I NEVER met the man. But when he died, I could not shake off the loss like I was a relative or a friend.
This was how many Filipinos reacted to the tragic death of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo in a plane crash two weeks ago.
His leadership and dedication to public service were legendary and consistent. He had transformed Naga into a vibrant city that was at par with the most urbanized and progressive in the country.
Robredo had reached out tirelessly to help those, as Ramon Magsaysay said, who had less in life. One misguided view circulating in the social networks is that Robredo had no grand deeds or major accomplishments.
The poor, misinformed social network participant obviously never knew Robredo or read anything about him. The outpouring of grief by thousands of ordinary folk, not only in Naga, and the pain felt by those who did not even know him but knew of his quiet good deeds are testimony to a life devoted to helping others.
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I could not help but wishfully hope that a leader like Robredo would spearhead change in Philippine sports. That leader need not be a Philippine Olympic Committee head or chair of the Philippine Sports Commission.
We need only one who has Robredo’s vision that change is possible and that financial limitations and the cultural baggage that bog down sports are merely hurdles to overcome.
We need a leader who will mend fences in sports from the bottom to the top, beginning with the athletes in a specific discipline.
Immediately thrusting just one visionary with no experience handling a sports association into the lions’ den of national multisports management will burn him/her out from the start. Once done, he or she can build slowly, seeking funding, coaching and international tournaments in small but significant ways.
To begin with, the sports visionary should have a goal like Robredo’s dream to transform Naga. If the dream is to have an Asian or Olympic champion in that sport, then so be it and the leader will work toward that end. He or she may not immediately attain the goals but if small gains are achieved with every effort, then it will be more than sufficient.
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We may also have to revisit the need for a Secretary of Sports to consolidate efforts to improve our infrastructure and funding procedures for recreational, grassroots and national sports participation.
I know that Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV has a bill filed in the Senate seeking to do just that, although it could take a while before a Department of Sports actually gets established and running.
A Secretary of Sports with real sports management experience running an association can help infuse much-needed reforms.
Robredo brought his experience in running a city to the national level with a variety of programs to improve local governance and police work. He did not get a chance to see them through but the salutes given by the local government ranks and the police were evidence that he was making an impact and making change happen in small ways at the start.
We hope that we will find our own Robredo, brimming with faith and hope in the capacity of the Filipino to be a world-class athlete and able to overcome the layers of political patronage and bickering that choke sports.
We have had too many sports debacles and have heard too many excuses why we can’t win in the international sports domain. We now need leaders who will be unfazed by all this and lead Philippine sports to dream higher and achieve more.