By Karla Angelica Pastores
THE first time I met Jesse Robredo, Grace Padaca, and Among Ed Panlilio, I wasn’t star struck. They did not have an air of superiority around them, and they certainly did not walk around waving to everyone and shaking hands with people whose arms are not even extended. To me, they did not look like politicians, let alone award-winning ones.
No, I wasn’t star struck when I met them. I was awestruck.
Over dinner at Club Filipino one June evening last year, I was listening to these three government officials talk about their problems in their provinces and offer solutions and support to each other. They were seated across from each other, engaging themselves in a lively conversation. As I sat there, a young, somewhat inexperienced fresh graduate, I felt very privileged to have met these leaders and be privy to their thoughts and ideas.
Several months and two more exceptional public servants later, my respect and admiration for Mayor Jesse of Naga City, Gov. Grace of Isabela, Among Ed of Pampanga, Gov. Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao and Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija have only grown. In my work for Kaya Natin!, I interact with these five people on a regular basis, and like that evening in Club Filipino when they first met, I have the chance to know them as people, not as politicians.
As people, these leaders are as real as they get. They have more right to say that they’re just regular people than television and movie stars have –just regular people who have problems and issues albeit scrutinized by the public eye. At least with celebrities, they’re compensated with more than enough; with government officials like Mayor Jesse and Gov. Grace, it’s only their heart for the people and the country that keeps them in public service despite the difficulties.
In today’s political arena where corruption seems to be the norm, government officials like the Kaya Natin! champions are a refreshing twist to the story. Here we have leaders who, while far from being perfect, have put it upon themselves to serve the public with integrity. Not only are they challenging the rules of the game of traditional politics, going against big names, but they do so with a genuine commitment to changing how politics works in the Philippines. They are the faces of effective and ethical leadership in government.
The reality is that these champions of good governance are not that much different from the rest of us. Before taking on the challenge of public service, they were ordinary citizens who only wanted to do something and be someone for others. It was a sacrifice they were ready and willing to make, and it was a sacrifice that was worth every pain and disappointment if only to see their fellow Filipinos leading better lives. They are still ordinary citizens; only now they hold jobs aimed at serving the public.
Ordinary people? Quite probably. Extraordinary characters? Most definitely. The best part is, they’re all real people.