We gathered last night in thanksgiving to celebrate the memory of Sec. Jesse Robredo but discovered a little bit more than how we knew him before he left us.
We all came from somewhere. We had roles, advocacies, and tasks that we momentarily left behind to bring together threads of memory that made up who Sec. Jesse has become.
As Marisa Lerias, one of the Kaya Natin core group members like myself said in her facebook, “I found sanctuary tonight... I didn't realize that I missed my Kaya Natin family so much. Somehow things don't seem so tough when I get reminded that they are around... It makes me believe the mantra in my mind...KAYA NATIN! Thank you for being you Sec Jesse Robredo. We miss you...”
Last night was indeed a sanctuary for us. We were with trusted people who have their own struggles but share a common experience with Sec. Jesse that enriched us. I saw that each one of us were trying to get handles on how we remember Jesse, and in doing so, changed who he is and what he remains to be to his friends.
My mom’s (Sonia Lorenzo) opening prayer manifested the goal that Sec. Jesse left unfinished. “Pagkalooban mo po kami ng panibagong karunungan, lakas, katapatan, pagpapanatili ng lahat ng mga biyayang kailangan namin upang mangyari ang aming minimithi at pinagsisikapan upang matamo namin ang Pilipinas na payapa, malusog, maunlad at pinagpala.”
It seems that the night of remembering was to be the answer to the prayer – the gift, grace, and ultimately encumbrance that Jesse left for us.
Cong. Leni described who was there when she opened. “This is a gathering of my husband’s dearest friends.”
She and her children, Aika, Tricia, and Jill led the celebration. She talked about Sec. Jesse’s endearment with Kaya Natin as she calls the movement her extended family. She talked about how her husband’s loss thrust the family into national attention and her in the frontline. She was somebody not well known even to those closest to Jesse. This was often mentioned by PNoy, and acknowledged by the other cabinet secretaries in more than one discussion. I could see that the family is still struggling to cope with the change in their life. She admitted that it is getting tough. While many of Jesse’s friends are already starting to move on, theirs seem to be an extended honorary funeral that moved on to the election and that is just beginning to settle. “Yung expectation ko dati mas magiging madali by the passage of time. But I am more emotional now… pero siguro it is because pababa na yung adrenalin. Parang nawala siya during the election kasi busy masyado. Pero ngayon lang nag normalize. Mas nararamdaman ko siya,” Cong. Leni revealed. The passing of Jesse has put them through so much change and demand. To me, last night, she was like a Cory after the passing of Sen. Ninoy. A fairly unknown housewife suddenly asked to fill the large shoes of a great man.
But as Cong Leni comes to her own we also begin to get to know her in Kaya Natin. We don’t see her or talk to her as much as we did Jesse. Perhaps because she is in high demand even more than her husband was when he was still alive. I suppose things have changed when Jesse became the symbol of good governance. His image is highly sought after because of the country’s thirst for a new standard of leadership. This was the same phenomenon when Senator Ninoy or President Cory died. In spite of this great load on Cong. Leni, she establishes tremendous presence in the few times I spoke to her. Just like her husband, she shows sincere concern with 100% engagement. When I greeted Cong. Leni, she said, “O, hi Jess. I read your post in facebook. Kailangan na kailangan kita, yung sa health program ha!” For a moment, it felt like Jesse came alive. In spite of the demands upon her, she finds ‘time-outs’ as her husband would to be with those he cared for. As part of her husband’s dearest friends and extended family, we share Cong. Leni’s encumbrance. It is the legacy that Jesse left us which is what the country is searching for. This is the good news of good governance which we need to spread.
Ms. Filomina Cinco was someone I do not know well. She represented the Urban Poor Associates which seem to have shared a large part of Jesse as we have. Her sharing was very uncanny to me. Just when I thought that we were closest to Jesse, I realized that he gave the same quality of presence and genuine concern with the Urban Poor groups. She narrated moments in dialogue with Sec. Jesse and emphasized how patient he would be to listen to them; genuinely concerned with the relocation areas of the families; and be firm in asking them to follow the law. Between the lines, she seems to have said that they have now use Jesse as their standard of a leader and voice of the poor. She leaves a cautionary note appropriate to the audience that they will be weary of people who pretend to be for the poor but do not genuinely care for the least. Among all the speakers, she truly represented the voice of the country which Jesse responded to as a leader.
Dr. Eddie Dorotan, talked about Jesse as an inspiration to Galing Pook and to LGU’s. He shared Sec. Robredo’s passion to strengthen and reform the LGU’s. He said, “Doon sa Lamitan, sa Southern Leyte, 6th class municipality lang, kulang ng pera pero zero ang maternal mortality at infant mortality…. This shows that things can be done and services can be improved.” He spoke with the same passion that Mayor Jesse had and a flare for story telling as well. For a short while, I was waiting for Dr. Eddie to scratch his stomach while talking as I noticed of Sec. Jesse. Dr. Eddie was the spirit of Jesse come alive when it comes to the LGU development. That is probably why Galing Pook launched a Jesse Robredo Leadership award for LGU executives where Gov. Migs Dominguez the first awardee happens to be a Kaya Natin Champion as well. These awards and memberships establish the leadership pedigree that other LGU Executives can adopt.
Dr. Nene Guevara almost choked in tears as she shared about the loss and memory of Mayor Jesse. This was not the first. I saw her in tears when she spoke in the “Lead like Jesse Recollection” series facilitated by the Robredo Foundation and Kaya Natin. She seems to be one of the closest among us to Jesse who is still very moved because by the sudden loss and what he was to Synergia. Mayor Jesse was one of the trustees of the organization and a great example of Public education reform. He would always make himself available to the group anywhere in the country to inspire and urge mayors to engage DepEd towards improving basic public education. At the time Mayor Jesse’s plane crashed, she and her team were finishing a proposal for Synergia. They were at a loss and could not think of what to write or talk about. But the loss of Mayor Jesse moved them to recall who he was to to Synergia and Public Education reform mission. This saw them through the crisis. It seems that Mayor Jesse is still with them and Ma’am Nene now calls him their Saint. She closed her sharing by reminding Jesse, “O, we have another engagement soon with a mayor. Bukas hah? Gumising ka ng maaga. Huwag kang ma late.” For them it is business as usual with Mayor Jesse. In a facebook post, she said, “ I pray to him for his help almost every day. To be like him and freed of entitlement.”
Sen. Kiko Pangilinan spoke as the Chair of Kaya Natin Movement and seems to be the one who illustrated how Jesse has changed for all of us. He explained that in death, Jesse became more powerful because he became known. While he was alive, he was taken for granted. We talked about this in Kaya Natin during the retreat. When Sec. Jesse was alive, we were not even sure if he would win as a senator. He was not in high demand as Cong. Leni is now. This changed when his plane crashed. The suspense of his whereabouts created national anticipation which later became a loss for the whole country. “In this he became more powerful and became the strong statement of our country’s demand for good governance.”
Sec. Mar opened with a question and wondered if he as a cabinet member would also be accorded the same honor when he dies. This was the light discussion they had in in the cabinet. As Sec. Mar narrated, he showed deep admiration that sets Sec Jess as someone that they all aspired for in their government service. Sec. Mar’s talk was an indicator of PNoy’s rendering of how great Jesse was and how his death impels and compels all of them to strive to do more and serve more.
President Noy’s keynote was not distinct from any of the other talks last night, except that he exposed his deep sadness and longing. Just like the others, he initially shared funny moments with Jesse and praised him about many things. But later on, the President seemed a bit disoriented, as if searching for what he felt at the moment, only to find loss and guilt that he wished he did not put Jesse to the job and that he had more courage to face Leni when Jesse was found. At this he did not sound like a President. What I saw in him that moment was a great man who shared a thread with us and a deep desire to live up to Jesse’s memory. “Habang tayo ay napakaraming kausa, si Jesse nagawa na ang mga ito sa Naga,” the President posed. He got back to his element as he asked all of us. “May mahihiling pa ba tayo kay Jesse? Sa dinami-dami ng kabutihan, masasayang ala-ala, at inspirasyong iniwan niya sa mundo, hindi ba tayo swapang kung humiling pa tayo ng higit doon? Hindi ba panahon na para tayo naman ang kumilos?” This was clearly a challenge he made to himself and to us friends of Jesse.
Towards the end of the President’s talk, I thought he was lucky. He had 3 symbolic people who he knew well – his father who represented freedom to the people, His mother who signified a people power leader, and a friend who leaves a legacy of good governance he can draw from.
It seems that to all of us, Jesse is not anymore just a mayor, a cabinet secretary, or a husband but a constant companion that will remind us of our mission.
Harvey in his email said, “Jesse represents what every Filipino leader can be if they only show real genuine concern to the plight of every Filipino.” I can now see why he labors to lead Kaya Natin - to highlight and reveal the Jesse Robredo’s in our leaders today.
Congratualtions to the Kaya Natin Staff that helped us experience a very memorable evening.
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Jess Lorenzo is a Core Member of Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership. www.kayanatin.org @kayanatin on Twitter