Roa: Before Jesse M. Robredo, there was Justiniano R. Borja-A A +A
Monday, September 3, 2012
DEJA VU in French means "already seen." This term describes a unique human experience where one has already seen or heard or been in a similar situation before.
I had this feeling of deja vu when I watched, for days, the wake and funeral of our Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary, Jesse M. Robredo.
Like the rest of the nation, I was also saddened at the sudden demise of this government official who was a good, upright, and honorable man.
This is so similar to that day in October 1964, when the people of Cagayan de Oro were shocked and grieving over the death of City Mayor Justiniano R. Borja, who died from cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 52 while on an official trip in Manila.
Forty eight years later, Jesse M. Robredo, the longest serving mayor of Naga city and then concurrent head of the DILG, died at 54 years of age when his plane plunge into the sea near Masbate Province.
Like the Kagay-anons who mourned deeply over the loss of their beloved mayor in 1964, the Nagueños’ outpouring of grief over their former mayor was overwhelming. But this comparison does not end here.
For many days, tributes, honors and praises were given to Sec. Robredo all over the country. He was cited in 1999 by the Asiaweek Magazine for transforming Naga from a third class city with gambling and drugs among its persistent problems to one of the most improved cities in Asia. He turned this once sleepy municipality into a trading, housing and education center which won him many honors, including the prestigious Magsaysay Award in 2000. This is Asia's version of the Nobel Prize.
During that week-long nationwide mourning, we saw footages of Robredo, biking and walking around the streets of his city. Or just sitting on a sidewalk in his tsinelas, enjoying the company of his townfolks. Though he was a people person, I think the Nagueños loved him and are very grateful to him for he turned Naga around and become one of the most prosperous, peaceful and livable cities in Luzon -- thereby giving them a better quality of life.
In contrast to Robredo's open and amiable ways, the late Mayor Justiniano "Tenying" R. Borja was not your typical backslapping, glad handling politico with a permanent grin on his face.
Though he was a handsome man, he had a quiet and unsmiling demeanor that many described his face as "morag Viernes Santo." But underneath the glum exterior was a kindhearted and compassionate man who helped many people especially, the poor, without fanfare.
According to lawyer Reuben R. Canoy, who served as his secretary and later became a City Mayor himself, Borja came to office in 1954 when Cagayan de Oro was known as the "City of Darkness" because of the poor electric service of Cepalco.
This was also coupled by a severe water shortage in the city.
Mayor Borja could not wait for Cepalco to improve its facilities that he ordered a generator to supply the city's power. He built a reservoir in Bontula Hill and pumping stations in Macasandig and Nazareno to solve the water problem.
After improving its essential services, Canoy recalled that Mayor Borja turned his attention to the peace and order problem. He beefed up the police department and ran after the criminals.
What made him successful as a chief executive was that he believed in the rule of the law and enforced it without exception even if the ones caught where his friends and relatives.
In 1959, Mayor Borja changed the physical and economic landscape of the city. He moved the public market from Burgos and Rizal Streets and the bus terminal from Divisoria to the Cogon area on a site donated by the Chaves family.
In place of the vacated old public market, he built the Community amphitheater, popularly known as the "amphi." It was patterned after the Greek and Roman amphitheaters.
The amphi became the social and cultural center of the city. It was also the place of religious events and boisterous political rallies. Unfortunately, this was demolished three years ago by a chief executive who did not value this heritage landmark. Many Kagay-anons today are still lamenting over the loss of the amphi.
It was Mayor Borja who said that "Good government is the best politics." And that "absolute honesty in dealing with the public and an unhesitating fidelity to every avowed principle is the highest law of political morality in a constitutional government."
The one thing that many people remembered about the Mayor was his habit of keeping his hands in his pockets. Canoy once asked him, "Why do you always keep your hands in your pockets?" And his reply was, "That’s where the hands of every public official should be -- in their pockets, not in the public coffers."
(To be concluded)
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 03, 2012.