Robredo to UA&P grads: “Work is a fulfillment of our potential as human beings”

Robredo to UA&P grads: “Work is a fulfillment of our potential as human beings”

by UA&P News Desk on August 23, 2012 - 10:30 am

The late Secretary Jesse Robredo of the Department of Interior and Local Government reminded UA&P’s 2006 graduates of the value of ethic and self-giving in any work environment. He delivered the commencement address in June 3 of that year as Naga City’s mayor. In the speech, Robredo recounts how he transformed governance as a local politician.


by Jesse M. Robredo, UA&P Commencement Exercises 2006

I am deeply honored to be your commencement speaker. I share the pride and satisfaction of Dr. Jesus P. Estanislao who is about to present this year’s graduates, a new breed of young men and women who are well equipped for battle — men and women who were molded for “a genuine revolution that must begin in our minds and hearts as patriots who are genuinely in love with our country.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

What you do now and what you are now is your future. What the future holds depends on how much you have learned life’s lessons through the years. You may think that many times you went astray or have lost your bearings. But that’s part of life’s journey. We build on our triumphs and our failings and set our sights for what we can do best to ourselves and to others. Life’s journey. Looking back, I realized that while we ought to dream and plan our lives, we should make the most out of the unplanned and life’s quirks of fate. I was like most of you, an average student when I was in elementary and high school. My petty obsession then was to join the basketball varsity but my size did not allow it. Probably, had I been taken in, I would have just warmed the bench. Failing twice to make it in the try-outs, I devoted my pent up energies to chess where I excelled. I became chess champion in elementary and high school. While it seemed during that time, it was just a matter of winning and losing, the game instilled in me the values of patience, discipline and hard work.

I needed six years to finished college at De la Salle University. To compensate for the delay and the realization that I enrolled in the wrong course, I pursued two degrees in Engineering. The course of choice was Mechanical Engineering with Industrial Management Engineering as the second course. But as fate would have it, the scheduled Mechanical Engineering Board exam was cancelled following a PRC scandal. Instead of lingering and harping on the unhappy turn of events, I ventured out for work.

The Industrial Management Engineering degree became my passport. I was hired as Materials Controller at Carnation Philippines. The post may sound glamorous, but actually it was not. It meant doing physical count of all the milk cans at the end of each month. It meant working on the graveyard shift when we conduct physical inventories. It also meant that I have to double as driver of a closed van when the need arose. Being young, I did my job enthusiastically. Early on, I learned that that every job, any job, provided it is decent, is always an important task and will enrich our experience. Three months later, I moved to San Miguel Corporation, and gave me the thought that I was primed for a career in the private sector. Initially, I was assigned to man the logistic department, which task everyone avoided like a plague.

The job took me to almost all parts of Luzon and into the Visayas which gave me a sense of adventure even as it exposed me to different kinds of environment, natural and personal, and taught me how to deal with all kinds of people, an experience which I never imagined would equip me with a strong character and fair sense of listening to people’s needs and wants in the future. Eventually, I was harnessed to read financial statements, and understood how much a product would cost before it reaches the consumer, which again I never thought would be useful in the prudent use of scarce government resources in the future.

 While at San Miguel, something was blowing in the wind. I was drawn to the call of the times when Ninoy was felled by an assassin’s bullet. Together with my former classmates and peers, I marched down Ayala Avenue with the mass of patriotic Filipinos who wanted a new order. Never mind if my bosses at San Miguel would make me explain why I should call for the Marcoses to step down. Never mind if I had to pack my bags and go home. That was how I felt at the moment, like many other Filipinos who wanted change no matter what the price.

When widowed Corazon C. Aquino was installed president and called for the Filipino youth to serve the motherland, I quit San Miguel. At 28, I joined government through a USAID-funded Bicol River Basin Development Program which in a brief period served as my entry point to a career in politics. One of the reasons that I ran for mayor was the firm belief that Naga deserves a better government. This was already post EDSA 1986 and a lot more needs to be done to sustain and secure the gains of that revolution. I told myself that if there was something where I could make a difference, it has to be with and in my city. While saying this, I never thought that what I would be doing was part of a path that I had drawn since I chose to be doing things that I enjoy most and which I thought was the best that I could deliver under the circumstances.

Like the Carnation man who was doing a physical count on milk cans with much diligence, or the young graduate manning the logistics department of a consumer food company without ever complaining, I asked what were the things needed changing at Naga City Hall. There were three broad categories:

Political. I was a minority mayor when I won the 1988 elections, getting only 24% of the votes, with a margin of less than 1000. City Hall was packed with political appointees of my predecessor. And worse, the City Council was dominated by the opposition (7 of 12). On the whole, the situation represents the power of old politics that sought to maintain status quo and resisted change.

 • Corporate. I was shocked by City Hall’s culture at the time, which is the opposite of what they had at San Miguel. Employees often reported to work late because their bosses would come in two hours later. They had low morale because of low pay and the socalled “15-30” ghost employees—political appointees who would only show up on payday. A more serious concern is the pervasive culture of mediocrity—a mentality of doing work merely for compliance, resulting to poor quality of outputs and low levels of productivity.

• Societal. The political and corporate problems extended to society as a whole. When I took the seat as city mayor, I had to contend with Naga’s eroded distinction as Bicol’s premier city. It was exacerbated by a fire that destroyed 1/3 of our public market and a congested central business district. As a result, employment opportunities were scarce because of the sluggish local economy. These economic troubles bred social ills, including the proliferation of smut films and lewd shows, rampant illegal gambling and a growing urban poor population. Overtime, and with lots of patience, innovations, and a deep sense of looking into what the people want, I ventured to emphasize the following virtues that make the bureaucracy at city hall and the people it serves collectively confident of our capacities.

• Courage. At the very outset of my mayorship, me and my handful of trusted men courageously ttook on powerful vested interests when public welfare was at stake. When the past mayors would not touch operators and protectors of nightclubs and seedy joints with the proverbial ten-foot-pole, we marshaled the powers of my office and closed them down. The same was true with bus and jeepney terminal operators who resisted their relocation outside the congested old Central Business District and haled me to court. The local courts eventually ruled in my favor. It was also during my first term that I finally parted ways with my powerful uncle and political benefactor – on the issue of jueteng, the very same illegal numbers game that has brought down a Philippine president and continues to haunt his successor and our Republic. The aftermath of that political state created much uncertainty in the city, prompting a local congressman to describe Naga as a “garrison state”. We were marked for death by the jueteng operators. But we remained unperturned, and provided the city with firm, competent and honest leadership. My victory in the 1992 elections, the first of five consecutive sweeps that the Naga electorate would gift our team with, coupled with my political nemesis’ debacle, finally helped erase that uncertainty.

• Work ethic. A new work ethic at City Hall provided counterpoint to the prevailing culture at the time. To build confidence, one must lead by example. I challenged by workers at city hall to excel not only in a few but also in all facets of our responsibilities to the constituency. This we set out to do by putting more time and thought in what we were mandated to deliver and by taking the extra mile when necessary. In particular, I put in more hours of work than anyone did during the first few months of my term. Certainly, the leadership cannot ask of others what it itself is not willing to do. As a result, the complacent department heads were forced to do the same, lest they suffer ridicule from colleagues and the rank-and-file. This moved the once cynical local media, to applaud the refreshing change. They noted: “Barely two weeks in office, the youthful Mayor has shaken City Hall’s tradition-bound and lethargic bureaucracy to the very roots of its being.”

• Dedication. For all intents and purposes, I thought I was primed for a bright future as a rising junior executive at San Miguel Corporation. When I left San Miguel in 1986, I headed the physical distribution department of Magnolia Division’s Manila plants. It may be an unexceptional and uneventful life, but the financial rewards and economic security offered by one of Asia’s most admired companies would have been more than enough for most others. But when faced with a choice and a difficult challenge to actualize the promise of EDSA, I turned my back on all these, embarked on a risky career shift and decided to respond to President Aquino’s call and rededicate my life in the service of his native city.

• Integrity. By showing honesty and competence in government service we were able to earn moral ascendancy and the needed political capital to pursue institutional changes that strengthened City Hall’s own processes and practices over time. That they have become synonymous with Naga’s brand of governance is a reflection of the local officials’ personal integrity. To promote institutional integrity, for instance, we reinforced the corporate changes within City Hall with novel mechanisms for people participation. In all local special bodies of the city government, including the Bids and Awards Committee, the Naga City People’s Council nominates its own representatives, which I as mayor has only to formalize as a matter of procedure. All public biddings are widely circulated in print and through the city website. Both bidding notices and outcomes are published and open to scrutiny. No wonder, Naga’s costs are substantially lower than other local and national government agencies, prompting the World Bank to consider Naga as the Philippine model city for good practices and innovations in procurement. For instance, against a DPWH standard of P6-7 million, a kilometer of road in Naga costs only P4.35 million (up to a 38% difference); construction of a public school classroom is 36% cheaper; and the cost of asphalt overlays 47% lower than other government agencies. Medicine procured by the city is 19% to 70% lower than the usual price quoted for other LGUs. Other office supplies can be up to 33% lower than the local government standard.

This policy of information openness extends both to policy formulation and service delivery as well. NCPC, for instance, has also taken a more proactive role in governing the city. It leads in community organizing; helps evaluate the granting of incentives to investors in the Naga City Investment Board NCIB; helped formulate the Integrative Livelihood Masterplan (ILM) of the City Government, and contributed ignificantly in the resolution of major development issues in Naga. These include the establishment of a golf course and a proposed sanitary landfill (which did not push through due to acceptability and environmental concerns NCPC raised). On the other hand, by documenting frontline services through the Citizens Charter, breaking it down to step-bystep procedures, assigning the expected response time and identifying the City Hall staff responsible for delivering each step, customers now have all the information required to exact accountability in service delivery.

 • Fair and impartial decision-making. Broad-based stakeholdership is a dominant feature of Naga’s governance processes and innovations to ensure their sustainability over time. Again, this is heavily influenced by my personal belief that process is equally important as outcomes. This belief stems from the view that every constituent of the city is both a partner and a beneficiary. As such, it necessitates both partnership opportunities and participatory mechanisms that allow them, either as groups or individuals, to get involved in local decision-making processes of the state and become stakeholders in its development efforts. With this philosophy as a guiding framework, it becomes easier to understand why the city government took pains to develop the multi-level, multi-sectoral and scalable consultation mechanisms that informs the city government’s decision making processes; why it actively pursued a partnership system (through the Naga City People’s Council) that organized, gave stronger voice and expanded the role of civil society in local governance; and why the i-Governance program precisely came into being—to engage individuals and households more actively, vigorously and meaningfully than ever before. Their common denominator is a strong sense of justice through fair and impartial decision making and ensuring equal opportunity for every Nagueño, especially those who are marginalized.

• Selflessness. Finally, people say we belong to a rare breed of elected public officials who think less of ourselves and more of the institution we represent. In accepting the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service, for instance, I credited the city and its people as equally deserving of the accolade, having helped make possible everything that happened in Naga City throughout the years. In my recent State of the City Report to our people February 27, 2006, I capped his report by citing the critical role played by all stakeholders in and out of City Hall, including our co-workers in the local bureaucracy. More and more, this strong sense of selflessness dovetails with the Level 5 Leadership described by Jim Collins in his Good to Great opus: “Leaders who channel their ego needs away from themselves and into a larger goal of building a great company; whose ambition is first and foremost for their institution, and not themselves.” I may be taking much of your time, my dear graduates. But why am I telling you all these?

Looking back, I wish to tell you that work is more than an economic goal but a fulfillment of our potential as human being. We need people who enjoy in their work, who through the practice of their profession make a difference in the lives of others — be it in the private sector or in government. It is sad to talk to people trapped in a job which they do not enjoy simply because they need financial security. We should work for something we enjoy for in the end we will discover that we are working not only for ourselves but for others. For you as young graduates, how much better would it be to have finished your studies so that you can be of service to others.

 Thank you.

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