By Juan Escandor Jr.
NAGA CITY---Covered with lawn grass that runs in semi-circle to the top about nine meters high, a museum dedicated to the late Jesse M. Robredo is designed with frontage that looks like an open arm gesturing visitors to explore what’s inside it.
Architect Gian Paolo P. Priela, museum designer and contractor, said no trees had been cut in the former playground which explains the shape of the building and “the structure hugging public space that encloses it.”
Officially named Museo ni Jesse Robredo (MJR), the museum which will open on Aug. 18, in time for the fifth death anniversary of the longest-serving city mayor of Naga, approximates the personality of Robredo, according to Priela.
Robredo died in a plane crash off Masbate coast on that fateful date in 2012 when he was the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government,
“The design is site contextual. It answers the need of the site while at the same time also reflects the personality of Mayor Jesse. Unlike other museums that are grand and monumental, this one is very down-to-earth,” he said, describing the concept of the P9M JMR Museum located at the Naga Civic Center here, not far from the city hall at J. Miranda Street.
In front of the building, Robredo’s life-size bronze sculpture sitting on the ground greets the visitors.
“Normally, you see sculptures mounted on the podium held high but that’s not Jesse Robredo at all. We see Jesse Robredo as accessible, humble…that’s why we depicted him in shirts and short pants which is how Nagueños see him as one,” Priela explained.
The sculpture was executed by Jun Vicaldo. Written on each of the three pillars behind the sculpture are “Matino, Mahusay, Matapat” which are Robredo’s description of the quality of a public servant.
Robredo, the late husband to Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Gerona Robredo, was bestowed the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service and earned the good-governance icon for his innovations in making the city government more transparent and accessible to its constituency, a feat that many national and international institutions, like the United Nations, repreatedly attribute to him.
The museum has four galleries in the second floor that narrate the storyline of Robredo’s public life.
The first gallery represents the background and the beginnings of Robredo which include his birth, youth and the institutions he attended from grade school to college.
In the second gallery, the ‘Tsinelas Leadership’ storyline is narrated. “It talks about him (Robredo) being a mayor and DILG secretary,” according to Priela.
“It is the biggest gallery. It shows Robredo’s body of work and his innovations in good governance. There’s a mock-up of the conference room where he used to hold office in the city hall and the awards and citations he earned,” he said.
The third gallery, themed “Sa Mata ng Tao, Sa Puso ng Mamamayan (In the Eyes of Man, In the Heart of the People)”, is about how people perceive Robredo with testimonials from ordinary Nagueños and his family.
Priela said this gallery is fun and interactive where the visitors can try to write letters in an I-pad and send them to someone using the appropriate doodles from an apps. He said the doodles were Robredo’s that he drew in his letters to his daughter Aika.
He said a stationary bike in front of a video is also on display where the visitors can ride and tour Naga in few minutes. Aside from his signature flip-flops, Robredo was also known to ride the bike going around the city.
Priela said they also included in the third gallery Robredo’s favorite pink striped shirt he bought at an ukay-ukay (hand-me-down clothes and apparel) store which he had worn several times in different occasions.
“It was so funny because when we were looking at his (Robredo’s) pictures, the pink striped shirt was everywhere. You can see that these (pictures) are different events because it was worn with different pants, shoes, coats, jackets and backgrounds. I think he was already using that when he’s still the mayor of Naga City. And when he was already the DILG secretary he was still using that,” relates Rochelle Priela, wife to Gian Paolo, who is overseeing the work progress of the JMR Museum.
Another favorite shirt, a psychedelic tie-dyed shirt, which Robredo worn when he was the mayor, when he went to Harvard, and when he was the secretary of the DILG, is also included in the exhibit.
Rochelle said they had known that Robredo basically wore simple shirts and pants and office uniforms which will be included among the items to be displayed in the third gallery.
The final gallery resembles a fuselage and it is named as the “Legacy,” according to Priela.
He said the visitors will be brought to Robredo’s journey from the time the DILG secretary departed from Cebu to his burial.
“It’s like a timeline. The visitors will see frame by frame what happened starting Aug. 18, 2012, the retrieval of the body, the wake at the Archbishop’s Palace in Naga City, the bringing of the casket to Manila, the wake in Malacañang, the return of Robredo’s casket to Naga City and the burial,” Priela said.
He said there are audio, video and photo exhibits like flash reports regarding the plane crash, the retrieval operation in Masbate, the wake in Naga City and Malacañang. Other items on display include the souvenir program of the last occasion Robredo attended in Cebu and the bag he used that day.
“Towards the end of the exhibit at gallery four, we are showing the different posthumous awards given to Robredo from different institutions and boxes that contain the places or organizations named after him,” Priela said.
But the MJR building is more than a museum with an auditorium, a coffee shop, a souvenir store, temporary gallery for changing exhibits and the office of the Naga City Good Governance Institute. On top of the building is a 900-sqm area covered with grass lawn which can double as playground or a place for stargazing. Persons with disability and old folks who have difficulty scaling high grounds can access an elevator that goes to the top of the building from the ground floor.
A brainchild of the Naga City government under the present leadership of Mayor John Bongat, the construction is undertaken in partnership with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
The MJR is curated by the NHCP with four personnel being a small museum, according to Bryan Paraiso, senior historic site development officer of the NHCP.
Paraiso said prior to the opening of the JMR Museum on Aug. 18, there will be mass and blessing of the tomb of Robredo.