From Dios Mabalos, Jess, “Proud to be a Nagueño”
By Soliman M. Santos Jr.
(MindaNews, August 26, 2012)
Naga will never be the same again. Much of the story of Robredo’s brand of local governance has been told and is being (re)told, with a vengeance, in the wake of his untimely passing. And we thus continue to learn more from him, from his leadership, and from his character. My own first personal encounter with Jess was as a cause-oriented peace advocate engaging a local official during his first few months as Mayor in 1988. Our non-governmental coalition, the Hearts of Peace (HOPE), shepherded then by the late Nagueña “Mommy Jean” Llorin, initiated a largely symbolic “people’s declaration” of Naga City as a “Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality” (ZOPFAN) during the Peñafrancia Fiesta in September 1988. This peace zone was basically an assertion of the people’s right to peace, particularly from the armed hostilities between the AFP and the NPA. Jess gave us his moral and, quite importantly, political, support for this people’s initiative, which mayoral support, in the final analysis, was indispensable for this initiative to have a fighting chance at all.
The Naga peace zone initiative at that time tended to generate resistance from the security sector, especially the military (which was already in “total war” mode as declared by then President Cory Aquino after the collapse of the GRP-NDF peace talks in 1987), and even the local Catholic Church hierarchy. Both sectors were gripped by the scare that the “Reds” were taking advantage of, if not behind, the initiative. Ironically, the rebel CPP-NPA-NDF would later issue its national-level policy against peace zones which it viewed as counter-insurgency. So, one could imagine that the support he gave to the initiative took a certain amount of courage, boldness or daring on the part of Jess. He was then a very young (30-year old), first-time Mayor whose then Lakas ng Bansa group had a minority of only two against the big majority of eight from the opposition Cory Coalition group in the City Council of a city that was long a bastion of Catholic conservatism. Jess thus early on reflected a brand of leadership that was open to new ideas and initiatives, to experiment, and even to take risks, whether of a political or security nature, but with the remarkable down-to-earth people skills to win over support for his programs.
The risks for Jess with his support for the Naga peace zone were underscored by the fact that it was actually the country’s first ever peace zone, still an experimental concept. It may not have fully developed or been sustained here but it was an early example of concepts that spread to and were replicated in many other places. This was most notably in the case of peace zones in Central Mindanao, with a quite different (GRP-MILF) armed conflict context and more than a decade after the Naga peace zone became dormant. This was therefore just one of the earlier of many other Robredo-led Naga initiatives that would spread and be replicated elsewhere. Fr. Nelson Tria, himself a former Chairperson of another such initiative, the Naga City People’s Council, in his homily at a mass for Jess lying in state at the Archbishop’s Palace, described those initiatives as “not just causing ripples but making waves” – if I may add, uncannily like his plane crash (and death) at sea did, literally and figuratively.
A number of these Robredo-led Naga initiatives are documented and analyzed in the annals of the Galing-Pook awards for excellence in local governance, and in a growing number of academic studies, notably from foreign universities. And while Jess was not the writing-type like Rizal, he does have a book about it all, but which is not so well known — Making Local Governance Work: The Naga City Model, published by the city government in 2003 as a selection mainly of his papers delivered before various national and international forums. This obscure book, if reprinted, might now become a posthumous national bestseller, given our better appreciation for what we have just lost.