By Marichu A. Villanueva
The Philippine Star
Tributes and paeans were showered on Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse M. Robredo. The Commission on Appointments (CA) would have easily confirmed right away Robredo’s appointment as DILG Secretary with such glowing testimonials. It may even seem that Robredo was the most admired Cabinet member of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
Such outpouring of public accolades for Robredo only came after he was among the passengers who perished in the ill-fated private plane that crashed last Saturday off Masbate. After four days of massive search and rescue efforts, foreign technical divers finally found the wreckage in the deep blue sea.
The bodies of Robredo and the pilot and student co-pilot were retrieved from the plane’s fuselage more than 180 feet below. The plane’s debris were swept more than 800 meters away from the shore where it was supposed to make an emergency landing at the Masbate airport. The rented six-seater, twin-engine Seneca Piper plane that would have taken Robredo to his home in Naga City, Camarines Sur broke into three parts as it crashed to sea.
Robredo never made it home until yesterday. President Aquino brought back Robredo’s remains to his bereaved wife and daughters. This was after the President personally attended to the search and rescue when he first flew to Masbate early Sunday.
Making up for whatever personal hurt he may have caused Robredo while he was still alive, President Aquino went out his way to help a fallen Cabinet member.
This brought back memories of how I came to know Robredo when two of his very good friends personally asked me to write a column about him. They are former Labor Secretary Nieves Confesor and Finance Undersecretary Milwida M. Guevara. This was during the annual search by the Civil Service Commission for the most outstanding government functionaries where the three of us were members of the board of judges.
Upon their insistence and testimonials and swearing to high heaven, I relented and wrote a column about the qualifications of Robredo. Since I did not know Robredo from Adam, Confesor and Guevara particularly vouched for the ex-Naga City mayor, saying he would be the most qualified to become the DILG Secretary of P-Noy.
At that time, President Aquino had yet to make up his mind who to appoint as DILG Secretary. This, despite the strong endorsements for Robredo by their Liberal Party (LP) stalwarts led by P-Noy’s defeated vice presidential running mate Mar Roxas.
For lack of space, I would just reprint excerpts of that column that came out last June 21, 2010:
“Who exactly is Jesse M. Robredo, anyway? For those who do not know him that well and are interested to support his appointment as DILG chief, you can visit www.naga.gov.ph. After visiting this website, Guevara promised, ‘you will realize what the Philippines can become!’
“Under Mayor Robredo, she cited, Naga City became a ‘Hall of Famer’ for winning every year a ‘Galing Pook’ award. Guevara e-mailed to me a literary of her testimonials in support of Mayor Robredo who is ending his third and last term as chief executive of Naga City. She aptly titled her piece ‘Ten Reasons Why It is Best for the Country to Have Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo as DILG Secretary.’
“1. He leads by example. He is honest, competent and just.
2. He will institute accountability. Measures of performance for local government officials will be defined. Good officials will be rewarded and non-performers will be sanctioned.
3. All the operations of DILG will be made transparent.
4. He will inspire and mentor mayors on how to translate participatory governance from an idea to being real.
5. He is a visionary and thinks outside the box. He has the proven capacity to develop programs to solve red tape and bureaucratic procedures.
6. He will give dignity to every Filipino by defining public services that each resident is entitled to as well the standards within which they should be delivered.
7. He will work with non-governmental organizations, people’s organizations, and civil society in providing oversight on the performance of local government officials and DILG personnel.
8. He is a spendthrift and will see to it that the DILG’s budget will be cost-effective.
9. He has the engineering skills to simplify processes and translate them into computerized processes that will streamline operations and decision-making.
10. He makes us proud of being a Filipino because he is outstanding in every way.’”
The DILG post was eventually awarded to Robredo, though it came as if with great reluctance of P-Noy to finally appoint him on July 10 that same year. I’m not saying nor claiming Robredo’s appointment came because of that column.
In fairness, President Aquino publicly admitted he has differences in working style with Robredo. That’s why P-Noy designated Robredo only as “acting” DILG Secretary. This will not require an ad interim appointment to be submitted for CA confirmation process.
As Commander-in-chief, P-Noy decided to take control anew of the Philippine National Police (PNP) even after he already appointed Robredo as DILG Secretary. The PNP is directly under the supervision of the DILG Secretary.
This was in the aftermath of the botched police rescue operation at the Quirino Grandstand bus hostage-taking on Aug. 23 of that same year. P-Noy first controlled and supervised the PNP when he assumed as concurrent DILG Secretary while it was still vacant when he took office at Malacañang Palace.
It was only in November last year when P-Noy finally submitted Robredo’s permanent appointment as DILG Secretary for CA confirmation. Lately, however, there were renewed rumors that the DILG post might likely be offered to P-Noy’s staunch ally, Sen. Panfilo Lacson. The ex-PNP chief is on his second and last term at the Senate until June next year.
But hours before that fateful day last Saturday, Robredo flew to Cebu where he read the speech for President Aquino before a gathering of police investigators all over the country. It was obviously a tortuous journey for Robredo trying to gain full presidential trust.