Robert Z. Barbers
FROM ENFORCER TO LEGISLATOR
Born in Surigao City, the young ROBERT ZABALA BARBERS already had the makings of a good public servant and leader early on during his student days. A consistent honor student, Barbers was always elected to student councils and was always on hand to help and lead his fellow students and friends.
However, politics did not interest him and was not part of his plans at that time. Instead, encouraged by his uncle, the distinguished Police General and former Vice mayor of Manila, James Barbers, who was then with the PNP-Western Police District, and influenced by his readings of various mystery-detective novels, Robert Barbers took and topped the examinations for enlistment in the Manila Police Department. The rest is history.
Starting as Patrolman, Barbers rose from the ranks of the Police Service and came to be known as one of Manila’s finest police officers. As a matter of fact, busting crooks and solving criminal cases has gained for him numerous awards and commendations during his twenty-seven (27) years as a law enforcer.
His list of accomplishments as a police officer is certainly impressive: adjudged for three consecutive years as one of the Ten Outstanding Policemen of the Philippines (TOPP) from 1986 to 1998; 16 efficiency medals for solving major and sensational crimes; spot promotions for the arrest of drug lord Don Jose Pepe Oyson and rebel leaders Col. Billy Bibit and Ignacio Capegsan; medals of merit and gallantry and commendations and letters from the U.S. State Department and various embassies; and he was the first and only Filipino Golden Service Awardee for Outstanding Law Enforcer in Asia given in New York in 1991 – the list could go on and on.
Barbers’ fame as a crime buster had even led to the making of a bio-flick, “Bobby Barbers - Parak”, which showcased his exploits as a no-nonsense policeman.
Barbers was already an established name in law enforcement when politics came knocking at his door. He formally entered the political arena in 1992 as a member of the House of Representatives, but still did his share to preserve peace and order in the country as head of the House committee on Effective Law Enforcement and Vice Chairman of the Committee on Public Order and Security.
At the early stage of his political career, the then Representative of the 2nd District of Surigao del Norte was recognized and acclaimed for his outstanding performance as a legislator by various institutions and organizations, including the Consumer Welfare Foundation of the Philippines, University of the Philippines, Gladiator Magazine, Pilipino Newsline, the Consumer’s Union of the Philippines (PICC) and the National Defense College of the Philippines, of which he is an alumnus.
The Mindanao solon was so loved, respected and trusted by his constituents that they re-elected him in 1996 unopposed. However, his second term was cut short when he was appointed by then President Fidel Ramos as Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
As a member of the Cabinet, Barbers remained just as active in his campaign against criminality, with his founding of the Public Assistance and Reaction Against Crime (PARAC). It was also during his stint as DILG Chief that he intensified his campaign against illegal drugs. He established the Bring-A-Friend Project, which worked for the voluntary submission of drug dependents for rehabilitation. It was also during his time as DILG Secretary when he founded the Barangay at Pulisya Laban sa Krimen (BPLK) Program whose main purpose was to enlist the cooperation and active participation of the civilian populace in the fight against all forms of criminality.
Moreover, Barbers added another feature to his cap when he was named by the Social Weather Station (SWS) survey as the most effective, most efficient and most popular Cabinet members of the Ramos administration for five consecutive times.
By the time the1998 national elections were approaching, Barbers was already deemed as one of the “sure win” candidates for the Senate. True enough, the Mindanao solon ranked fifth among the elected Senators and became the first and, thus far, the only Police officer who became a member of the Upper Chamber of Congress.
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Illegal Drugs, Barbers continues to be a staunch crusader against all forms of criminality, injustice and illegal drugs, which he considers as the No. 1 enemy of the Filipino people. The neophyte Senator has authored more than a hundred bills and resolutions, majority of which are aimed at improving the country’s peace and order situation and uplifting the living conditions of the Filipinos.
Dedicated as he is to uphold the law and serve the people, Senator Barbers said entering politics was not something he had planned. He believes that his political career was providential, a part of God’s plan for his life. Barbers however admits that police work remains his first love.
And for all his seemingly tough exterior, Barbers is a man with a soft heart for the people, especially for the less fortunate. One can see it in the number of people who come to the Senator’s office to seek his assistance, ranging from job recommendations to legal assistance as well as medical support. Dubbed as the Senate’s “faith healer” due to the long queues of people in his office everyday, Barber makes it a point to personally meet and hear the problems of each visitor. The former DILG Chief is also a pious devotee of the Santo Niño, as evidenced by the various icons of the Christ child adorn his office. He credits the Santo Niño for every success, including the criminal cases he has solved and all his electoral victories. Because of his devotion to the Christ child, and being a law enforcer, Barbers came up with a Santo Niño image dressed in police uniform, which came to be known as the Sto. Niño de Policia.
Senator Barbers is also a remarkable family man as he is a law enforcer and legislator. It is easy to see that he has become a role model for his four children, three of whom have also entered public service, namely Congressman Robert Ace, who represents the 2nd District of Surigao del Norte, Robert Dean, Councilor of Makati City and Robert Lyndon who is the Regional Director of the Department of Tourism for Metro Manila. And if there are two persons in this world who serve as his inspiration, they are his wife, Virgie, and only daughter, Mary Grace.
The accolades and awards may keep on coming but for Barbers, such things are not important. For him, being able to deliver the best kind of public service to the Filipino people is what makes him a complete man.