Roa: Before Jesse Robredo, there was Justiniano R. Borja (Conclusion)-A A +A
Sunday, September 9, 2012
OF THE many tributes for the late and much lamented DILG Secretary Jesse M. Robredo, one of the best and for me, a very unique one was by Patricia Evangelista, columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She quoted at length a 2009 interview of Sec. Robredo that was aired by ANC and later by ABS-CBN in "Storyline." His words were very uplifting and inspiring:
"In the case of Naga, I have done well not because I am smart, not because I am good, but I have good people who have discovered that they are inspired. The capacity to govern is not magical. It has to be cultivated over time. During the most difficult times of the city, I stood for them. I work for them. I am the last guy on the street if there is a typhoon. I make sure that everyone is home before I go back to my house. I will always do what I say I will do, and I will not demand of others what I cannot do myself. Presence is important. Trust is important. People will be willing to make sacrifices if they trust their governors. People will understand the mistakes of their governors if they trust them. The most important ingredient of leadership is character."
Sec. Robredo was known as the most hardworking member of the Cabinet. The working style that he honed as mayor of Naga City for many years was the same one that he brought with him to his national office. He was a totally dedicated public servant and this earned him honor and respect from a grateful nation.
Like Sec. Robredo who admitted that he was first thrust in to public office by accident, Mayor Justiniano Borja never aspired to become the City Mayor. All he wanted was the position of a legal counsel of the Development Bank of the Philippines. But to the surprise of many, Pres. Ramon Magsaysay appointed him as City Mayor of Cagayan de Oro in January 1954. Months later, he ran and won the first city mayoralty elections. He was to stay in office till his death on October 3, 1964.
Of the Mayor's first year in office, his close associate, Reuben R. Canoy, wrote in the book titled “A Memorial” that the Kagay-anons were curious to find out what a newcomer with no previous experience in public administration could do.
The neophyte turned out to be an executive dynamo with a natural flair for management. Working 18 hours a day, Borja spent the first three months of his tenure learning the mechanics of local government and the intricacies of grassroots politics.
To raise efficiency and eliminate petty graft, he cracked down on erring employees who had long enjoyed the protection and patronage of ward politicians. The city cheered when he overhauled the police department, weeding out the misfits and crooks from its ranks. Then he waged an all-out war against criminality and vandalism, hauling off spoiled teenaged scions of prominent families and high officials in the same truck that he used for hardened pickpockets and porch climbers.
Once, he went after traffic violators in a sensational campaign which the local press dubbed "Operation Karate." Among those rounded up by the Black Maria were government officials and people who worked for his elections. A curious city wondered what he'd do with political leaders to whom he owed a debt of gratitude, Borja let them off -- but only after he had paid their fines!
"Good government," he once told a gathering of school teachers, "is good politics. If a man does his best, the people will keep him. If he fails them, they'll boot him out. Democracy is as simple as that."
Mayor Borja had one political asset, in fact, the only thing that propelled him to a position of political strength. He was one of those improbable figures in government: a dedicated public servant.
Dr. Tony la Vina, dean of the School of Government of Ateneo de Manila University, was only five years old when Mayor Borja died. But he wrote a moving tribute to the Mayor during a memorial symposium sponsored by the city government during the centenary of his birth last July 6 and I quote:
"I grew up in a city that was orderly, well-designed, a ‘walkable’ city where centers of commerce, art, religious and civic ceremonies were easily discernible. The foundations of this city, laid down mainly by the 10 years that Mayor Borja led it, are so strong that nothing we have done to it that might be bad is irreversible and that everything now wrong is fixable. This was the city that Mayor Borja created and left for the next generations, the city that effective and ethical leadership, which is the heart of good governance, created. Among Mayor Borja's innovations was the creation of a city planning board composed not just of government people but of ordinary citizens as well. Today, we call this people power, citizen participation and social accountability. He was a leader who rose to the challenge of good governance, could say no to the powerful and to the popular when necessary, strict but compassionate, pro-poor but did not patronize the masses, understood the limits of nature and environment and what carrying capacity meant, and a builder of streets, edifices, people and institutions."
Jesse M. Robredo and Justiniano R. Borja were two good, upright, honorable and dedicated public servants who died young while in public office and deeply mourned by their people. May their lives and the selfless public service they gave be the seeds of inspiration that will produce men and women who will be servant leaders to the people and through their good governance, they will bring this country out from the mire of poverty and corruption to the road of greatness and prosperity.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 10, 2012.