Missing Robredo: A happy city mourns
NAGA CITY, Philippines - The sun shone high in the sky in Naga on Monday, August 20.
Clear as the skies were, it was an ironic contrast to the mood of the city that prides itself of being happy.
Across the city of about 165,000 people, vigils were held from schools to plazas to homes -- specifically the home of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, on the second day since the plane he was riding crashed in Masbate strait.
Not even light rains or the late hours could deter locals, who joined in prayer for the safe return of a man well-loved by the people of Naga, whom he served for about 20 years.
Father Xavier Olin of Ateneo de Naga University said it best when he described Naga's mood in the province's dialect, "Nagmumundo an maogmang lugar." In English, "A happy city is in mourning."
Robredo and pilots Jessup Bahinting and Kshitiz Chand are still missing.
If there was one fact that surfaced repeatedly since the accident, it is this: Jesse Robredo is incredibly close to his family.
Those who know him describe Robredo as always making time for his family, despite a tough schedule.
In 2010, Robredo left his position as Mayor of Naga and became a Cabinet member for newly-elected President Benigno Aquino III, as the head of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Close friend and temporary spokesperson of the Robredos, Jun Lavadia, told Rappler that everyone in Naga knows about how hands-on of a father Robredo is to his 3 daughters.
"Nagututor siya sa anak niya. Simula kay Aika. Ngayong Secretary na siya, nagtutor parin siya kay Tricia at kay Jillian," said Lavadia before trailing off.
"Kaya ngayon nga galing ako doon, iyak ng iyak na naman," he said sadly.
Aika herself, when asked what Robredo is like as a father, simply smiled.
"Tingin ko alam naman ng lahat na mabuti siyang ama hindi lang sa amin pero sa maraming tao," she said, adding that many others are waiting for the return of her father like they would their own family member.
She could not be more right.
Nolita Nantes, an official of Baranggay Bagumbayan, has slaved away since the vigil started at the Robredos' home two days ago, as if Robredo were her relative.
Her eyes welled with tears when asked why she volunteered all day, cleaning, serving food and carrying loads.
Nantes said he had helped her send her kids through school, and that he is the person she runs to whenever she is in need.
"Ang talagang palaging nasaisip ko ang laging tatakbhuan, walang ibang kung hindi si Secretary Jess," she said. "Kasi naman siya pagdating sa gayan na bagay ....hindi magdadalawang isip yun, personal money magbibigay siya."
While Robredo's extreme generosity makes him memorable to many, it is, ironically, his frugality that strikes many others.
When Naga City Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado first heard the news about Robredo's plane crash, he was in a car leaving Naga. Bordado asked his driver to pull over, at which point he broke down and just cried. He then turned around and drove back to Naga to help comfort the Robredo family.
Bordero took a hiatus from speaking to the press Sunday, August 19, because he was too emotional.
On Monday, Bordado, who was also Robredo's vice-mayor for 6 years, said one reason he is so fond of his former partner is because of his simplicity.
Even when Robredo became succesful, the ex-mayor still opted for a simple lifestyle, so much so that Bordado ribbed him often to pack his favorite traditional food, maruya, with him to the DILG.
"Minsan nakakahiya na eh!," he joked of his friend's frugality.
Robredo stayed this way despite a string of successes: he was the first mayor to win a Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, was recognized for the improvement of Naga in 1999 by Asiaweek Magazine, and received several international awards including a number from the United Nations for the work he did in Naga.
Bordado said this is exactly what attracts Nagueños to him: he has no airs. During his term, Robredo often wore shorts and tsinelas like the rest of the locals, and rode his bike to get around.
He owns only one car.
Lavadia said Robredo's frugality extended to the workplace where he tried to save as much as money as possible so he could use the leftover money to fund even more projects.
He hated overpriced materials when it came to work, and often turned down illogically expensive equipment sold to his government unit.
The claims aren't difficult to believe.
One look at Robredo's family house speaks volumes of the type of man Robredo is.
Despite ascending to a Cabinet member position, Robredo stayed in his plain three-story home that, symbolic of his personality, was simple, modest, but open to all and anyone who knocked on its doors.- Rappler.com
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