Monday, August 27, 2012

Imitating Jesse Robredo

By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
10:03 pm | Sunday, August 26th, 2012

The praise showered on Jesse Robredo by people from all levels of Philippine society should be a high-volume wake-up call for our political elite. They should be asking, “If I die, will anyone cry for me, as thousands did for Jesse? Will I be sincerely mourned? Will people stand a long time in the rain to get a chance to view my body?” They may very well answer, “Probably not. My family will mourn and a few close friends, but the ordinary people won’t mourn. What have I ever done for them? Why should they mourn?”

We hope the love shown for Jesse in his death will awaken them to the great chance God has given them to serve His people, especially the poor. It’s not only politicians who should examine their lives, of course. We all must do so. Socrates told us, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

May we suggest some matters that our political leaders can look into should they decide to be more like our late interior and local government secretary?

Please look on the urban poor with the more caring eyes of someone like Jesse Robredo. He found friendship there and people he admired.

Please look at the immediate project Jesse was engaged in with the poor. Initially, it concerns in-city, on-site housing for approximately 5,000 poor families on Manila estero, including the Estero de San Miguel, that runs by Malacañang just a stone’s throw away. Other houses are to be built in Quezon City for families living in Doña Imelda and Gulod. This housing is new. The usual relocation move was to ship families to distant places, such as Calauan 100 kilometers away. Such relocation fractures families and limits children’s education.

Jesse was willing to allow new approaches to housing the poor, which are also recommended by housing experts, including Felino “Jun” Palafox and Dean Gloria Teodoro and Albert Zambrano of the Mapua Institute of Technology School of Architecture. Mayors and government housing agencies have opposed the new approaches because they shatter long-standing arrangements.

As I watched 10 young girls from Estero de San Miguel sing in Malacañang in honor of Jesse, I thought, these young children are as naturally gifted as any other children, but they are from poor families and live in slums, and will never realize their potential. They smile shyly now and cry as they sing “Hero.” What they and the children of our poor farmers, fishermen, tribal people and workers need is a massive shift of resources from some projects the country now supports to the welfare of the poor and near-poor, or at least 50 percent of our people.

Why will we spend approximately P30 billion to build an elevated highway connecting NLEx and SLEx, so people can get from a Clark Field-Subic Bay airport to Makati in less time than it takes now? When such an amount of money will go a long way to meet our school construction needs, provide books for all, and reward good teachers?

Why are we giving 40-80 hectares of land in the reclaimed areas off Parañaque and Pasay to casino gambling? Do we fully realize the social and political dangers of inviting into the country a vast increase in casino gambling? “A bad tree cannot give good fruit.” Instead of casinos, can’t we give 30 or so hectares of the land to our poor?

We ask our political leaders and our business and religious leaders to visit the urban poor areas and get to know the poor as real persons, like Jesse Robredo did. It doesn’t mean we will not see the petty thieves, drunks and cruel people who share the poor areas with the good men and women. We will also see that the poor are often their own worst enemies. They vote for unreliable politicians, for example. Find what is valuable among the poor and why Jesus has anchored our salvation to the help we offer the homeless, hungry, sick and thirsty poor (Mt: 25).

Lastly, Jesse believed that a strong national democracy needs a strong, democratic base among the poor. He would not work for a more prosperous nation without working to bring the poor along as co-beneficiaries with the well-off. If we want democracy, we must work for equality.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

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