Prior to serving in the cabinet of President Benigno Aquino III, the late interior secretary Jesse Robredo earned national and international recognition for his leadership of Naga City, the capital of Camarines Sur province. Robredo served as mayor for six non-consecutive terms, or a total of 19 years. His stint in public office, however, has not been free from controversy.
Two weeks before the May 2007 elections, elements identified with the camp of Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte tried to have then-Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo disqualified from seeking reelection because of citizenship issues. Tributes for the late secretary will certainly dominate the headlines in the days to come, but this is one event that should not be forgotten.
Villafuerte served as president of Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI) until it merged with LAKAS-CMD (the other dominant administration party at that time) in May 2009. Then-Senator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formed KAMPI in 1997 as a launching pad for a potential 1998 presidential bid (she ran and won as the running made of LAKAS-NUCD standard-bearer Jose de Venecia instead).
Robredo was so convinced that the Commission on Elections will rule against him that he persuaded his wife to run for mayor as well. The other candidate for the position is Jojo Villafuerte, a nephew of the elder Villafuerte. The move to have Robredo disqualified from the race gained greater national attention after former president Corazon Aquino and erstwhile members of the Arroyo cabinet announced their support for him.
Aquino went on to describe Robredo as “one of the best mayors (the Philippines) has ever had,” adding that all mayors should be like him. Despite the citizenship issue, Robredo handily won reelection that year, winning by more than 40000 votes. Same as in 1998 when he first became term-limited, Robredo did not field a relative to succeed him as mayor.
In 2007, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s Alecks Pabico quoted Robredo to have said: “Not a relative, not my wife, not anyone who has blood relations with us (will take over my post).” At age 42, Robredo received the coveted Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service in August 2000.
Robredo was awarded Asia’s Nobel Prize for “giving credence to the promise of democracy by demonstrating that effective city management is compatible with yielding power to the people.” Robredo, the citation also states, “demonstrated that democratic government can also be good government.” Looking back now, the attempt to engage an outstanding public servant like Robredo in political trickery definitely looks silly. The ones behind it should be ashamed of themselves.
Robredo vs. Binay
Robredo got embroiled in another controversy in 2010. Shortly after being proclaimed as the Vice President, Jejomar Binay expressed his interest to be the interior secretary. Several individuals, most notably Solita “Mareng Winnie” Monsod, publicly dissuaded Aquino from appointing Binay.
The outgoing Naga City mayor eventually landed the job, while Binay largely settled for the positions previously handled by Noli de Castro, his predecessor. Robredo is affiliated with the Liberal Party (or the Balay faction) while Binay is supported by the Samar group.
Robredo and Binay have been able to co-exist peacefully the past two years. However, sometime last year, a public word war erupted between the secretary and Binay’s son Junjun (who succeeded his father as Makati Mayor) after the violent demolition of slums in Guadalupe Viejo, Makati.