Tuesday, August 21, 2012


An administration ago, we would not have wept like this.

The nation is in grief today after confirmation of the death of DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo came this morning together with the retrieval of the Secretary's body off the coast of Masbate City. Robredo, together with aide-de-camp P/Insp Jun Abrasado, and two pilots, Capt. Jessup Bahinting and Nepalese flight student Kshitiz Chand, crashed in the afternoon of August 18, 2012 in the waters of Ticao Strait, some 500 meters from the Masbate Airport while trying to make an emergency landing.

Robredo was on his way to Naga City, Camarines Sur after making a speech at the National Summit of the Community Investigative Support and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIS-CIDG) held in Cebu City. He was supposed to take a commercial flight back to Manila and then travel by bus to Naga but then opted to take a chartered flight straight to Naga to be with his daughter who won a medal in a swimming competition.

According to the lone survivor of the crash, P/Insp Jun Abrasado, one of the engines of the Piper Seneca plane had a problem which prompted Capt. Jessup Bahinting to call Masbate Airport for an emergency landing. The plane, however, did not make it.

Upon hearing of the news of the crash, President Benigno Aquino III rushed to Masbate to personally oversee the search and rescue operation for his long-time friend and fellow reformist. The government, as well as the family of the Secretary, were initially hopeful that Robredo might still be alive as he was a good swimmer. There were even reports circulating via text and Twitter that the Secretary has been rescued at sea by local fishermen, none of which were confirmed.

Such was the hope and anticipation of the Filipino people over Robredo's safety due to the late Secretary's legacy of clean governance. Prior to his death, he was in government for over 20 years, which started when he won as Mayor of Naga City in 1988. He was the youngest elected mayor in the country back then, at age 29. His election followed six terms of reformist leadership in the city which got rid of local corruption, illegal gambling, and turned Naga City into a model of local governance.

Robredo received various awards for his reformist leadership, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service in 2000, and the Philippines' Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World Award for Government Service in 1996. Such brand of reformist leadership is what inspired newly-elected President Benigno S. Aquino III to appoint him as Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in 2010.

As DILG Secretary, he sought to make local governance more oriented to serving the people's needs. Despite the rampant corruption and mismanagement of his predecessors in DILG, he was able to unite all units of local government towards making public service more efficient, transparent, and accessible. His leadership style was that of a loving father—never that of a dictator. His employees at the DILG remarked that the late Secretary never shouted at anyone when he gets mad but rather just bites into his fist to control his emotions.

It was this brand of reformist leadership that made Robredo very dear, not just to Bicolanos but throughout the country. Such was weight of his loss to many Filipinos because it reflects a society's renewed aspiration to be led in such a way. It shows that Filipino society has had enough of traditional politics which has marred local governance for decades and wants reformist leadership such as that of Robredo's to flourish. If it were a government official from the previous administration who died, it would've met a different (perhaps even spiteful) reaction. Take the case of former Department of Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes, who took his own life in 2011.

Just as reformist leadership is beginning to take shape and grow in a once corrupted nation, news of Robredo's death came. The last time a national figure figured in a plane crash like this was 55 years ago, after the death of President Ramon Magsaysay when his plane crashed in Cebu on Marcy 17, 1957. Like Robredo, his governance was that of a reformer and sought to make government become closer to people and responsive to their needs.

Hence, it's only fitting that Sec. Jesse Robredo be hailed as the "Magsaysay of Our Time". TSS

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