I had the privilege of meeting then-Mayor Jesse Robredo back in 2008, during the 50th Anniversary of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. I had been part of the team for The Asia Forum, a conference that discussed the region’s concerns in poverty, the environment, and social conflict—themes that many of the Magsaysay awardees have been addressing. The conference was also the largest gathering of Magsaysay awardees, with over 50 of them flying to Manila for the celebrations.
As the Magsaysay Awardee in Government Service in 2008, then-Mayor Robredo was invited to be a panelist in the conference, speaking on the importance of sound governance. I first met him during the pre-conference briefing and lunch with the speakers and moderators. He came on time and was seated at one of the side tables, listening intently to the discussions. When it was time for lunch, I went over to usher him to the VIP table (as it should be for a ranking government official). He politely declined the offer, preferring to be with fellow panelists (and a small hint of embarrassment—how could he be a VIP amid such giants?).
I didn’t know it back then, but the fact that I remember it nearly four years after is a reminder of how we was as a government official and as a person. It struck me that he was just as normal as anyone could be, yet he had done great things for other people. He eschewed any sense of self-entitlement, preferring to be just another person you would treat with respect, not because of his title, but because of who he was.
Secretary Jesse would be a panelist in another conference I worked on, this time for the Renewable Energy Conference back in 2010, where he clearly stated his support for renewable energy and committed to work with local governments on how to streamline procedures to facilitate the development of renewable energy resources.
On both counts, I remember his staff being efficient and not having any unnecessary demands on conference organizers—which is usually something that non-Presidents would also ask.
When news of the Secretary’s plane crashed at sea, my heart took a nosedive as well—it could not be happening to a good man, a man that this country needs. When confirmation of his passing came three days later, I cannot help but cry. Even when I read news about him, his family, and the circumstances surrounding his death later, the tears flow.
I may have had a total of three sentences exchanged with him, but I suppose that any man who lives his life in a just, decent, and ethical manner, genuinely working in service for the bigger public would have such profound impact on complete strangers.
Perhaps, that’s his biggest gift to the Philippines—hope that the Filipino can and will make this country better, starting with good governance, ethical leadership, and leadership by example.