Inquirer Read-Along: Learning early about Naga’s simple hero

MANILA, Philippines—How better to cement Jesse Robredo’s legacy in Philippine history and society than to teach to the next generation his humility as a government official and his passion in serving the public.

Around 80 elementary students in grades one to three from Pasig City learned about the former secretary of the interior and local government when he was mayor of Naga City during a Philippine Daily Inquirer Read Along with Khalil Kaimo and Paolo Valenciano.

They read the children’s book “The Public’s Servant” by Didith Tan Rodrigo, which tells about Robredo’s simple and down-to-earth acts as mayor of Naga. The book is part of Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation’s “Great Men and Women of Asia – Children’s Series.” Robredo was an awardee for government service in 2000.

“We need more people like [Robredo] and what better way than to start with the kids when they’re very young,” Valenciano said in an interview with Inquirer after the Read Along.

The book is told in simple “Internet chat” style between two friends, Chris or “XtnXtra” played by Kaimo, who is in New York, and Matt or “MattDude2000,” played by Valenciano, who is on vacation in his parents’ hometown of Naga City.

Matt chats with Chris about his personal encounters with “Mayor Jesse.” The first time when Mayor Jesse was playing basketball on the streets with locals and wearing regular T-shirt and shorts.

The second time, Matt goes, was when he saw Mayor Jesse go out to the ricefields in a bicycle to bring back a girl who ran away from her parents. And the third time was when a typhoon hit the city and Mayor Jesse led the rescue team in saving people from the devastation.

Throughout the chat sessions between them Chris and Matt express awe and surprise at Mayor Jesse’s acts and behavior that were contrary to the common perception of a government official.

The biggest surprise that Matt found out about Mayor Jesse was when he saw the latter sweeping the streets on his own after the mess caused by the storm.

Valenciano said he found that part of the story having the most impact on the children. “I could see some of the kids were also like ‘What? He was sweeping the [streets]?’” he said.

“I think subconsciously we’re teaching them humility, and right now it’s what the country needs,” Valenciano said.

Kaimo expressed his wish that there would be more government officials like Robredo. “They [should] lead by example rather than [boast] ‘I built this [and] I built that.’ How many of them do you actually see sweeping streets and cleaning up their city?” Kaimo said.

When asked what significance Mayor Jesse could have on children, Valenciano said, “He wasn’t really doing great things, he wasn’t really building bridges. He was just a simple guy doing honest work. That’s what’s good to teach to children.”

“Its good to let the kids know about people that have [made a significant impact] just by doing what’s right,” he added.

Kaimo said that it was because Mayor Jesse led by example that he became significant to the people of Naga. “The people at the top start it, then the people under them will see it and they’ll start doing it. The domino [effect] doesn’t start at the bottom, it should start at the top.”

During the story-telling, the kids were so engrossed that when Kaimo and Valenciano tried to provide explanations, one kid spoke out and requested that they continue with the story already.

Near the end of the book, Chris expressed disbelief in Matt’s stories about the mayor of Naga. “So this mayor plays basketball with anyone, rides a bike to save a child, and sweeps the streets after a storm? Dude, that’s not a mayor!” Chris said in disbelief.

“That’s… I don’t know what that is,” he told Matt.

Matt replied simply: “Well, that’s Naga’s mayor!”

The 80 students who heard and read the story of Mayor Jesse hopefully have found a new hero to look up to and emulate.

Inquirer Read-Along: Learning early about Naga’s simple hero

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