Once upon a time, a young, bright mechanical engineer had the world under his feet. One night, he had a dream. He was being sent to slay four dragons in Naga City: poverty, corruption, inefficient public service, and the gambling dragon called jueteng. “How will I do it”, he asked? “I do not have a magic sword.” I am not invincible! But the voice told him, “Do not be afraid.” You have stronger weapons of honour, vision, sincerity, and competence.
So, the young man went where he was told. He lived simply, humbly and honourably. The workers at the kingdom were amazed that that he walked without soldiers and a coterie of assistants. He had very few shirts: yellow, pink and blue. Many times, he was seen sweeping the streets himself. He never, never put his face on posters and streamers.
What a strange man, the citizens said! It was even stranger when he drew diagrams to illustrate how work was done in city hall. What a real mess! The young man called the workers into a meeting and imbued them with a sense of mission. Let us give respect and dignity to every citizen, especially the poor. He wrote down his duties on a piece of paper and marked how he would deliver them in terms of time and quality. This is my pledge. I will respond to emergencies within 5 minutes. Now I am asking that you each of you do yours. He put together all the pledges and named it the “Citizens charter”. He gave every citizen a copy and demanded that they report any officer who fails to fulfil his commitment. From then on, admission to public hospitals took a maximum of 8 minutes, tooth examination and treatment, 45 minutes, issuance of family planning supplies 5 minutes. Delivery of public services was placed on an assembly line. Everybody knew the first step, and the next steps. The young man promoted those who performed their services very well and banished those who were not true to their promises from the kingdom. It did not matter whether they were friends, or relatives of friends, or friends of kings from other kingdoms.
Then, he knew that it was time to put the simpler processes into his gadgets. The first to be computerized was tax collection. But the young man thought, These are just machines and are there to serve the people! So, he invited the people all over the kingdom. There was no ball, no feast, no musicians, because he was widely known to be so “kuripot.” But the citizens appreciated him more for it. He asked, “What would you like our city to become?” “Maogmang lugar”, they said in unison. He asked them further what this vision meant in term of programs. The people said peace and order, hospitals, well-paved roads, schools, competent teachers, a textbook and a workbook for every child, clean and adequate water system, livelihood opportunities, and micro-financing. The young man asked, “These programs cost money. Are you willing to share their costs with me?” The citizens thought for a while and said “Yes”. And so it came to pass that his kingdom is the only place in the world where citizens pass resolutions asking the kingdom to raise taxes.
The young man was deeply moved by the trust which the people gave him. He vowed never to be unfaithful to them. He spent the money well in accordance with their wishes. He posted the budget, contracts of the kingdom, cost of goods, vacancies, selection of workers, and almost all major decisions in his gadget that were called computers.
And then he thought. What if he leaves the kingdom? Good governance is his greatest legacy to his people. He knelt down and prayed for guidance. A voice spoke into his heart. You must give power to the people. Guide them to choose good leaders and organize their leaders into a Peoples Council. Make them official participants in decision-making on budgets, programs, and procurement. The young man rose and followed the voice in his heart. The kingdom was so inspired by its success that they translated Peoples empowerment into ordinances.
And so, the kingdom which was once in disarray came to be recognized as the most competitive, most business friendly, most cost-effective, most women and children friendly, most outstanding in excellence, innovation, and governance, and was conferred more than 150 awards in the country and all over the world. More than the awards, the kingdom achieved almost all the goals for the millennium: 106 per cent participation in elementary education, 0 percent maternal mortality, 100 percent access to safe water and sanitary toilets. The young man brought down poverty incidence, and unemployment, thereby increasing per capita income. He developed systems of health insurance, and public construction that put kings and queens into shame.
The young man became a legend. He was proclaimed Dangal ng Bayan, Outstanding Young Man, and Ramon Magsaysay awardee for Government Service in 2000. In all humility, he knelt down and prayed. The voice spoke in his heart again. Now, you must be a leader for others, showing them how to serve their kingdoms well. In disbelief, he asked, But I have no wealth. I have no magic that can turn mice into horses and pumpkins into a coach. The voice replied You have more than enough, because you have credibility and goodwill. Go and multiply.
The young man took this mission into his heart and now goes all over the Philippines, from the islands of Sulu into Cagayan, preaching not by words but by example and experience. Only three reasons prevent him from pursuing this task: the health of his father, periodical examinations and PTCA meetings of his daughters, and emergencies in his kingdom.
He asks no special treatment from his hosts. He sleeps his way on a slow boat to Siasi in Sulu, takes a shower in dirty bathrooms, eats in turo-turo, lodges in cheap hotels, and takes buses instead of cars. I know because he has shamed us so many times by saying yes to all difficulties, and going to places, where we were afraid to go.
But like all heroes, there are villains in his stories. Since the young man does not practice political patronage, he is considered unworthy of grants from queens and kings. He faces ridiculous lawsuits every election charging he is a Chinese citizen. But in every occasion, citizens rally behind him by electing all the members of his party and participating in all his causes generously.
Like all fairy tales, the residents of his city, Naga, will live happily ever after. Our earnest prayer is that he is given the opportunities, the courage, and the support to make all the Filipinos beyond his kingdom, live happily ever after.
God bless you Mayor Jesse Robredo. You make us proud to be Filipinos.