the path that we shared and willingly inherit from one of our co-founders, Jesse Robredo.

Having said all that, we do not claim exclusivity of the pool for possible replacements either. There are others outside the KN circle that are equally qualified, if given the opportunity, to serve as DILG Secretary. Current DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas and Congressman Jun Abaya are two names that come to mind. They have been in the field of public service for many years and have managed to keep their integrity intact. They have much to share should the opportunity arise.

We can position each person mentioned above like a game of chess in our heads. But, ultimately, whoever is chosen serves at the pleasure of the President. The President's choice, whoever he or she may be, can be assured of Kaya Natin's cooperation and full support in the crusade for good governance.

The lunch I had with Jess and Harvey did not ease my troubled thoughts. I remained anxious at what the future held in store  for me, for KN and for our country. I kept replaying snippets of conversation with Secretary Robredo hoping that he would refresh my memory or send a sign that all would be well. Harvey and Jess must have felt the same because we found ourselves looking for another place to have coffee. There were several choices available at this strip near the hospital so we opted for good coffee at lesser cost. Deep inside we were seeking for answers to our questions or perhaps guidance in our direction.

Let me warn the readers that I am sharing this story as it is too much of a coincidence. You may want to join me by making your own amusing conclusions and interpretations at what I would call serendipity. Harvey, Jess and I walked into this crowded coffee place that could hardly seat 30 people. As we sat down to order three cups of brewed coffee I looked up and saw a familiar face. The man across me waved at the three of us. I told my companions "hey guys, its Sec Mar". They looked back at me in disbelief telling me with their facial expression to "get real". I said I wasn't joking. Both Harvey and Jess shook their heads and gaped. It was surreal. Secretary Mar Roxas was seated across us. He left before we did but purposely passed by our table to say "hi" before walking out the door. He left us with words of assurance and consolation knowing that we shared a common loss.

The three of us huddled. Now, what were the odds of that ever happening? God knows. Now, was that a sign? If yes, of what? You tell me. The only picture that flashed through my head was that of a grinning Jesse Robredo challenging me to figure it out.


Marisa Lerias is originally from Southern Leyte and currently works with the Philippine office of British Airways. She is also part of the core group of Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership.

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