Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jesse Robredo, A Man for Others

by Dean Tony La Viña
Published in, August 22, 2012

Jesse Robredo and I belonged to the same generation of Ateneans. He was a student of Ateneo de Naga High School at the same time I was studying in Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan.

He must have been exposed to the same Jesuit mantra as all of us in that generation were: “You are called to be men and women for others,” a phrase coined by Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ, Father General of the Society of Jesus, in a 1973 speech to alumni of Jesuit schools.

Upon hearing of the crash of Jesse’s airplane while I was in Kathmandu, Nepal last Saturday, as a way of coping with my helplessness and worry, I decided to prepare for the worst and began thinking of how to honor this great man.

I did not have to look farther than what our Jesuit mentors taught us. More than anything, as a leader’s leader, a servant of the people, and a family man, Jesse Robredo was truly a man for others.

Let us recall Arrupe’s definition of “men and women for others,” the prime educational objective of Jesuit institutions: “men and women who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ – for the God-man who lived and died for all the world; men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce.”

Later in the same speech, Arrupe elaborates and says a man-and-woman-for-others lived simply, committed to a life of service, and sought to change unjust social structures. This is an accurate description of Jesse Robredo and how he lived both his private (to the limited extent I was exposed to this) and public life.

A simple life
Jesse Robredo lived simply. Stories abound of how Jesse was so unassuming, dressed always modestly, lived in ordinary abodes (not villas nor mansions), had simple (but great) taste in food, and was always comfortable, as the mayor of Naga and Interior secretary, to “mix it up” with his constituents and his staff.

Indeed, as one of his staff commented on television, he enjoyed being with people on the ground and the streets more than being with those in social events.

My colleagues Joy Aceron and Francis Isaac, in Frontline Leadership, a book published by the Ateneo School of Government, described how the way Jesse dressed gave “the impression that fashion is not among his priorities.”

They recount his wife Leni’s story of how she once bought her husband a Lacoste shirt and how he never wore it, knowing perhaps how much it cost. Robredo, according to Aceron and Isaac, attributed his simple taste to his parents. “Growing up in a family that did not put a premium on material goods or riches, he and his siblings were taught by their parents to refrain from seeking any favor or special privileges, and instead to measure the degree of their success based on the amount of labor that they have exerted.” Read more

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