Delivered during the Commencement Exercises
of the Ateneo de Manila University
last March 29, 2003 at the Loyola Heights, Quezon City
YOUR HEART; PURSUE YOUR DREAM
JESSE M. ROBREDO
CITY MAYOR, NAGA CITY
Fr. Ben Nebres,
Distinguished Members of the Board of Trustees,
Reverend Fathers of the Society of Jesus,
My Dear Graduates, My Dear Parents,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am deeply honored to be your Commencement Speaker today.
must confess I do not consider myself prominent enough to merit
the invitation. I must also confess that I come from that other
equally distinguished school along Taft Avenue. Nevertheless,
like I always do when called upon, I will give it my best shot.
I stand before you today. Humbly I relish at the thought that
perhaps one of the reasons why you have chosen me as your Commencement
Speaker is that you want me to share with you the good things
that we have accomplished in Naga City.
my dear graduates, might wonder why after six years in the private
sector with a lucrative job, I finally decided to involve myself
in local governance, which is otherwise known as the complex
world of politics.
is not common that we find young men and women, at their early
stage, stake their future in politics. The old fashion way is
for older or more seasoned men, especially those who have been
successful in their profession and have nothing more to prove,
to indulge in politics as a rewarding refuge. In my case, I
simply wanted to go home and see what I can share to the city
of my birth.
A STRONG HEART
years ago, at age 29, when I first became Mayor of Naga, what
I got into was a city in shambles.
city had a huge budgetary deficit; City Hall employees were
underpaid, their morale was low; and with a city council of
ten members, only three of them belonged to my party.
had a weak mandate, made even weaker by a system of political
patronage. But I did not have an equally weak heart. I knew
in my mind the kind of governance we would pursue. The options
were clear. We either provide a leadership that was exclusive
and authoritative or a leadership that was inclusive and consultative
----- a leadership that imposes its will on its constituency
or a leadership that encourages people participation and engagement.
understood that we did not have the monopoly of wisdom. We felt
that we should know when to lead and when to be led.
chose to take the side of our constituency. We fully wagered
our political future on their response. To secure their confidence,
we tackled long-standing problems that beset the city --- vice,
urban blight, red tape, graft and corruption, and poor tax collection.
We organized and reached out to all the sectors of the city
--- the sidewalk vendors, drivers, urban poor, farmers, professional
and business circles, non-government organizations and religious
viewed the poor, of which Naga had plenty, as our partners and
assets. We launched Kaantabay sa Kauswagan (Partners in Deveopment)
Program which so far provided security of tenure to 5,000 squatter
families. Today, they are proud owners of homelots in neighborhoods
that speak of their dignity as empowered citizens of the city.
Working with the poor, we resolved long-standing land tenure
problems dating back to the 1950s. Such was our success that
no less than the United Nations Center for Human Settlements
made our program a model in the Habitat II Conference in Turkey
our constituency as our partner and asset, we enacted a People
Empowerment Ordinance, the first of its kind in the country,
which instituted the Naga City People’s Council. This
Council represents over a hundred non-government and people’s
organizations who are empowerd to propose legislations and vote
at the committee level of the city council.
we engage ourselves in a program that looks at every Nagueno
as the focal point of what government enterprise is all about.
We call it the i-Governance Program. It not only recognizes
the citizen’s right to know but also encourages them to
engage their government. It has two basic tools: the Naga City
Citizen’s Charter, the first of its kind in the country
and the <naga.gov.ph website>. These tools are both designed
to empower the citizen by promoting transparency and accountability.
Because of transparent governance and accessibility of information,
construction of roads and purchases of supplies and medicines
cost much less in Naga City than government standards.
People Empowerment Ordinance has resulted to a dramatic rebound
for the City of Naga. By the end of my third term as city mayor
in 1998, we have regained our stature as the premier city of
the Bicol Region.
rebound was described by Asiaweek Magazine as “more institutional
than physical” even as it acclaimed Naga City as one of
the 4 Most Improved Cities in Asia in 1999. For similar reasons,
Naga City was presented the Dubai-UNCHS International Award
for the 10 World’s Best Practices in Urban Governance
and for its Participatory Planning Initiatives in 1998.
am I relating to you all these, my dear graduates?
is because in some Asian countries and even in our beloved country,
people say that democratic principles cannot work, and that
the Oriental model of “ruling with a hard hand”
is the call of the hour.
disagree. Our experience in Naga is our best argument against
the traditional and authoritative ways in the management of
people and governance.
experience, too, proves that our people are our best resource
and our best hope. Our experience, and that of many others,
have shown that if we can not do it at the national level, we
can begin at the local level. Collectively, successful local
governments, driven by constituencies who are well-informed,
constructively engaged, and willing to share the burden of community
building, can build our country.
all our problems, I know we shall overcome. It just might be
a matter of changing course. It just might be a matter of leading
from the bottom rather than being herded by the top.
why am I relating to you all these, my dear graduates?
is because many of you will be leaders of our country someday,
or may even become President of this Republic. But is it not
ironic that while many of our leaders have succeeded in achieving
their personal goals, the country has lagged behind? Maybe it
is because they have failed to make heroes out of the ordinary
Filipino. Maybe it is because they have relied solely on their
own capacities, rather than on the contributions of the ordinary
people they are responsible for.
MAKING HEROES OUT OF THE ORDINARY
all of you will graduate with honors or with distinctions. Only
a few --- a very few --- will be privileged to receive medals
and honors. But all of you tonight will come up this stage and
be honored with an Ateneo diploma.
that I am giving less importance to the honor graduates. We
know that they have significant roles to play. But that I would
like to focus more on the majority of the graduates this year.
I was just like one of you when I graduated from college in
1980. To you, I address my experience in Naga City --- for it
is our kind, the ordinary, regular kid on the bloc, who made
the City of Naga rise over its difficulties.
political history has shown that we have put the burden of running
this country to our “best” people for too long.
And yet the gap between the rich and the poor has grown wider.
For this country to succeeed, we need to make heroes of the
ordinary people. We need to make heroes of ourselves.
must say that the ordinary employees and constituency have made
the success of Naga possible. In Naga City, we have a woman
streetsweeper, who held on to her broom for twenty years. Literally,
she had swept every square inch of the city’s business
district. But through sheer determination, she was able to finish
her secondary studies in a night school and graduated, at 54,
with a bachelor’s degree, some 8 years after her own daughters
had theirs. To her the City of Naga conferred the Mayoral Award
for becoming an inspiration to ordinary citizens, one who despite
overwhelming odds, has risen above them. Today her broom has
become a diploma. The woman was not an honor graduate --- but
an ordinary citizen, struggling to make life better for her
am I relating this to you, my dear graduates, and my dear ladies
is because the world today lacks the values that used to mould
the disposition and the character of the ordinary citizen.
world today, despite the advances in science and technology,
has yet to learn about how to live, what to do, and how to be.
As one tired and retired government employee remarked, “One
learns many things when one gets to be my age. But one has to
unlearn many more things that one has gathered with age.”
pre-school, as bestseller writer Robert Fulghum observed, we
used to be taught these: “Share everything. Play fair.
Do not cheat. Don’t hit people. Put things back where
you find them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things
that aren’t yours … When you go out into the world,
hold hands and stick together.”
sad ---after ten years in basic education and four years in
higher education -- we seem to have forgotten the basic tenets
learned in pre-school.
graduates go out into the world of business or politics or entertainment
or government service, will they still “share everything”,
“play fair”, “put things back where they find
them”, and “clean their own mess”?
experience in governance in Naga City is nothing but our personal
encounter with the necessity of returning to the basic governance
--- a return to the essential meaning of service --- a return
to what is simple and practical --- a return to the values that
our forefathers taught us: the value of honesty, hard work,
of fairness and most all the holy fear of a just God.
SMALL FISH IN A BIG POND
Address will not be complete without venturing to answer the
question as to where will you go from here.
you choose to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish
in a big pond? Whatever your doubts are, follow your heart.
When I left San Miguel Corporation, in 1986, I knew that serving
home was where my heart was. I must say that desire and commitment
far outweigh knowledge and skill. The latter can be learned.
Without the former, your life’s work will be a profession
and not a vocation. Find your own niche. Change careers if you
must. But make sure you succeeed. You must always remember that
you can not give what you do not have. Measure success in terms
of how pleased you are with what you have done and not as to
how people define it, with its attendant perks.
on in life, you will realize that it is neither your successes
nor your conquests that will give you satisfaction. It is your
contribution that really matters – paying back what you
owe the community that nurtured you.
THE CHILD IN US
me end by narrating to you the conversations I had with Grade
6 pupils of a public school in Panicuason, a mountain barangay
in Naga City, some four years ago.
of these children had to walk 3 to 4 kilometers just to attend
school. I asked them what their ambitions in life were? A boy
said he wanted to be a doctor because there was no doctor in
the barangay. A girl said he wanted to be a teacher so that
she would make sure that all the children in her barangay would
go to school. Another boy said he wanted to be an engineer so
he could improve the roads and provide irrigation systems for
all of us, they too wanted to be somebody someday. But despite
the deprivations and difficulties, they were all for a noble
purpose – to be of service to others. Not one of them
said that it was for fame, money or power. They were so young,
yet they know what was good for their community and for others.
you leave your beloved Alma Mater and pursue your own dreams,
do not forget the child in you. Keep in your hearts always the
Ateneo idealism of being men and women for others. Hold on to
it. I am certain you will do no wrong if you keep that idealism
as your guiding light.