30 APRIL 2007
It was, after all, a classic move of a traditional politician, and therefore something way out of character for Robredo, who has maintained a reformist image for nearly two decades. But his supporters were quickly reassured. According to the mayor of Naga City, which is smack in the center of Bicolandia, he fielded his wife Maria Leonor, a lawyer with the nongovernmental legal group Saligan — who had reluctantly agreed to file her certificate of candidacy at the last minute — as a calculated move on his part, should the Commission on Elections (Comelec) decide to give due course to yet another pending disqualification case against him. (see Table 1)
Had it been another politician giving such a reason, perhaps eyebrows would remain raised. It's not even as if the disqualification case raises new issues against him (like the previous cases, it alleges that he is not Filipino because his grandfather and father were Chinese), but Robredo says he has been told the odds may be against him this time.
"They're way too decent to take this route," says Wilfredo Prilles Jr., acting city planning head and Naga's prominent blogger, whose remarks about the Robredos echo those of most Nagueños.
Robredo says that had he really been bent on building a dynasty, he would have done it back in 1998, when he could have easily run for congressman, and his wife for mayor. But as early as then, he had declared that no one in his family would take over his post. "Not a relative, not my wife, not anyone who has blood relations with us," he said at the time.
Now Robredo, who turns 49 in May, is also saying this will be the last election that he will be involved in, and even hints at a possible successor to his position in 2010 from his own slate. But this early, too, even some of his supporters are wondering if the reforms he has instituted are strong enough to last well after he has bowed out of politics.
Whoever will replace Robredo will certainly have a tough act to follow. In the 16 years — likely going on 19 with another electoral victory in May, barring disqualification — that he has been Naga City mayor, Robredo has distinguished himself as a titan among local government officials, reaping in the process accolades locally and internationally not only for himself, but also for the city.
To date, Naga has received more than 150 awards and recognitions in diverse fields of local administration during his incumbency. These include being named Most Cost-Effective City in Asia by the United Kingdom's Foreign Direct Investment Magazine (2005); Public Service Awardee for Local e-Governance from the United Nations Department of Public Administration and Finance (2004); Women-Friendly City Award from the UN-Habitat and the UN Development Fund for Women (2004); Model City for Government Procurement from the World Bank and Procurement Watch (2003); CyberCity Awardee for its i-Governance initiatives from the United Nations Development Program (2002); Dubai International Awardee for Improving the Living Environment from UN Habitat (1998).
Last year, Naga bested bigger and richer urban centers like Manila, Makati, Cebu, Marikina, and Davao when it was recognized as the "Most Business-Friendly City" by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the third time — it also won in 2003 and 2004 — thus elevating it to the Hall of Fame. Naga is likewise a Hall of Famer of the Asian Institute of Management-Ford Foundation Galing Pook (Innovations Program) Award and the Presidential Gawad Pamana ng Lahi Award of the Department of Interior and Local Government. It was named "Most Child-Friendly City" in 2006 by the Philippine Council for the Welfare of Children, and received the Galing Pook Foundation's Award for Continuing Excellence.
Naga is also one of only nine areas in the country cited by the UNDP as among the leading lights in the implementation of the UN Millennium Development Goals. It leads the Bicol region in achieving the following goals halfway to the 2015 deadline: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating major diseases, and providing basic amenities.
Robredo's own awards run up to 21, including being named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (1996) and the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines. He also received the Konrad Adenauer Medal of Excellence as Most Outstanding City Mayor of the Philippines (1998) and the first ever "Dangal ng Bayan" Award of the Civil Service Commission. In 2000, he became the Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Government Service.
A disagreement in the choice of Naga's police chief led to their falling out. Villafuerte wanted a former classmate appointed. Robredo, unsure of the person's reputation, particularly with regard to his administration's anti-illegal gambling drive, balked. Villafuerte's nominee got the post anyway. Robredo then sought the help of Monsignor Leonardo Legazpi, the archbishop of Caceres. Soon after the archbishop appealed to then President Corazon Aquino on the issue, the police chief was replaced.
This firm resolve to run after the symbols of bad government — jueteng, lewd shows, drugs, quasi-employees at city hall who appeared only during pay day — endeared Robredo to Nagueños and inspired confidence in his leadership. And so they blessed him and his ticket with an uninterrupted gabos kung gabos (sweep) in the last five local elections, even with him sidelined for a term in 1998.
Team Robredo, though, will be best remembered for providing the enabling environment for active citizen's participation and engagement in governance. This, says Fr. Nelson Tria, three-term chair of the Naga City People's Council (NCPC), has been made possible because Robredo understands and takes heed of the concepts of people empowerment and people-oriented development.
Renne Gumba, executive director of the Ateneo de Naga's Institute of Politics, also says that Robredo's "dominance" in Naga is "not the notion of dominance where someone orders everybody around. There's an element of pluralism in his leadership style, letting various political players get involved, take sides. It's really a commitment to a more democratic framework of governance."
But credit should also go to Naga's strong tradition of active citizens' participation. As Nagueño lawyer Soliman Santos Jr. pointed out in his introduction to a 1998 study on people's councils in the country, what made Naga different is also "the presence of an active and vibrant NGO-PO (nongovernmental organization-people's organization) community…that is characteristically pluralist."
The NCPC's precursor, the Naga City NGO-PO Council, had actively involved itself in the affairs of the city back in the early 1990s. And from their quiet discussions with Mayor Robredo and progressive councilors, notably Jaime Jacob, would emerge the "People Empowerment" Ordinance that institutionalized people's participation in local governance.
With the people empowerment ordinance's enactment in December 1995, a city-level federation of over 100 local NGOs and people's organizations, the NCPC, has been co-governing Naga City. NCPC representatives sit in all local special bodies all the way up to the standing committees of the Sanggunian Panlungsod (city council). It's the first of its kind in the country and remains the most developed experiment in the concept of people's councils espoused by "popular democrats" in response to Cory Aquino's call to build "organized People's Power" at the grassroots level.
Naga's faithful compliance with the Local Government Code provision for NGO accreditation even went as far as providing sectoral representation in the city council in the ordinance, one that is similar to the party-list representation in Congress. But the absence of an enabling law prevented the Robredo administration from fully enforcing it.
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