THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE, WHICH WE ARE PRESENTING TO YOU IN A FIRST PERSON NARRATIVE, IS ACTUALLY A COMPENDIUM OF STORIES WE GOT FROM SEVERAL TRUSTED LOCAL SOURCES WHO WISH TO KEEP THEIR IDENTITIES ANONYMOUS. IN ORDER TO ASCERTAIN THE CREDIBILITY OF THEIR STORIES, WE UNDERTOOK RESEARCH AND VERIFIED THE FACTS, MINING ONLINE SOURCES WHENEVER AVAILABLE, AND DOING THE NECESSARY FACT-CHECKING ON THE GROUND. GIVEN THAT THIS EXPOSITION IS OF CONSIDERABLE LENGTH, WE DIVIDED IT INTO SEVERAL PARTS WHICH WE WILL BE PUBLISHING IN SUCCESSION. PARTS 1 AND 2 COVERS JESSE ROBREDO’S RISE TO POWER UP TO HIS UNTIMELY DEATH, WHILE PARTS 3 TO 5 FOCUSES ON THE AFTERMATH OF JESSE’S DEMISE AND LENI’S EVENTUAL POLITICAL ASCENDANCY. THIS HERE IS THE FIRST OF A SERIES.
The Shocking Truth Behind Leni and Jesse Robredo Part 1
Much has been said about Leni and Jesse Robredo. For years since Jesse’s sudden and tragic death in 2012, mainstream media has had a love affair with the man whose life can only be described as nothing short of inspiring. It cannot be argued that Leni’s phenomenal rise to power owed much to her late husband’s legacy, which was perceived and accepted by many as impeccable and beyond question. Despite being largely unknown outside of his home turf Naga, the stories we have come to hear about him after his demise captivated our hearts. After all, it is not every day that we hear of a man so unbelievably modest and unassuming that in spite of his stature, he kept his feet firmly planted on the ground – in his trademark slippers that quickly became a national symbol of his rarity. Judging from all popularly held accounts, Jesse Robredo could just as well have qualified for sainthood.
Albeit the popular myth that surrounded the Robredos, there is still much that deserves to be told to the predominantly unknowing public – things that most people are not aware of, things that may have been deliberately omitted from many accounts, secrets too damning that they could effectively alter the common perception, secrets only a Nagueño would know.
I come from Naga City – a small, relatively obscure place south of Metro Manila that had recently been branded “Robredo country.” So much that every time I ride a taxicab here in Manila and the driver would ask me where I’m from, the easiest reaction to my response would be “Ah, Robredo.” It’s as if the name is synonymous with the place, and you can only offer a silent nod to the popular consensus held about the man responsible for putting our hometown into the map. Something inside of me wanted to speak out. But nah… silence would be much more comfortable. Why waste your time bringing up the truth? It wasn’t at all easy to disagree because it felt as if you were treading on sacred ground and bashing a dead guy’s hallowed memory was tantamount to blasphemy. Hence, the safe and comfortable silence.
Then Leni became Vice-President. I felt silently enraged, knowing full well that her popularity had been built mostly on lies, and a lot of people are blind to this fact. To many Filipinos, Leni is the meek, humble widow who represented the marginalized, the oppressed and downtrodden majority who lived on the fringes of society. “Mga nasa laylayan ng lipunan,” according to her political slogan. Behind her success is Jesse – whose unique brand of leadership and inspirational back story became a template for those who wished to serve and make a difference – a name that has become a franchise, thanks to a highly effective PR campaign that capitalized on our collective ignorance than on our innate wisdom to determine what is authentic and what is not. But despite all this, I still felt no urge to come out of my comfort zone. “Let it be,” Paul McCartney sang. Her position holds no value anyway. And knowing her, it’s unlikely she’ll make much out of it. So I elected to keep my mouth shut.
That is, until she started criticizing the President. It would have been perfectly natural to air one’s criticism, given the fact that we live in a democratic country, but what disturbed me was the manner by which she broadcast her displeasure. She did this while she clung like a leech, using the privileged Cabinet position given to her by the President as a means to forward her agenda and hog constant media exposure and mileage. How utterly shameless, I thought. This, on top of her poorly disguised attempts to project herself as something she’s not (those engineered and staged photographs of her taking a bus that have been used to dupe the public into believing she’s a woman of the masses) and her brazen duplicity, which I find extremely appalling. It just so happens, hypocrisy and opportunism are two things I consider most repugnant. Clearly, Leni is being used by some quarters to undermine the government in an attempt to reclaim power. With recent efforts by the international press to portray the President as some sort of a psychopath hell bent on destroying the country, Leni is being peddled as a more fitting alternative to replace Duterte – in effect taking us back to the way things were.
The buck stops here, I thought. I have to say something. The once predictable silence must come to an end.
By now you might be wondering, what in God’s name am I talking about? Am I a Dutertard? The way I’m going, I must be. Last year’s election was widely considered as the most divisive Presidential contest ever in our country’s history. It drove a deep wedge between us, and ugly labels have been thrown at each other in an attempt to delineate one’s leanings. If you are supportive of the President, you are a Dutertard. If you are not because you are satisfied with the previous dispensation, than you must be a Yellowtard. The war continues and has become more intense especially in social media, and as it was during the elections, you cannot be caught in the crossfire. It’s either black or white with no gray areas in between. You have to take sides.
So I comforted myself with the knowledge that I am not alone in this struggle. Despite my being a Bicolano, I am for Duterte because given the sorry state we’re in, he’s exactly the type of leader we need and not some inept, pretentious fraud who wants to put us back into the same shit pile we tried so desperately hard to crawl out of. Duterte may not be perfect, he curses and doesn’t give a fuck about niceties, but at least he’s authentic and more importantly – he gets the job done. My sentiments are shared by a lot of people so instead of feeling slandered by this label, I took it as a badge of honor and proudly declared myself so – a Dutertard, by choice. From this day on, I’ll wear it with pride.
Before I embark on this storytelling journey let me clarify that it is not my intention or desire to vilify Leni Robredo or besmirch Jesse’s previously untarnished reputation. What good would it do me to slander a guy who’s already six feet under? This article, I assure you, would not be in aid of vilification. To “vilify” means to speak ill about someone who is morally above ground. Vilification, hence, is no different from character assassination – meant to destroy and disparage someone who is, in truth, reputable. Reputation is the underlying premise of vilification. If your reputation is beyond reproach, any attempts to besmirch you may be considered foul. If it is not, then it would be fair to say that you are simply being exposed for what you truly are. If you really want to know the truth about Leni, you have no choice but to deconstruct the myth that made her into what she is now – and much of that she owes to the legend that is Jesse Robredo.
This, my dear readers, is an exposition – an attempt to present an alternate history, to tell you the version which is not known. Each coin has two sides and it would not be fair for you to see only one side and have that version peddled to you as gospel truth. I do not expect you to believe me outright. I speak mostly from recollection and from my own personal understanding of past events. But I challenge you to fact check every single thing that I say. No matter how hostile and partial I may appear, I promise to be fair to Jesse as much as I could. I will not dispute his accomplishments or deny the good things he has done to specific people. This work is simply meant to balance what you know about him and would be more of an attempt to demystify him, thereby exposing his human frailties. He is, after all, human – like the rest of us. I promise to offer nothing but the truth, so help me God. That is why I have attached my sources (online links to published news articles) so you can validate. I’m also issuing a challenge that since not everything can be verified online (a lot of what you will hear from me happened during the pre-Internet age), you may want to go to Naga City and do your fact checking on the ground – where most of this stuff really happened. Given the bulk of the new information, this article may be of considerable length so I ask you to please bear with me. Despite my urge to cut right to the chase, I find it imperative to start from the very beginning, in order to provide context and perspective – two things that are absolutely necessary to understand the truth. I likewise issue this challenge to my fellow Nagueños, especially to those who are loyal to Jesse’s hallowed memory who may feel betrayed by this exposition – take off your blinds and learn to accept the hard truth. As American author Edward Abbey once said, “Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.”
Finally, let me take this opportunity to beg your indulgence as to why I’d prefer to keep my identity anonymous. Much of the stories you will hear from me involve actual events and actual people (mostly living) – and I feel it is my patriotic obligation to name names and describe specific events in sufficient detail in order to bring out the truth. After all, how can you fact check and verify my stories if I do not disclose the identities of those involved? Now here comes the tricky part. Given that the characterizations of a lot of people in this article are not what you would consider flattering, and in several occasions directly portray them as crooks and criminals engaged in illicit and nefarious activities, unduly exposing myself is a risk that is quite difficult to undertake. People die for knowing too much, more so for exposing what they know. When Jesse was still alive, I would not have been careless to share these stories with just about anyone. Far too risky considering he’s in power. Later, you will learn that there are some who literally paid the ultimate price for doing what I’m doing now. Hopefully, this article will shed some light on the disappearance of one of these people and provide justice where justice is due. As promised earlier, I will call a spade a spade and will not mince words. In the interest of telling you the stories as they really happened, restraint is something I am not inclined to adhere to.
So let us start from the very beginning. Again, this might take some time so please bear with me, since it is necessary to know the back story.
Much about Jesse Robredo’s political career you can actually Google yourself. I do not want to waste your time telling you something which you may already know or repeat stories you may have online access to [i.e. Scharff]. Repetition bores me, so forgive me for skipping the usual sentimental stories. I’m just gonna fill in some details that are commonly omitted by those who have covered him – a lot of them we believe are paid writers anyway posing as investigative journalists (I’ll leave it to your imagination to figure out who I’m referring to). If they are indeed the objective investigative journalists they claim to be, they would have stumbled upon this shit a long time ago and spared me the ordeal of having to write this article. In fairness, however, much of what has been written about his lineage and early beginnings are true. Jose Perez, a local journalist who wrote for the Bicol Mail, narrates in his 2007 article [Nagueño]:
If there is one thing common between Camarines Sur Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte and Naga City Mayor Jesse M. Robredo, it is the blood of Confucius that runs in their veins.
In fact, the two came from the same great grandfather from China who upon residing in the Philippines adopted the Filipino name “Robredo,” a name that both of them have to share, whether they like it or not.
The rest of their character, traits and beliefs, political and otherwise, however, are worlds apart.
Their great grandfather Lim Pay Co, with his son Lim Teng by his first wife, arrived in Manila at the turn of the 19th century. As a young boy, Lim Teng was tutored by the Spanish friars. He and his father were later baptized by a Spanish friar surnamed Robredo.
The friar baptized Lim Pay Co and Lim Teng as Serafin and Juan, respectively, and gave them his surname. Since then, they were known as Serafin Robredo and Juan Lim Robredo.
While it was not clear what happened to Lim Teng’s mother, Serafin while settling in the country took a second wife by the name of Josefa de la Trinidad, a widow. Juan Lim Robredo (Lim Teng), meanwhile, married Luisa Chan, a local Chinese girl.
His stepmother, Josefa, bore four children, Soledad, Jose, Juan II and Serafina, who became Juan’s half-brothers and half-sisters. They were all surnamed Robredo with their original Chinese name Lim Payco sometimes attached to their Filipino name. All of them, including Juan Lim Robredo, were educated by the American school system.
Juan Lim Robredo
Juan Lim Robredo became proficient in four languages, Filipino, Spanish, English and Chinese. While his wife tended to their sari-sari store, Juan was employed as a court interpreter because of his language proficiency. On his free time, he also had a photo studio and worked as a photographer. Later, he and half-sister Soledad became teachers at Anglo Chinese School in Naga City, where Soledad met her future husband, Mariano Villafuerte, a co-teacher at the same Chinese school.
At the age of 21, Juan married Luisa Chan and from their union were born six children, Serafin, Adelina, Juanito, Josefina, Jose and Juanita. Both Serafin and Adelina died at very young age due to illness. Josefina died before the start of the world war, or a few years after the death of their father Juan. Juanito, along with their mother Luisa, died during an attack by the Japanese soldiers while hiding in Sipocot, Camarines Sur. It was also at this time that young Jose was wounded by a bullet that pierced his stomach but survived through the help of friends and foot doctors who came to their aid.
Today, only two of Juan Lim Robredo’s six children are alive, Jose Robredo, Sr. and Juanita Robredo Hao Chin.
Mariano Villafuerte, a fine orator and speaker was to become a congressman and later as governor of Camarines Sur when the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Philippine islands. It was a tragic chapter in the history of the country, as it was in the rest of the free world when people died as a result of the war. Then Gov. Mariano Villafuerte and his wife Soledad, with their eldest son Jose, died in the hands of vengeful guerillas as the Americans were advancing to free the Philippines from the fleeing Japanese soldiers.
The couple left behind six young children: Pura, Fe, Mariano, Jr., Carmen, Luis and Lina. Luis was to become a powerful political leader in Bicol while the rest of his brothers and sisters became successful professionals in their own right.
Jesse and Louie
After the war, Jose married Marcelina Manalastas, a young Filipina from Navotas, Rizal. Together, they built their house in Tabuco, a village across the river town of Naga. They soon bore five children: Jocelyn, Jose Jr., Jesse, Jeanne and Josephine.
In 1986, Jesse was picked by his uncle Luis, then an Assemblyman, to run as mayor of Naga City and won. Four years later, they would part ways and become bitter political rivals, with Luis even denying in public that they were blood relatives.
Luis, the province’s top political kingpin, on at least four elections would field his own mayoral bet to challenge Robredo, including his elder sister Pura Luisa, Jesse’s aunt, but as always Jesse would come out as the runaway winner.
Now congressman, Luis Villafuerte only recently had a falling out with his own blood, his son LRay, the province’s incumbent governor who is running for reelection.
LRay is now being challenged by a man handpicked by his own father, a scandalously unexpected quirk of fate that even the shrewdest of politicians could not imagine to happen.
Meanwhile, Luis is not letting off his disdain for Robredo. He accuses Robredo of being a Chinese citizen, an alien who should not be allowed to hold office reserved for Filipinos unlike Jojo, his other nephew, who ironically also comes from the same great grandfather that found the Philippine islands an ideal place for his forebears to multiply and become good Filipinos.
To sum it all up, Jesse Robredo and Luis Villafuerte were related. When Jesse attended college at De La Salle, he stayed at his Uncle Luis’ house in Makati. Upon finishing graduate school, Jesse went on to work for San Miguel then returned to Naga City in 1986 to become Program Director for the Bicol River Basin Development Project. This is where he met Leni Gerona, who would later become his wife.
It was Luis who worked for Jesse’s appointment as chief of the USAID-funded BRBDP and groomed him to become Mayor of Naga. When the EDSA Revolution broke out in 1986, Luis found himself jumping the Cory bandwagon after being a staunch Marcos ally since entering government service (yes, the proverbial balimbing). In 1988, Jesse was elected the youngest ever Naga City Mayor – narrowly defeating Ramon Roco, brother of the late Senator Raul Roco.
True enough, Jesse would not have become Mayor of Naga City if it weren’t for his Uncle Luis. His opponent Ramon Roco was a lawyer whose brother Raul was a rising star in local and national politics. It cannot be overstated though that Luis is manipulative and overbearing. He treated Jesse as his minion and considered Naga as his political turf.
There are conflicting versions as to why the two parted ways politically. A Rappler article provided the following story [Rappler]:
A July 2011 Princeton University case study by Michael Scharff said Robredo discovered Luis’s association with many of the illegal practices in the province, including the illegal numbers game Jueteng.
Luis denied any involvement, and told Rappler it was solely “a police issue” which he had no control over when he was governor. He offered to take a lie detector test. Gumba told Rappler it is “impossible,” for a governor not to know who is in control, “unless [he] wants the police to control the province.”
But Luis remains adamant he is honest, and truthful, and that Jesse Robredo is the devil.
“[Jesse] was glorified like a saint but he’s a sinner. You think he’s in Heaven? He’s fornicating in Hell,” Luis said without flinching.
Juan Escandor of the Inquirer offered a different reason. According to him [Bong]:
Both parted ways in (the) 1992 elections with Villafuerte fielding his sister Pura Luisa Villafuerte-Magtuto against Robredo. Robredo made such a mark in Naga City politics making him the only political leader here whose handpicked local candidates all won in the elections without let-up since 1992, including the local elections in 2010, for seven consecutive elections. The cause of the quarrel between uncle and nephew? Robredo supported Fidel Ramos in his presidential bid against Ramon Mitra whom Villafuerte supported.
Whatever, the truth is that Luis simply wanted to control Jesse – and Jesse resisted. It is true that Luis had something to do with Jueteng – an allegation he consistently denies up to now. His son Bong Villafuerte controlled Jueteng in the entire province – and saw Jesse’s win in Naga City as some sort of a prize. Since Luis put him there in the first place, it was natural for him to expect payback.
This has been the official line from Jesse ever since. Luis wanted to control Jueteng in Naga, and he was against it vehemently. The rift suddenly turned into a battle between “good and evil.”
1992 marked the first election bitterly contested by the two camps. Jesse was seeking reelection and Luis retaliated by fielding his sister Puring Magtuto against him. By this time, Jesse had a firm grasp of his own turf and was quite successful in branding his uncle as the bad guy among his constituents. Luis unleashed hell against Jesse. There was massive vote buying for Puring and her entire lineup. The strategy backfired. Jesse won together with his entire lineup. “Ubos kung Ubos” was born.
From that time on, Luis would forever lose his grip on Naga. A new political kingpin was born. Jesse Robredo had transformed into a political monster of his own making. In 1995, Jesse ran unopposed. Still reeling from his devastating loss to Jose Bulaong in 1992, Luis was unable to field a credible lineup against Jesse.
Luis Robredo Villafuerte campaigning as Congressman of the 3rd District of Camarines Sur, 2010
Jesse would clean up Naga and formed a squad to rid the city of lewd shows, a vice that proliferated during the term of his predecessor, Carlos Del Castillo. Nightclubs and cabarets were taken out and had no choice but to relocate to Milaor, an adjacent municipality. Despite the cleanup, prostitution thrived in Naga. Pimps and prostitutes swarmed the streets at night (Jesse might not have encouraged prostitution yet it cannot be denied that it was largely tolerated, perhaps in exchange of protection), especially in places like Rodson, Dinaga, Plaza Rizal, Crown Hotel and Kanyaman, where you can easily pick up flesh like fish in the wet market.
Now at the bottom of their disagreement was the issue of Jueteng. As we mentioned earlier, Luis and his son controlled Jueteng in the province. Jesse’s claim, however, that he resisted his uncle’s evil plans is a blatant lie. Proof: Eduardo Mercado.
2: ANAK KA NG JUETENG
Eduardo “Eddie” Mercado is a wealthy businessman who lorded over Pacol, one of Naga City’s upland barangays. Eddie amassed a fortune mainly through illegal gambling, particularly Jueteng. His late brother Sonny used to be the top gambling lord in Pacol before control was passed on to Eddie. He owned the largest cockpit arena in the city [SPNaga] and later ventured into real estate development, since he owned vast tracts of land in the largely agricultural and undeveloped Pacol. His younger brother Jose Mari became Barangay Chairman of Pacol and would later sit in the City Council as Chairman of the Liga ng mga Barangay [Cityhall].
Historically, there is bad blood between the Villafuertes and the Mercados. In the 1980s, a bloody shootout between the two camps occurred in the central business district of Naga, claiming lives on both sides. The Mercados were local Jueteng warlords, while Bong Villafuerte was gaining notoriety as a rising gambling overlord – Camarines Sur’s own version of Jack Enrile.
Bong’s notorious exploits would be consistently covered by the press in and out of Naga [Philstar]. He was tall, handsome, reckless and temperamental. He was largely feared in the province. Small town mayors called him “Boss” and his reputation as a thug spread outside their turf. He controlled the provincial police, had the provincial media in his payroll, and maintained his own private army. Even Bong’s younger brother, LRay, who would later become Governor of the Camarines Sur Province, acknowledged Bong’s links to the illegal gambling trade [Inq].
Such exploits did not endear him to Nagueños. In contrast, Jesse Robredo represented everything Bong was not. Whereas Bong was largely perceived to be a spoiled brat, whose illicit activities and excesses were tolerated by his father Luis, Jesse crafted a persona that would endear him to his constituents and later become his trademark.
Eddie Mercado and Jesse Robredo became close friends because of their shared disdain for the Villafuertes. With the political landscape changed by Jesse’s emergence as the new king of Naga, Eddie found himself supporting Jesse. They formed an alliance that would last until Jesse’s death in 2012.
To say that Jueteng in Naga was completely eradicated by Jesse during his stint is complete and utter crap. Jesse would claim that he persuaded the late Sonny Mercado to shut down his Jueteng operation in Naga, purportedly using the latter’s son (who worked at City Hall at the time) as leverage to negotiate the closure [Scharff]. Nothing can be farther from the truth. While giving the public the illusion that he was against Jueteng, Jesse tolerated the Mercados since they were close friends, and had a political debt to pay since Sonny supported Jesse’s mayoral bid against Roco in 1988.
With the Villafuertes unable to gain access in Naga City, the Mercados reigned without hindrance. Jueteng continued to thrive in Naga City, only this time it was largely controlled by the Mercados from their own turf in Pacol. Eddie Mercado’s Jueteng bagman, Ka Enciong Ona, was the father of Juanito Masalonga Ona, alias “Totoy” – a notorious hired killer who was listed as Camarines Sur’s Most Wanted for the murder of former DPWH District Engineer Nestor “Jake” Tria inside the Pili Airport in 1995 [PhilStar]. Ka Enciong himself was also shot dead later inside his home in Barangay Carolina, Naga City.The motive behind the killing remained unknown.
Another one of Eddie’s Jueteng bagmen in Naga was “Alyas Kano,” who was the brother of former San Felipe Barangay Chairman Emerita “Merit” Castillo, a known Robredo ally. Eddie’s own connections strengthened his power. Ramos’ Defense Secretary Renato De Villa was his close relative. It must likewise be noted that Jesse enjoyed President Ramos’ trust and support as Mayor of Naga. Luis Villafuerte lost the governorship to Jose Bulaong in 1992. He was too busy campaigning for then Speaker Ramon Mitra (he was LDP’s national campaign manager at the time) that he lost sight of his turf and was defeated by a slim margin. Ramos’ support for Naga flowed generously. Infrastructure projects were aplenty and Jesse literally paved the roads up to the upland barangays where previously no vehicles can pass. Jesse Robredo enjoyed a level of popularity unparalleled in Naga’s history.
The Robredos with Former President Fidel V. Ramos. 1992.
3: THE MAKING OF THE BRAND
In 1995 Jesse was on top of the world. He was extremely popular that he was politically unchallenged during the midterm election. Luis was slowly regaining his strength, and was focusing more on his own comeback rather than on his estranged nephew. Constituents started calling Jesse “Pogi (handsome),” a moniker that would stick until his final days. His power was absolute. He controlled the City Council, and all of the 27 barangays. He was literally handpicking the Barangay Captains. Nobody dared oppose him. Even the local businessmen were in awe. Himself Chinese, Jesse held a firm grip on the city’s business community – which was mostly Chinese.
But Jesse Robredo knew better. Prior to his entry in politics, he was schooled by his Uncle Luis on the art of political survival. He did, however, do something that Luis never attempted in his political life. He innovated.
Jesse Robredo knew the importance of symbols. He knew that the shelf life of local politicians can be short lived, and no matter how secure one can be in his own turf, external variables may alter the equation and provide an upset. His Uncle’s embarrassing defeat to Bulaong was an example. At the time, Luis was extremely powerful. LDP (Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino) used to be the richest and the most organized party in the national arena – and he was the national campaign manager. A single miscalculation paved the way for his undoing. Ramos’ unexpected victory devastated Luis’ career. Had Mitra won, he would have been appointed Executive Secretary no less.
Jesse knew that in politics, nothing is certain. Politicians are mortal, and a single bullet or a deadly stroke or a tactical miscalculation can undo years of hard work and fortification. Symbols, on the other hand, endured. Slowly, Jesse crafted a persona that would become his own unique brand in politics. He started wearing shorts and slippers to work and visited the barangays tirelessly. He embraced his constituents, and his constituents embraced him. He would personally join firefighters whenever fires broke out, manning the fire hoses to the awe of the admiring public, and would be seen directing traffic while wearing his trademark slippers and shorts. In the aftermath of every typhoon, he would pick up a shovel and clean up the streets himself, with a band of supporters around him and local media covering his every move [Rappler].
Jesse Robredo working the crowd
Through conscious and deliberate perception engineering, Jesse Robredo ceased becoming an ordinary politician and transformed himself into a symbol. His name would be synonymous with his brand of leadership. Largely, Jesse was a political maverick. He reinvented the rules and injected freshness in an arena dominated by traditional politicians and dinosaurs. Soon, outsiders began to take notice, and awards started coming in.
LEFT: Jesse during the Peñafrancia Traslacion in Naga RIGHT: Mayor Jesse at work in his office
4: JESSE’S PR MACHINE
At this point in time, Jesse started winning every imaginable award related to local governance. Capitalizing on his new found fame outside Naga, Jesse organized a team of writers, media men and hardcore loyalists that would become his PR backbone for the rest of his political career. Manning this group are close friends and loyal allies – mostly from Ateneo – Gabby Bordado, Joe Perez, Willy Prilles, Jun Mongoso, Francis Soler, Frank Mendoza, Lito Del Rosario, and others. This team would relentlessly scour the earth for award giving bodies, submit nominations, provide write ups praising Jesse to the high heavens and negotiate incessant media coverage. This was the pre-Internet age and there were no cell phones or social media yet during this time, yet this group can put young present-day marketers to shame. If there were few nominees, this team would exploit the void and barrage the award giving bodies with news clippings and positive write ups.
Then came the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
The back story behind the Ramon Magsaysay Award is an entertaining one, albeit largely unknown to the now brainwashed public. This story was told to me by no less than Jesse Robredo’s close childhood friend Julian “Jun” Lavadia who served as Barangay Chairman of Tabuco, where the Robredos originally hailed, and later joined the City Council as Liga President. Jun and Jesse were very close, yet future events would lead Jun to harbor some petty gripes against Jesse, hence this revelation. Yet Jun stayed on as a loyal ally to the Robredos. When Jesse’s plane crashed in 2012, Leni initially refused to provide interviews to the media and appointed Jun as their family spokesperson [Youtube].
It was Gabby Bordado [NagaGov] who stumbled upon the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Jun narrated. After considerable research, Gabby found out that there were few nominees in the field of Government Service. This was the year 2000 and the Ramon Magsaysay Award was touted as Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize. Gabby was a hardcore Robredo fanatic and supporter. In a recent interview, Gabby would state that he owed everything to Jesse Robredo [Bicol].
Gabby was then a City Councilor, yet in truth he was a journalist at heart. Gabby would write Jesse’s speeches, publish numerous articles about him, act as media spokesperson whenever controversial issues arise, and serve as one of Jesse’s most trusted and loyal allies. Despite his closeness to Jesse Robredo, however, Gabby wasn’t given the same amount of treatment as Jesse’s other friends. He rented a small apartment in Jacob Street, did not have his own car, and was always treated as a pushover. While some of Jesse’s other allies were enjoying the fruits of their closeness to the Mayor, Gabby would find himself struggling to make ends meet and was scoffed at by local observers for simply being content with Robredo’s scraps.
One of Robredo’s men who enjoyed new found wealth because of this friendship was William Del Rosario, who became City Councilor after serving as Barangay Chairman in Dayangdang where Jesse and his family lived [NagaGov]. William started off selling meat products in the Naga City Public Market before he became Barangay Chairman. Later on he would become part of several companies secretly owned by Jesse Robredo that traded consumer goods and poultry products. Of course under the circumstances, William was no less than Jesse’s dummy, but he enjoyed a level of wealth and comfort that made him the envy of his peers.
There used to be a running joke in Naga that if friends like William Del Rosario had “sudden unexplained wealth,” Gabby experienced “unexplained poverty.” Truly, Gabby’s modest circumstances perplexed many. His wife, Georgina, a teacher at the provincial state college, openly complained to her friends about their predicament.
One day Gabby went into Jesse’s office in City Hall and discussed to him the Ramon Magsaysay Award. Unbeknownst to many, winning the Ramon Magsaysay Award will not only grant fame, honor and prestige to the recipient, it carries with it a hefty cash prize as well. The amount – $50,000. This amount may be loose change for Jesse Robredo, who at the time actually controlled a string of secret businesses that had to do with trading, beverages, construction and real estate, on top of the numerous properties he had all over the city and investments all over the country and abroad (Jesse was an extremely cautious player. He befriended local Chinese and Filipino businessmen who would become the fronts and dummies for his numerous real estate holdings and business interests). But for Gabby, this shit was like hitting the jackpot. So Gabby makes a proposition to Jesse that he would move heaven and earth to make him win the particular award on the condition that Jesse would give him half the cash prize. Jesse simply smiled. Excited, Gabby took that as a yes and went straight to work.
As expected, through Gabby’s hard work and near perfect pitch, Jesse wins the award. Needless to say, Gabby’s job did not stop there. He had to publicize the win to mainstream media and made sure his boss was featured in magazine articles and journals. The work was extremely tedious, but Gabby was on top of his game. He was “motivated.”
Of course during and after the award Gabby found it hard to discuss with Jesse his end of the bargain. Jesse was busy providing interviews left and right, and often had to come to Manila to satisfy the media’s demand for coverage. Gabby was anxious but he had no choice. He had to wait. After the long mind-numbing wait Gabby finally had a chance to confront his boss about their agreement. Jesse, grateful for Gabby’s hard work, told him that his reward was ripe for the picking – a trip to Hong Kong with his wife.
Jesse upon winning the Ramon Magsaysay Award, 2000
Gabby felt a sudden rush of blood to the head. He engineers the fucker’s win and all he was willing to give him in return was a crappy trip to Hong Kong? For all he knew it might not have cost more than a thousand dollars, given that Jesse had access to travel agencies and hence special promos. He was shocked, furious, and rendered speechless. Yet for all his silent fury, there was nothing Gabby could do to change the situation. His personality wasn’t the aggressive type. Far from being the go-getter, Gabby was the loyal follower – meek and subservient – a trait that most endeared him to his boss. Gabby held back his tears and hesitantly accepted his reward.
By this time some of us almost fell off the chair laughing our ass off as Jun narrated what happened next. Gabby comes home to an expectant wife, empty handed and announces the shitty reward. All hell breaks loose. Georgina goes apeshit and starts badmouthing Jesse Robredo to her friends, including Babet, Jun’s wife. Feeling insulted, Georgina calls Jesse an ingrate, a big-headed, lying, treacherous son of a bitch. Gabby had to control the situation and restrain his wife. But what has been said can never be taken back.
Such are the idiosyncrasies of Jesse’s character that only a few people, mostly his closest friends, are aware of. Later, he would do the same to the narrator, his best friend Jun, which compelled the latter to share this strange yet amusing anecdote to yours truly.
Gabby Bordado (In first image with Councilor William Del Rosario, far left, and Mayor Jesse, center; In third image, paying his respects to his former boss and political patron, to whom he “owed everything”)
5: THE CURIOUS CASE OF EMILIO AGUINALDO
Another largely unknown side story of Jesse Robredo’s illustrious career is the case of Emilio Aguinaldo. Emil, as he is known to friends, used to be a tricycle driver, who worked his way up to become a leader of the transport group PISTTON. In 1992, as a response to Puring Magtuto’s ticket composed mainly of old recycled politicians, Jesse engineers a multi-sectoral lineup that surprised Nagueños: Media man Ruding “Mato Mato” Fortuno, Judge Esteban “Steve” Abonal, Atty. Fiel Rosales, firebrand lawyers James Jacob and Agapito “Pitz” Tria, Dean Janet Soler, Barangay Chairman Socorro “Coring” Felix, Businessman Jorge De Guzman, Couturier and Sports Enthusiast Manuel “Tata” Flores (who became the first openly gay councilor in Naga City), and Emilio Aguinaldo, transport leader. This eclectic lineup was the first of Jesse’s Ubos kung Ubos streak which lasted for eight election years straight.
Emil, given his humble background, did not blend well with his peers. Among his colleagues in the city council were lawyers, an ex-judge, a former college dean and businessmen. He won as part of the Ubos kung Ubos landslide but Emil stuck out like a thorn in the bush. He drove a tricycle to work, wearing his crumpled barong that looked as if it was taken from a cadaver, and unpolished shoes that have clearly seen better days. Despite his limitations, Emil was a fighter. He never let his colleagues bully or intimidate him, the man stood his ground.
His lack of academic credentials motivated him to conduct self-learning. He devoured law books and despite finding himself struggling with the English language, he felt unperturbed. He had a job to do and he had to adapt quick. His background as a grassroots transport leader certainly helped. He stuck to his advocacies and slugged it out like an old boxer who refused to go down. After sessions Emil would take off his barong, and drive his tricycle wearing only his sandounderneath. Such rugged demeanor alienated him among his peers, with some even considering him uncouth and “unfit” for the job. He was a big man, your typical neighborhood manong, whose face bore a striking resemblance to a much older Andrew E. The city council, despite an aura of diversity and independence was largely controlled by one man: Jesse Robredo.
Jesse presented himself to the public as a maverick leader, which he was at first. His perception engineering strategies proving wildly successful, Jesse fortified his grip on Naga City by making sure the City Council was his, no ifs or buts. Some of his councilors had impressive backgrounds, like James and Pitz and of course old man Steve, who was a retired judge. Fiel Rosales was the youngest among his elected councilors. From his language and demeanor you wouldn’t take the guy for a lawyer. He likewise struggled to speak English, unlike James and Pitz who were as fluent as can be, but it didn’t matter. He was a natural politician and was the most popular among the group. He had only one weakness: drugs.
Fiel or Buboy to his friends just couldn’t help it. He exhibited the trademark mannerisms of a hooked druggie. His eyes would shift in different directions and spoke with an irritating stutter. In a small city controlled by an extremely powerful man where nothing can be kept secret, Buboy’s “vice” became public knowledge – talked about in hushed tones and regarded as an open secret. Despite his addiction, Fiel kept on with his work, even impressing his boss so much that he was given important committee chairmanships. He became fiercely loyal to Jesse and in return his loyalty was rewarded with tolerance. Of course, his addiction seemed to prove no harm at first, but since the boss tolerated him, Fiel started dealing as well. We are not aware if the Boss reprimanded him for such activities, but we’re dead certain he was tolerated at the least.
In spite of accolades praising Naga as a bastion of people empowerment, where sectors were given a voice in the city council and people participation was at the “core” of governance, Jesse’s council was pretty much a rubber stamp council. How the hell could it not be? For seven straight election years, Jesse handpicked his team and made sure whoever sat there would be as docile and subservient to his demands, while making it appear as if they’re not. Opposition was met with swift action, and perceived rogues were nipped in the bud. One of these budding rogues was Emil Aguinaldo.
Emil was hotheaded as he was uncouth. He lacked the civility that seemed requisite for his new stature. He cursed openly, aired offensive statements and had a crass demeanor that seemed to violate elementary norms of civility, traits which did not endear him to his peers in the council. At first Jesse tolerated him. But he was starting to spiral out of control. In a handpicked council where vocal opposition was taboo, Emil was growing increasingly vocal. He detested the way Jesse treated the council. This, of course, did not sit well with Jesse.
By the end of his term, Emil would be constantly at loggerheads with his boss. Jesse could not afford the embarrassment. Emil had to be dealt with, fast. In 1995, the rogues in his council were effectively removed. Foremost among these rogues was Emil Aguinaldo, who slowly evolved from being a Robredo ally to one of his fiercest critics. Emil, naturally, jumped ship to the Villafuerte camp. Luis welcomed him with open arms. But since Jesse was enjoying the height of his power, Emil fell victim to the much vaunted Ubos kung Ubos phenomenon.
Emil’s disdain for Robredo became intense. If you chance upon him by the street he will unleash a litany of diatribes against his former boss that was far from flattering. He sniffed around for anything and everything dubious in the city government’s dealings, and he hounded Jesse and followed his every move like a hyena waiting for its prey. He exposed Jesse’s anomalies in the media and filed dozens of cases against him. Graft cases in the Ombudsman that numbered more than 50. He scoured the earth for Jesse’s alleged hidden properties and established paper trails to prove his case. He was unstoppable. His tenacity was fueled by a deep hatred that turned him into a one man wrecking machine. At first, Jesse considered him a nuisance, and paid little heed to his attacks. Emil’s association with Luis did not help him win public opinion. Jesse branded him as his uncle’s attack dog. But as the cases piled up, and Emil was proving himself to be more of a nuisance, securing incriminating documents that may ultimately prove him right in court, Jesse started to act.
It certainly helped that Jesse was Ramos’ key ally and the cases Emil filed against him were mostly relegated to the trash bin or made to gather dust. But Jesse couldn’t take his chances. He stopped underestimating Emil and planned his moves masterfully. First, he had to have someone in the Office of the Ombudsman – someone to act as his watchdog and protector. Enter Francisco “Pokoy” Felizmenio.
Pokoy, a lawyer from Naga, was Jesse’s former classmate and friend. Like everyone else Pokoy held Jesse in very high regard and felt it a duty to help a friend in need. Pokoy was a lawyer at the Office of the Ombudsman. In 1998 Jesse would reward Pokoy by offering him a seat in the city council. Pokoy became Naga City Councilor from 1998-2001. After serving one term, Pokoy would later return to his old job at the Office of the Ombudsman and would become OIC at the office’s Fact Finding Bureau – a strategic position that has proven extremely valuable for Jesse [Ombudsman]. Much later, Pokoy would find himself being appointed as RTC Judge in Bulacan through his connections with the Aquino administration.
Former Ombudsman Lawyer and Councilor and now RTC Judge Pokoy Felizmenio
Emil was slowly getting into Jesse’s nerves. In public, Jesse would shrug him off as a nuisance. But deep inside he was literally becoming a pain in Jesse Robredo’s ass. Emil, with the financial backing of Luis Villafuerte, was getting closer and closer to the truth – exposing anomalous deals, hidden properties, and Jesse’s links to the illegal gambling trade. Robredo faced a slew of allegations, among them that he received Jueteng payola from the first cousin of his wife Leni, a certain Alex Tang. Another report had it that his brother Butch had some business dealings with Charlie “Atong” Ang, the disgraced gambling adviser of former President Joseph Estrada. Included among the cases filed by Aguinaldo was the questionable construction of the Naga City Coliseum, an architectural monstrosity which was ironically named after him when he died.
In June 8, 2008, Emil Aguinaldo decided to go to Manila to follow up the cases he filed before the Ombudsman. He had grown impatient with the slow pace of the Ombudsman in resolving the cases against Jesse. Aguinaldo’s wife Marina would later reveal that her husband had to sell three pigs so he would have money to go to Manila. He boarded the bus and was never seen since.
As expected, Emil’s family was quick to blame then Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo for the disappearance of the former councilor. “I don’t want to think that my husband is already dead. I just want to know what happened to him. We are afraid to ask questions since Robredo is in the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government),” Marina said in a newspaper report.
Nobody else had the motive, his family said. Emil simply disappeared from the face of the earth and was unheard of ever since [PhilStar].
While it was a commonly held perception that Jesse was a straight arrow, political realities in the ground necessitated certain practical dispositions. After all, Naga was no different from any other political turf – where conflicting interests thrived. In the interest of self-preservation and political survival, Jesse was not one to shy away from employing drastic measures, especially if there was no other option. Like any other local political chieftain, he had a go-to guy whenever he needed some dirty stuff taken care of. This would come in the person of Juanito “Totoy” Ona. Totoy, being a notorious hired assassin, was listed as the Number 1 most wanted criminal in Camarines Sur for a string of robberies and murders attributed to him.
Totoy Ona was a cold blooded killer and was the son of Eddie Mercado’s Jueteng bagman in Pacol, Ka Enciong. Totoy proved useful to Jesse in times of dire need. He was Jesse Robredo’s last option – the sharp end of the stick. His notoriety especially in Naga cannot simply be ascribed to some kind of dumb, reckless audacity. He acted with impunity and seemed to enjoy something that other like-minded criminals can only hope for – political protection. During Jesse’s tenure as mayor of Naga, Totoy Ona’s criminal activities went unhampered. He would conduct daring robberies and hold ups and would literally get away each and every time [Vox]. He was already on top of the most wanted list yet he remained untouchable. Totoy’s expertise came in handy whenever some wealthy schmuck needed some dirty laundry taken care of. For all his infamy and ill repute, he might as well have carried a business card to advertise his craft. He would go on a murderous rampage for years without having to worry about getting caught.
In a newspaper report, it was mentioned that Ona was arrested by the CIDG for the second time in 2012. He was previously arrested in March of 2011 through three warrants of arrest issued by local courts for two counts of murder and one count of robbery, the article said. But Ona managed to walk free when the murder cases were dismissed and he posted bail for the robbery case [Inq].
Jesse Robredo was the DILG Secretary when Totoy Ona’s case was dismissed. But a year later, in September 2012, just a month after Jesse’s plane crashed in Masbate, Ona gets arrested for the second time by the CIDG. Question is: How did his cases end up getting dismissed when Jesse was still alive? I’ll leave you to do the math.
6: LA ISLA PEÑAFRANCIA
With one of his staunchest critics gone, Jesse was able to sleep better at night. Emil’s wife and children, given their poverty-stricken circumstance, desperately sought justice but eventually gave up. The search proved to be an exercise in futility – and Jesse was still the undisputed King of Naga. Meanwhile, it was not only Jueteng that flourished in Naga, drugs also started flooding in.
At this point Fiel Rosales, no longer a city councilor, was already working as a public prosecutor. Back in 2001 he had a falling out with his boss Jesse that led to the premature demise of his political career. Jesse had just returned from a sabbatical at Harvard University, and was poised to reclaim his post as Naga City mayor after a three year hiatus. Fiel had been proclaimed topnotcher during the last elections. This, despite rumors of his “vice” circulating like wildfire. Due to this he was appointed to head the Sanggunian’s Task Force Tubig, which oversaw the installation of water systems in key areas of the city. This position only made him more popular, especially to people from the upland barangays, where water supply was scarce.
Despite Buboy’s widely-known addiction, he remained largely popular. He was charismatic as he was approachable, in contrast to some of his colleagues who were rather perceived as stiff and humorless. His popularity would motivate him to seek a higher post, so he asked to be Jesse’s running mate in 2001. Jesse advised him not to be in a hurry and to stay put as city councilor, as he had one term left and was one of the younger, more dynamic members of the city council. Besides, Jesse had already promised the post to the incumbent Vice Mayor Steve Abonal (a retired judge who had been around since the time of the dinosaurs) who sought reelection. Truly, old man Steve held the distinction of having personally seen a Spanish Guardia Civil among the members of the esteemed council.
Fiel would ultimately decide to go rogue and run as an independent, pursuing his ambition to become the City’s Vice-Mayor while maintaining his support for Jesse Robredo. His campaign was dubbed Triple R – for Roco, Robredo, Rosales (Cho Roco, who briefly held Jesse’s Mayoral Post for three years, was in the running for the Congressional Seat of the 2nd District of Cam Sur). Jesse, being the almighty god in Naga, taught him a hard lesson in humility. Fiel, who was on top of the Council just three years past, fell to the Ubos kung Ubos landslide. Like many others before him who went rogue and decided to go against Jesse’s orders, he became a casualty of the same phenomenon that swept him to power [SPNaga].
In truth, had there been no irregularities in the 2001 elections, Fiel would have easily vanquished old man Steve. Out of anger and frustration, he would tell people he was cheated and even mulled pursuing an electoral protest since both he and his father were lawyers. After all, he knew how the cheating was done since he was part of the same team. At the end of the day, Fiel realized the futility of going against Jesse Robredo. Launching an electoral protest would not only prove costly and time-consuming, but would likely incriminate himself as he was once a recipient of the “cheating” he now openly condemned. His loss was a bitter pill to swallow, but he had no choice but to accept his predicament. Life must go on.
LEFT : Councilor Fiel Rosales, 1995 RIGHT: Prosecutor Fiel Rosales (in blue shirt), 2016
Meantime, Fiel’s journey from user to peddler to drug lord had come full circle. Even though he fell out of grace with his former patron, Fiel remained a staunch Robredo ally and was considered untouchable. He hosted regular pot sessions in Lomeda, San Felipe, where his house was located, and transformed the place into a thriving tiangge for shabu – the poor man’s drug of choice. Half a kilometer away is Isla Sison, the most notorious among Naga City’s drug dens, where no decent man dared to tread [Bicolmail]. Drugs have pretty much infiltrated all of Naga City’s 27 barangays, and Isla Sison was the so-called “bagsakan” (place where goods are delivered). A tightly-knit riverside commune located in Barangay Peñafrancia, Isla ironically served as the port where the float of “Ina” or the Blessed Virgin of Peñafrancia would dock during annual fluvial processions along the Naga River. Even if you were foolhardy, you wouldn’t dare enter Isla, especially during nighttime, unless you are willing to be mistaken for a police asset and skewered by an ice pick. It was a complete haven, so close to the City proper yet seemingly impenetrable. Right across the river is Barangay Balatas, another drug haven. Balatas was less notorious compared to La Isla, but it held a unique distinction. It was the home turf of Chinglo Rosales, the biggest drug lord not just in Naga City but in the entire province.
Isla Sison, Barangay Peñafrancia, Naga City
7: HERE COMES THE JACKPOT
Among the sources of drugs flooding the City, Victor Lorenzo Timario Rosales (better known amongst locals, drug peddlers and law enforcers as Chinglo) was the biggest. His group, known as the Chinglo Drug Syndicate, was responsible for the distribution, sale and supply of shabu in Naga City and neighboring towns in the Camarines Sur province. This made him the Number 1 Most Wanted Illegal Drug Dealer in the entire Bicol Region [BicolStandard].
Drug Lord Chinglo Rosales Mugshots, 2015
To our knowledge Chinglo and Fiel Rosales are cousins, although it is not clear to us how close they actually are as blood relatives. In fact, Fiel was an active part of the drug syndicate, discreetly lawyering for Chinglo’s low level contacts especially those based in Isla Sison. Chinglo’s brother, Raoul Timario Rosales, better known to his friends and constituents as “Jackpot,” was the Barangay Chairman of Balatas [NagaGov]. His long experience in public service earned him the trust and confidence of his constituents so much that he served as Punong Barangay for 13 years, from 1997-2010. Eventually, he became Vice-Chair of the Liga ng mga Barangay from 2007-2010. His rich experience in managing barangay affairs paved the way for him to finally cast his eyes on the more complex challenges of a higher elective post. In 2010 he would run as City Councilor under the Liberal Party of Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, his boss and political patron [NagaSP].
Jackpot and Jesse, 2012
It cannot be said that Jackpot went without baggage. People knew him to be the brother of the biggest drug lord in the province. Balatas, where he and his family lived and where he served as Barangay Chairman for more than a decade, was also widely known as a drug hotspot – a place where drug trading and drug use thrived. During his stint as Barangay Chairman, Jackpot was even arrested during a buy bust operation for illegal drugs and illegal possession of firearms [Bombo].
But all these didn’t matter. Since Jackpot was a loyal member of the Liberal Party, he easily won as city councilor under the Ubos kung Ubos ticket of Mayor Jesse Robredo, who was then the Liberal Party’s national sortie manager.
So Jackpot took his oath as honorable councilor of the city of Naga in 2010. Rumor has it that when Mayor Jesse was choosing from amongst his loyal followers who will complete his lineup, Jackpot got the tenth and final spot, besting other contenders who were clearly more deserving and who neither had the stain or baggage that he carried. As history would have it, Jesse would later be appointed by President Benigno “Noynoy”Aquino III as Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, the agency that controlled the Philippine National Police among its core functions.
Jackpot Rosales taking his oath as Naga City Councilor, 2010
Meanwhile, drugs would continue to flood the city and the province, and despite pending warrants for his arrest, Chinglo’s business thrived as he continued to evade authorities. Raids were conducted but no one got caught. A few cases were filed but were mostly dismissed.
Back in City Hall, the Naga City Government, under the leadership of newly-elected Mayor John Bongat, was launching a comprehensive program for combating drug abuse in the city. Bongat ordered the formation of the Naga City Dangerous Drugs Board (NCDDB) to coordinate and implement the various projects and activities under the city’s comprehensive anti-drug abuse program [NagaGov].
The NCDDB was composed of directors and heads of concerned government agencies, department heads of the local government, and representatives from the academe, the religious and private sectors, and Non-Government Organizations and People’s Organizations. The board serves as the exclusive policy-making, monitoring, and coordinating body on the prevention and control of drug abuse in the city. Its mandate is to execute programs and projects as well as implement short-term, long-term and sustainable solutions to the problems of drug abuse. The NCDDB also includes three working committees focusing on 1. Public information, campaign and education; 2. Intelligence, enforcement and prosecution; and 3. Early intervention and rehabilitation.
Mayor John served as Chairman of the NCDDB and guess who sat as its Presiding Officer? Chinglo’s own beloved brother, the Honorable Jackpot Rosales [BikolNews].
A meeting of the Naga City Dangerous Drugs Board (NCDDB) with Mayor John Bongat (center) and Presiding Officer Jackpot Rosales (right)
Jesse’s appointment to the DILG, he would hand over the reins of Naga to his anointed successor and protégé, John Bongat. John was a lawyer who served three terms in the City Council. Not surprisingly, Gabby Bordado, who already served as Vice-Mayor under Jesse and was the most logical choice to succeed him, got sidelined by the younger, more ambitious Bongat. Gabby followed orders like a dutiful soldier and simply sought reelection. Jesse promised to make him a USec in the new government. As usual, Gabby waited anxiously for the coveted post, but the promise never materialized. It would take another six years before he would be given a position truly worthy of his unwavering loyalty. By then his boss and patron Jesse Robredo would be six feet below the ground smiling at him while flashing a thumbs up sign. “Finally.”
Jesse found the weekly commute to Metro Manila incredibly tiring. Naga was not only his kingdom, it was his comfort zone. Upon his death, Leni would claim that Naga was Jesse’s “happy place.” No matter how demanding his new work was, Jesse always found a way to go home each week. In keeping with his “brand,” Jesse would ride the bus from Naga to Manila, and would often times ask his close friend Rudy Guinhawa to pick him up at the bus station. Under the circumstances, Rudy was the most practical choice to come fetch him every time he’s in Manila. They both had penthouse units at the rooftop of 20 Lansbergh Place in Tomas Morato, Quezon City, which was just a few minutes away from the Cubao bus station. The condo building was developed by Rudy’s company, 24K Development Corporation in 2004. The tower ran 20 stories high, had a pool in the roof deck and a lobby that looked fairly impressive despite the building’s scruffy exterior [Lansbergh]. On paper, Rudy Guinhawa owned the building. In truth, it was Jesse’s.
20 Lansbergh Place, Tomas Morato, Quezon City
In an interview with ANC Headstart, LP stalwart and Budget Secretary Butch Abad highlighted the values that the late Jesse Robredo exemplified. Abad said Robredo remained a family man even though he was holding one of the highest positions in the President’s Cabinet [ABS]:
“We knew for a fact even if we have Cabinet get-togethers pero tumama ng Sabado (if it falls on a Saturday), most likely Jesse would prefer flying to Naga than be with the Cabinet celebration. That’s the extent to which he committed himself. In fact sabi nga ni Leni (his wife) at least during the course of a day, they would exchange 20-30 text messages,” Abad told ANC.
“That is why when you look at the wife Leni, she is just an affirmed wife and the children look every inch loved by their parents,” he added.
Another value that Robredo exemplified was his humility and modesty. Abad said Robredo still took a bus when he was traveling to Naga City.
He said Cabinet members were surprised that Robredo lived in a simple home. “To think that this is a person who served as city mayor for 18 years,” he said.
He noted that Robredo also “rented” a condo unit on Tomas Morato, which he shared with his 2 daughters.
The day after Jesse’s plane crashed, the “rented” condo unit would figure prominently in the headlines, as Jesse’s Undersecretary Rico Puno attempted to break in with a couple of high-ranking police officials, purportedly to secure “sensitive” documents, fueling suspicions of a cover up. President Aquino would later admit giving the orders to Puno, in an apparent attempt to save face as the controversial Puno came under fire for the attempted intrusion [Newsflash].
Puno attempts to enter Jesse’s condo with high-ranking police officials, 2012
Coincidentally, this same rented unit was the subject of one of the cases filed by Emilio Aguinaldo before his mysterious disappearance in 2008. Louie Ortega, a former Naga City Councilor and another staunch critic of Jesse, filed another case in 2012 after Aguinaldo’s case was dismissed by the Ombudsman in 2011. He accused the Interior Secretary of acts of dishonesty and culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution, among others, for not listing the condominium unit in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN). In response, Jesse’s lawyer and incumbent Naga councilor Nelson Legacion, who notarized Robredo’s SALNs, said the condominium unit in Quezon City which the latter did not declare in his SALNs (2006-2010) was owned by Jocelyn Austria* and Marcelina Manalastas Robredo, Jesse’s mother [Bicolmail].
This unusual claim by Legacion might drive one to ask: If the controversial condo unit was in fact owned by Jesse’s sister and his mother as can be established in the Condominium Certificate of Title (CCT), why claim that it is being “rented” in the first place? Are we to believe that since Jesse and his family are the declared and actual occupants of the unit, he was actually leasing the condo from his mom and sister? Among the documents attached to Ortega’s complaint which supposedly prove that Jesse Robredo owned the condominium is an acknowledgment from the House and Land Use Regulatory Board of a letter from Rodolfo R. Guinhawa, President and Chief Executive Officer of 24K Development and Construction Corporation, the condominium’s developer, regarding a notification of proposed alteration of the unit stating Jesse as the owner.
This is a common problem encountered by people who use dummies to hide the real ownership of their properties. Inconsistencies in documentation and verbal declaration – hence the absurd claim that it is a rented unit – will most likely arise. Before his sudden and mysterious disappearance, I remember talking to Emil Aguinaldo in late 2007 in which he claimed that he found a paper trail establishing Jesse’s ownership not just of the unit in question but of the entire building. Emil was extremely confident that what he had can pin down Jesse. Knowing Emil and his contempt for Jesse, it would not come as a surprise if he mentioned this parlous detail to pretty much everyone else he encountered. Little did he know that his days were numbered. His failure to control his mouth and restrain himself ultimately led to his unfortunate demise.
*Jocelyn Robredo-Austria is the eldest among the Robredo siblings. A neonatologist based in Philadelphia, Jo – as her siblings would call her – would also figure years later in Leni Robredo’s SALN. Leni declared a loan from her sister-in-law amounting to Php 2.5 million among her liabilities [SALN].
– END OF PART ONE –