Not many people know this: I was with Jesse from the very start.
The Ateneo de Naga high school followed a simplified system that seated students in alphabetical order in the classrooms and this thrust me beside Jesse. We sat side by side for a while until a relative of mine, Arnel, with the same surname came to sit between us. But this did not change the bond between Jesse and I that was forged on that fateful first day of school as high school freshmen many years ago.
Jesse and I became very close, so much so that even during vacation time, we would not fail to see each other. He went to Manila for college while I stayed in Naga. But any break from school would find us together within minutes of his arrival from Manila or my arrival in Manila.
Later I would be helping him get elected as mayor of Naga City but our first joint electoral exercise was when he ran for the presidency of the Ateneo’s alumni association in December 1986.
During the Christmas break in that year, I went to see him in his office at the Bicol River Basin Development Program (BRBDP). At lunch, he presented his freshly-hatched plan and asked my opinion about it. I suggested some major changes in his strategy, which he eventually adopted.
Jesse would win handily against a member of the jubilarian class - an unusual occurence because previously jubiliarians had held the position of alumni president year after year. Jesse must have realized that I had some knack at running a campaign, so then and there he asked me to run his future campaign for city mayor. I accepted without hesitation although I was thinking that getting elected as the city mayor was a long shot for Jesse who at that time was a virtual unknown in Naga City.
At around this time, too, I met the present Naga Vice-Mayor Gabby Bordado who would later play an important role in Jesse's political career.
In late May of 1987, still working in Manila, I started making frequent weekend visits to Naga to polish plans and work on making Jesse known by the people. We spent a lot of time discussing his vision, his aspirations and his objectives. It was at this time that his grand plans for the city, not yet known as An Maogmang Lugar, took shape.
Let me share them with you.
It was simply known as “The Dream” between the two of us. Jesse wanted to make Naga’s population the happiest among Bikolanos. We both agreed that given the chance, we can try and replicate our formula everywhere else in the country. But first, Naga.
To make Nagueños happy, we said that they have to have a reliable and sufficient source of livelihood. They also have to feel safe in their homes, in their neighborhood and in the whole city. We said that if everyone had a good income, there will hopefully be virtually no crime and people could be safe.
To achieve this, we lined up several schemes. Initiating livelihood projects was the key and from there there shall be what we called the “Trickle Up” effect. But Jesse anticipated that it might become a little difficult to sustain because aside from expected sponsors fatigue, he felt that despite providing the necessary training, the people would feel “forced” into something they don’t usually do. He wanted to achieve this without “displacing” anyone from their comfort zones. We looked for ways to make job creation very subtle and looking very natural. We agreed that the private sector should become vibrant and bullish to spur jobs creation. There should also be a level playing field to stimulate the business sector. The playing field would be perceived as just and fair if there were no graft and corruption and there would be no graft and corruption if the government observed full transparency.
This is sketchy, but this was the master plan. We would often revisit it and try to refine the details along the way, but way back in mid-1987, when Jesse Robredo was yet to become a mayor, everything seemed clear enough -- so clear that at times we joked that this was our impossible dream. (Herbert "Embet" Rodriguez)