LAST Saturday, the soil parted to welcome the casket that bore the body of a man named Robert Larga. He was “Obet” to family, friends and associates. A young lawyer of 48, Larga served as one of the directors of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). He was also an expert on forced labor trafficking, having single-handedly written a manual on the subject matter for the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).He worked for the Department of Justice, and also served at the International Labor Organization.
Wherever Obet placed himself, there is value-added because he was a man in constant search for answers and solutions. Greed was an alien word, and corruption was as attractive to him as the bubonic plague. I miss having him around. When he headed the licensing division of the POEA and was in charge of the anti-illegal recruitment campaign,Larga kept his smile, his baritone coolness, while strictly enforcing rules and regulations.
I write this tribute for his family – for his wife and two daughters — that they may know how much Obet was appreciated as an honest, hard-working public servant. I remember how for the first time ever,Larga held a Skype conference to talk to a group of stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia, while his staff took down notes. When we had an urgent case at the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, I would pull him in, include him in online chat groups, just so we could have a definite opinion on what the POEA can do to help the distressed overseas workers.
He always said yes. Every single chance he got to talk about the dangers of human trafficking, he’d say, “Yes, of course.” The non-government organizations that are active in the labor migration front saw him as a friend and ally. He had no airs. You’d never hear him speak ill of anyone. I miss hearing him laugh. Because when he laughed, it was spontaneous, generous, and infectious. It was the laugh of a person that you instantly liked, just because.
He never intended to hurt anyone. Yet, it was an open secret among his colleagues that he himself was hurting. In a reshuffle of officers, Director Larga was moved to a unit that handled government-to-government placement of workers. His director-rank had been maintained. Nevertheless, a few insiders at the POEA knew why he had to be removed from the licensing division. Perhaps, the qualities that endeared him to us, failed to impress others. Sometimes, you don’t like a person not because of what he or she did, but what that person refused to do. Before he died, he expressed concern over the operational aspects of the proposed OFW ID card to people close to him.
He loved his work. Director Larga cared so much for the POEA that it bothered him that the agency was in such a state of flux. It has been more than a year and the POEA still has no permanent administrator. Surprisingly, some people seem to prefer it that way.
There is talk about corruption within the POEA, and rumors about the fixing of cases and bribery persist to this day. Yet, within that vital institution are people like Director Larga who would never tolerate mercenary pursuits disguised as public service. Not over their dead bodies. Not while they are alive, and still under the employ of the Filipino people. I hope that these good people find their voice, and soon, because they do represent the silent, under-appreciated majority.
Director Robert Larga died of natural causes complicated by a heavy heart. He had a kidney ailment that somehow led to complications because of diabetes. I viewed his remains last Friday. Employees from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, or Tesda, sat beside me. They were in talks with the POEA, specifically withLarga, about developing language courses for OFWs. Unfinished business, I know.
Why do I write this about a man now dead and buried? Because this needs to be said: in government, there are men and women of probity and intelligence that deserve to be honored and empowered while still alive, while able to do good. I pity my colleagues who remain in government that have to parry criticisms, play politics to survive, and make an honest effort to comply with every single requirement that good governance demands. They are public service personified, yet seldom credited for the good things they do.
I want the world to know that there was a good man named Robert Larga. He never failed public expectations. He simply showed up, and did his job. I want the world to know that though his career ladder now stretches upward to divinity, his soul was never ravaged by the shallower pursuits of power. That on earth, this is possible. That he was both intellectually and financially honest. And yes, that he represented the kind of public servant that ordinary people miss the most.
Farewell, Director Robert Larga. Thank you for serving us well. Rest easy now and let the rest of us continue on with all the work you’ve left behind. God bless you.