Saturday, January 3, 2009

Things I Learned from Mayor Jesse Robredo

For many of you who don’t probably know him, Mayor Jesse Robredo is the multi-awarded incumbent city mayor of Naga City, which is currently the main commercial area of the Bicol Region. Aside from this, Mayor Robredo was also one of the first Filipino winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service which is equivalent to Asia’s Nobel Prize. He won the award because he was able to transform Naga City from a third class municipality to a first class city and uplift the quality of life of his constituents. Moreover, he was able to develop systems that would enable government processes to be more transparent and accountable to his constituents. As a prime example of this, when one visits the website of Naga City, you would be able to see all the expenses and purchases of the city government. In the more than 16 years of being the mayor of Naga, the city has received accolades from national and international organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. I met Mayor Robredo in 2001 at an event organized by Synergeia Foundation, one of the country’s more effective institutions in improving our public education system. Since then, Mayor Robredo has been one of the people I have looked up to for advice and his effective brand of leadership has been a constant source of inspiration for me. As such, I wanted to share the things that I have learned through these years that I have worked with him. Firstly, I have learned that there are still people like him who continue to remain ethical despite being in government service for the past 16 years. Many people have dissuaded me from entering government service since they say that no one actually survives the current system of pervasive graft and corruption. Mayor Robredo has shown that one need not compromise his or her values and principles to be able to govern and deliver basic services to the people in an effective manner. When I asked him what was his secret for being steadfast in his values, he told me that his faith in God and his family are his main foundations, and this is the second lesson that I learned from him. In a society where we hear of politicians having several wives and families, we have someone like Mayor Robredo who continues to put premium on his being a loyal husband and a loving father who devotes time to his three daughters. I remember a time wherein he failed to attend one of our Kaya Natin! Caravan of Good Governance events in the province since his daughter sought his help with regard to her school project. Many politicians would often jump at the chance just to be able to speak before thousands of students but Mayor Robredo chose to be with his daughter who needed him during that time. Aside from this, Mayor Robredo has also shown that he is a man that can stand up for what he believes in even if he already knows that majority are no longer with him. This can be seen when in the last 2 Presidential elections, wherein he chose to support the late Senator Raul Roco because he believed that he would make a good President for our country even if he already knew that surveys have shown that Senator Roco would have a slim chance of winning and even if he already knew that if Senator Roco loses he may not be able to get the support of the winning candidate. Standing up and holding on to your own principles is something that is clearly lacking in many of our leaders today. Our present day leaders will often support issues or people that will help propagate their own self-interests without necessarily thinking if what they are supporting will be for the common good. Finally, one of the most important lessons I learned from Mayor Robredo is the simplicity of his way of life. When one thinks of Filipino politicians, large houses and expensive cars always comes to mind but when one visits Naga, you will see that despite being on his 6th term as mayor of a 1st class city, he continues to live in a very simple home. I remember one time wherein we met in my office in Quezon City and I saw him just taking a cab without any bodyguards to reach our office. Back then, I was quite surprised since I was used to seeing politicians with their big cars, blaring sirens and their throngs of bodyguards. Among all of these lessons, I think what Mayor Robredo has shown me is that there is still much to Hope for in our country if we have more principled leaders like him who will continue to deliver proper services to the people and will always put the interests of our country above his or her own interests.

For those who want to hear Mayor Jesse Robredo, you can attend the Kaya Natin! Caravan of Good Governance on January 10,2009 (Saturday) at Araullo University in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija and at the University of the Assumption in San Fernando City, Pampanga. You can reach Kaya Natin! by sending an email to .

Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government and Executive Director of AHON Foundation. Comments are welcome at .


Julie Lucille Haber said...

Once I was asked by my teacher what servant leadership is. It was difficult to answer because the word seemed too abstract (and "oxymoron" as it may sound - how can a leader be a servant at the same time?). But as I ponder, I realize that indeed that there still many leaders who serve their people well...just like our mayor, Jesse M. Robredo.

Upon reading your article Sir Harvey, a sense of pride rushed into me as a Nagueno. Learning that not only our city but the entire country sees the passion of our Mayor in leading and serving makes me proud of being a Nagueno and a Bikolano. I believe, on behalf of the young Naguenos, we are blessed and lucky to have a leader in Mayor Jesse.

There are three things I admire about Mayor Jesse:
1. Spirituality. It is inspiring to see our leader professes his faith to our patroness, Nuestra Senora de Penafrancia during Traslacion in September as a voyadores. It is an good example for both young and old how to treasure our faith.

2. Trust in the people he serves. Moreover, it is touching to see him with the common people-the voyadores in celebrating our faith which means he trusts his people (where else can you see Mayors joining his people in throng-filled pilgrims?)

3. Morality. Despite the pressure of liberalism and globalization in the world, there are few leaders who stick to their values especially on importance of the family in the society. A leader of principle and dignity - Mayor Robredo.

These are only three of the many admirable inspirations of Jesse Robredo. If we have more leaders like him, CHANGE is never imPOSSIBLE. Kudos to Mayor Jesse Robredo, an orgulyo kan Naga! Dios Mabalos po!

Julie Lucille Haber said...

Having Mayor Robredo as a model of servant leadership, it is both an inspiration and a pressure for us young leaders of Naga. In the future, how can we continue his legacy? As a youth, can our voices be heard in this deafening society?

Sir Harvey, Can we, the youth, make a change? Can we make a difference?

mario said...

I am a retired filipino american who now spend 10 months in Naga and 2 months in San Diego USA. I live in a farming community in Carolina. I have been amazed by what has transpired from the time I was growing up there till the time I have been going back and forth in the last ten years. I plan to help the city anyway I can based on what I have learned from other countries I visited. When I am back there next month, I will try to hook up with some groups of retired people, particularly those retired OFWs and hopefully can participate in activities that will benefit the city and the province. I think Camarines Sur is a province that can be developed as a retirement destination. I am encouraged by what the Naga City Mayor and the Governor have done to elevate the reputation of the City and the province.

My area of expertise is accounting, banking, real estate and financial planning. But as a retired person I would rather work in the farm planting vegetables, and working on my workshop.

I have been reading Harvey's articles and I cant help but get encouraged by his forward looking ideas. With more people like you how can our country fail. More power to you Harvey.

Wilmer said...


Dear Mr. Harvey Keh:

I completely understand your will and tenacity for moral recovery especially in the leadership in our country. However, in your desire to present heroes, you miserably failed to present the truth. Instead, you fortified a myth, a fantasy of good governance embellished by all the trimmings of a Disney movie.

Did it not occur to you that Mayor Robredo's 16 years in power manifests how he failed to groom anyone to take his place? Is this good governance? Did it not occur to you that this is and nothing but, the traditional politics the Jesuit Universities have condemned even before the term was invented?

Staying long in power must in all cases be suspicious. Has not Thomas Jefferson said, "whenever a man has cast a longing eye on office, a rottenness begins in his conduct?" History is replete with characters that latched on to power by all means, at all costs. We only need to skim through history to know that staying long in power stagnates the mind and the years breed stubbornness and folly.

Naga City's current administration boasts of ubos kung ubos, a political campaign slogan which roughly means, all or none at all. It boasts that if one votes for Mayor Robredo, one must vote for all HIS councilors. But did it not occur to you that this manifests how pseudo-power is exercised by a handful? Pseudo-power because, in fact, power rests only on the local chief executive, with the local legislators an assembly line of an ordinance-mill.

Pseudo-power because when a local legislator shows the slightest hint of independent thinking, he becomes a frozen delight for having earned the mayor's ire. When a dissenting opinion is expressed louder than a whisper, someone else will be assigned to head the dissenter’s committees or another council will be created. These maneuverings have been accepted as a fact of life by our local legislators.

Naga City is known for the people participation but have you looked closely at the Naga City People's Council? Is it the people's voice? Did it strengthen checks and balances and people participation? Or has the council successfully changed the meaning of "consultation" as mere "information dissemination?" How about the decisions in public hearings? Do decisions become an ordinance even when they are contrary to the original intent of the local administration?

You wrote about Naga City 's website and how it promotes transparency and accountability. But have you read in the website anything about the Naga City Coliseum and the Naga City Sports Complex and how these gigantic white elephants cost local taxpayers millions of pesos in basic services? What justifies this colossal wastage? Only the naïve would not see that at its core is corruption, and nothing but.

Mr. Keh, a display of a simple lifestyle is a dangerous criterion in choosing our heroes. In this age of media consultants, PR men, or by any other name they are called, anyone can be anything. Image is created and re-created as needed. Erap's legendary appeal to the masses remains a standard among politicians; see how they belabor trying to look reachable, lovable by the masses. Even Raul Roco wore floral polo shirts to soften the disciplined intellectual that he truly was.

A simple house, a taxi ride, an absence of obvious bodyguards may be traits of a simple lifestyle, but they delude the masses of what good governance really is. Image is, never was, and never will be, good governance. Even worse, image can successfully hide the fact that there is lack of basic services.

Take the case of Naga City 's drainage system. After a few hours of heavy rains, the roads are flooded. We walk through murky waters to get to our houses. Worse is our sewage system; our river is under serious threat. The city's thoroughfares are now lined with tasteless, gaudy, kitschy lampposts. Yet, between these lampposts and better drainage and sewage systems, we know what the people need. But of course, who gets to see the drainage and sewage systems? While the lampposts, they add color to the streets. Never mind if they actually inconvenience motorists because the two-way streets are narrow and easily congested especially during peak hours. Never mind if instead of beautification, we have destruction of beauty in the city and disrespect for styles in architecture.

Mr. Keh, as you promote good governance among our people, I hope that there would be diligent verification. In your pursuit to show that there are good leaders among us, please do not lower the standards of what is good and what is truly beneficial to the people. Otherwise, our efforts only feed our people's fantasies and deplorably, we continue to wallow in corruption and poverty consumed by a fantasy called good governance.

Very truly yours,


Julie Lucille Haber said...

A pessimist only sees the dark side of the clouds, and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides and shrugs; an optimist doesn't see the clouds at all -- he's walking on them.

Why does a nation stagger towards progress?

It is not the mistake of the many who do not know but the mistake of the few who knew but do not do anything.

~ 12 Little Things A Filipino Can Do to Help the Country

inggitero said...

Dear Fr. Tria,

Mayor Robredo forwarded to me your letter to Mr. Harvey Key, founding chair of Kaya Natin!, a movement composed of Filipinos from different sectors of society that aim to espouse genuine change and ethical leadership in our country.

Not surprisingly, I find the letter as yet another attempt to smear his person, belittle his leadership, and insult the competence and character of other innocent people and groups. Obviously, you want a wider audience for your piece of work that, regretfully, reeks of bias, sweeping abomination and baseless accusations.

I am surprised, however, that such invectives that I find in the letter and the caustic and stinging ridicule that you unleashed would come from a man of the cloak who purports to be a church spokesman. Frankly, I cannot understand the motives that are now driving you to cast aspersions at every chance on his person, in particular, and the city leadership and its people, in general.

Only last year, during the blessing and inauguration of the Consuelo Madrigal Foundation Housing in Pacol, you were profuse with words about good governance that the City Hall had been espousing and practicing under the incumbent administration. You did not sound insincere then. So I can only surmise that this change of heart is simply because the city government disagreed with you over the issue of 'street parties'.

If this is not the case, please do tell us.

But what I know about the issues that you raised in your letter is that they are the same false issues that his political detractors have been unfairly heaping on him and his group. You have simply parroted them.

Staying power
If you rue about the mayor having stayed in office for 16 years now, it is because of the mandate the people gave him and the rest of his slate. It is unfortunate that you disagree with the sentiments of overwhelming majority of the residents of the city (at least 75% of the voters casted their vote for the Mayor in the last election) but that is how it works in our democratic system. By the way, never in the history of the city have they bestowed overwhelming mandates to an elected Mayor in all the local elections in Naga like they did to Mayor Robredo.

Moreover, the attached survey conducted by the Ateneo Social Survey & Research Center last March 2008 confirmed the satisfaction of the residents of Naga on how its elected officials are performing. The Mayor got a net approval rating of +59.8%. The other elected officials received net approval ratings of between +35.6% to +66.7%. For the same period, President GMA's net approval rating was -29%. The city officials must be doing something right that you hate to see.

The Naga City People's Council
The People Empowerment Ordinance, which created the Naga City Peoples' Council, is a program internationally and nationally recognized. The Galing Pook Foundation (AIM & Ford Foundation) and President Cory's People Power People Movement, among others have cited its achievements in pioneering people's participation. The initiative has been extensively studied by competent (and unbiased) individuals and institutions here and abroad. In fact, the program has been replicated in other LGUs in the country, even as far as Mindanao. As to the Naga City People's Council, its noble intention, innovative spirit and significance have been hailed by LGUs, NGOs, and academicians. To the allegation that it has been co-opted by city hall, Fr. J. Nelson Tria (I guess you know him), its three-term chairman and former Director of the Camarines Sur Social Action Center, thought otherwise and dismissed such accusation as unfortunate. "If the NCPC rarely has differences with the local government now, it is because [we] exist in a friendly environment," Fr. Tria was quoted by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). If you wish to be further enlightened on the workings of the NCPC, you can very well ask former Councilor Miles Raquid-Arroyo, who like you is now connected with Ateneo de Naga University.

NCPC Secretariat Chair Johann de la Rosa was also quoted to have explained that the collusion issue "can only come from sectors that are clueless about the context of the leadership, and hence feel they are not favored." He added that the NCPC exists to provide credible comments, not mere criticisms.

Mr. Renee Gumba, a college professor and Director of the Institute of Politics & Governance of the Ateneo de Naga University also explained that "if Naga residents are more empowered than before and are emboldened to be more active in public and governance issues, it can only be attributed to the city government's openness and transparency." He notes, "people visit the mayor and they see him conduct above-the-table transactions. This encourages them to even criticize him — and that's also being participatory."

In your bitterness and earnestness to criticize the present administration, you have cast aspersions on the capacity, credibility and integrity of a fellow priest and others who have contributed to the development of the city, by implying that their participation is merely for show and the NCPC is merely for the purpose of information dissemination.

May be you also ought to know that the NCPC has managed activities critical to the welfare of the residents of the city. The council was also put in charge of the multi-sectoral Task Force Reming, which raised more than P3 million for Naga's post-typhoon relief and repair efforts in all its 27 barangays. Through Archbishop Leonardo Z. Legaspi's intercession, the task force obtained an additional P30 million from the national calamity fund to repair school buildings. It is only in Naga City where a city government entrusted its money to a group of non-government organizations to undertake typhoon rehabilitation efforts.

Website and the Metro Naga Coliseum
The Naga City website has been cited by the National Computer Center (NCC) as the best LGU website in the country for three consecutive years. It is the only LGU website that has been elevated to the Hall of Fame and was cited for promoting transparency and accountability in governance. Between your assessment and theirs, it is obvious who is more competent.

You are peddling lies when you asserted that nowhere on the website of the city can be found the relevant information on the Metro Naga coliseum. You do not need to be internet-savvy to find it – pure and simple good faith and diligence would have sufficed. The materials were posted a year ago. You should have browsed our website to discover that all the information about the proposed Naga City Coliseum are there for everyone to see and scrutinize in the spirit of transparency and accountability.

But let us take this opportunity to apprise you of why we have the proposed project and why it took a long time to complete it.

The city government on August 6, 1993, conducted a citywide referendum, the first for an LGU, for the people of Naga to decide on three important development issues, which included the development of CBD2, with the Metro Naga Coliseum in it. The Metro Naga Coliseum started in 1996 as a national government project. No local fund was allocated to complete the structure except that we provide a donation of the lot, courtesy of the private developer of the then proposed CBD2. When the proponent of the project failed in his bid to win in the senatorial race, the half-started coliseum stood idle for years
waiting for the national government to appropriate funds for its completion. Two fund releases were authorized by the national government until 1998. After which, construction stopped.

In 2002, a City Development Council (CDC) meeting was convened, which authorized the city government to borrow P50M and fund basic construction works – essentially roofing and finishing – that would make it functional. By the way, the CDC is composed of members from both the government and non-government sector. This phase was bidded out in 2005 and implemented the following year; unfortunately, "Milenyo" and "Reming" hit Bicol in succession in the second half of
2006, essentially setting back our effort to at least put a functional coliseum in place.

On May 12, 2008, the city government again submitted to the CDC three options as regard the Coliseum:

(1) "Do Nothing/Rely on national government funding";
(2) "Partial Development/Loan an amount required to make the Coliseum Usable"; or
(3) "Full Development/Loan the amount required to fully complete the Coliseum."

On May 16, 2008, the Naga City People's Council issued Resolution No. 08-017 supporting the proposed financing of the Naga City Coliseum project amounting to P115.6 million. The Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry also issued a similar resolution; both contained a proviso that the city government "will not sacrifice the current programs and projects, especially basic services because it will utilize the projected income that the city will generate out of the SM operation" whose incremental revenue is estimated at P30-P40 million annually,

To recapitulate, the Coliseum project was presented to and discussed by the City Development Council. It was presented to the Naga City Peoples' Council for their evaluation and approval. It was also presented to the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry. To an objective observer, this is as transparent as anyone can get. You might want to examine if the big ticket investments of the province and other LGUs similarly went through this process.

Convinced that the coliseum is a strategic investment of the city government especially at this time of improving trade and commerce, the most dynamic in the Bicol region, with the upcoming operation of SM City Naga whose incremental revenue is estimated at P30-P40 million annually, the City Development Council verily approved the third option, authorizing the city mayor to secure a loan of some P150 million to complete the coliseum. All of these information are on the website of the city. We are disappointed when you say that the absence of transparency means that the Coliseum project reeks of corruption. Following your logic then, does the absence of transparency as to how the funds collected and
received by the institutions that you are part of automatically means that corruption thereof is attendant, too? You might be interested to demand the same degree of transparency on them. Otherwise, your motives are suspect.

Incidentally, the Metro Naga Sports Complex was built by national government funds in 1997. Again, if you only had asked you will know that the construction details have not been posted on the website because the project was long completed even before the web site was installed. The facility has been acknowledged to be the most-used sporting infrastructure being maintained by a local government unit. It has hosted three Palarong Pambansa (more than any other LGU) since
it was constructed in 1997, saving the government of millions of pesos to build for each annual national game. On April 19-26, this year, the sports complex will be the site of the 2009 Private Schools Athletic Association (PRISAA) National Games. It is a regular venue for regional sporting events. By the way, its track oval, made of international standard material and in good condition until today, cost only P13 million, while it cost P29 million in Mindanao, and P18 million in Camarines Sur (Freedom) Sports Complex. Only a few years ago, our sports complex served as the venue for the International Forum of Youths for Christ and recently, the intramural for the different seminaries in Camarines Sur.

Drainage System
During the heavy rains that hit Bicol last December 2008, the provinces of Camarines Norte, Albay, Sorsogon, and some parts of Camarines Sur were once again ravaged by heavy floodwaters. We thanked God; it was not worse in our city that we did not even have to evacuate some residents.

Earlier this month, floods were again reported in some parts of Bicol, but Naga was again spared from the deluge. In fact, there was no flooding reported during that time, except of course, for some determined souls who got their shoes soaked on their way to their favorite watering holes for a couple of beer or more because of the continuous rainshowers. And everybody slept soundly that night, knowing that their drainage system worked. But that should not make us feel complacent. The city government recenty purchased a Declogging Machine for regular maintenance of our drainage system while our City Engineers are busy making plans to expand the city's drainage system network because of its burgeoning new frontiers for business and residential developments.

We have many more good news to tell you, but we will spare you the trouble of reading a much longer letter, knowing how busy a priest with many church-related commitments that you are. In the meantime, we invite you to log on our website from time to time. Or better yet, we expect to see you in any of our consultation meetings or public hearings so that you may have a clearer picture of what we are doing at city hall as public servants. Your presence, we are sure, will allow you to correct the biases that you have.

And considering your deep concern about good governance which is complementary to our common advocacy against graft and corruption, may I suggest that you widen your horizon because, after all, the Archdiocese of Caceres also covers the rest of Camarines Sur. That way, Father, baka makua mo tabi an hinahanap mo.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,

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