What I've Learned

“People will be willing to make sacrifices if they trust their governors” —Jesse Robredo

Today, on the fifth anniversary of his death, we remember the wisdom of a beloved public servant who died too soon.
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When I was four years old, my father was stricken with retinitis pigmentosa—night blindness. So my father lost his eyesight when I was four years old. And you know, he inspired all of us, because despite of that, the difficulty, he raised the family.

Every time I see a challenge, I see my father. If he can do it, we can do it. If somebody who has that disability can do it, I don’t see the reason why we, who are better equipped, cannot do it.

What compelled me to join EDSA I? Actually, it was the assassination of Ninoy. I was working in San Miguel. I had my Masters in business administration at University of the Philippines already. The career path that I was looking at was succeeding in a private company. Make a niche as a senior executive later on. But you know after Ninoy, I told myself, “If this can be done in the Philippines to a prominent person, then something is wrong with this country.”

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I became mayor of Naga by accident. I was working at San Miguel Corporation, then I took a position in the government, I was the Program Director of the Bicol River Basin Development Program. Relatives asked me why I’d like to run for mayor and I said, “There is nothing wrong in trying to be mayor of Naga.”

My parents are businessmen and they did well in the city. I suppose we owed it that this one member of the family should serve the city.

I was confident that I had the capability, that I was academically prepared. So I told myself that probably given the opportunity, I could make a difference in the city. That’s the reason why I ran for mayor.

We are offering a different brand of governance. The mantra in the city is that, “Governance processes is equally important as governance outcomes.”

Every new term, I can say, is a new discovery for the city, and in my case, every new term also is a new challenge for me, to show that we will do better than the previous term.

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Naga City has a tradition of constituency talking back to their government. I think they have high standards and expectations of people they elect in the office.

It is the city of migrants. In as much as we are the educational center of the province and probably of the region. We have a lot of people coming in and going out. You feel the vibrancy of the city. I can almost say that, it is the city that never sleeps.

You have an intelligent constituency that will oppose, that will agree with you, and that will be with you on your side if you need them, but will not tolerate mediocrity.

I see people who are hopeful of the future, despite the difficult times that we are facing. I see people who have struggled, who have succeeded, because you know, they relied on themselves.

I guess we have done well because the people are not happy with just being an ordinary local government unit. We are probably the only city wherein, when you say you will raise taxes, people do understand that you need to raise taxes.

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We are offering a different brand of governance. The mantra in the city is that, “Governance processes is equally important as governance outcomes.”

If I walked down the streets of Naga twenty years ago, probably I could identify five out of ten of the men on the street. Now, I doubt if that’s possible.

I believe in my experience as mayor of the city, the most important element in engaging the city is trust.

People will be willing to make sacrifices if they trust their governors. People will understand the mistakes of their governors if they trust them.

Several groups have asked me to run for president. I guess I am realistic enough to say that given the kind of political environment that we have right now, given the kind of constituency that we have right now, it is almost impossible for someone who is not nationally recognized.

We started Kaya Natin as small group of local officials, who are trying to make a difference in our jurisdiction. We can say that despite the difficulties, despite the limitations, despite the harassments, it can be done in a local government unit.

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You can build a stronger team and you can foster teamwork if you provide good leadership by simply providing that inspiration, sometimes the subordinates are better than their leaders.

In the case of Naga, I have done well not because I am smart, (or) because I am good, but because I have good people who discovered that they are better because they are inspired.

The most important ingredient of leadership is character.

Proficiency can be learned, but what is inside you is hard to change. Integrity is an important part of [who I am]. I always do what I say.

I am the last guy on the street if there is a typhoon. I am the first guy who’s out to clean after the typhoon. I make sure everyone is home before I decide to go back to my house.

During the most difficult times of the city, I stood for them. I work for them.

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I am using the little influence that I have in helping candidates who I believe will serve the country well. I guess, it’s a question of political will and the kind of constituency that you’ll have in the locality.

Good governance should be demanded by the constituency. Good leadership should be demanded by the constituency, so unless there is a convergence, good citizens and good leaders is difficult to get it done all over.

This article was originally in the December 2012 to January 2013 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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