by Dean Tony La Viña
Published in Rappler.com, 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
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
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