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Opinion

May a million sunflowers of hope and goodness bloom

Cesar Purisima - The Philippine Star

My relationship with Dinky spanned over a quarter century under different capacities. First, as my client, second, as my colleague in the Arroyo Cabinet, and then third as fellow comrades in civil society advocating for transparency and accountability in government. Fourth, as volunteers for the presidential campaign of Mar Roxas and later on, for the Aquino-Roxas ticket. Then finally, as colleagues again in the PNoy administration. Over the years, through the dogfights and in the trenches, we shared and developed a friendship based on deep trust and respect for each other.

In the mid-90s, SGV was hired by Canada International Development Agency (CIDA) to audit its grantee, the Philippine Canada Human Resources Development Program (PCHRD). I met the three headstrong leaders of PCHRD: Dinky Soliman, Dina Abad, and Karina David. All three ladies were very accommodating and professional but I found Dinky the least intimidating not because of her physical stature, but because she immediately exuded a more naturally nurturing warmth to everyone she spoke and dealt with, including myself. SGV audited several hundred sub-projects and found PCHRD to be not just professionally run but more importantly, filled with passion and purpose.

The next time we reconnected was when I was appointed to the GMA Cabinet as secretary of trade in late 2003. She reached out immediately and discussed how our departments can collaborate to help a wide swath of our fellow Filipinos who remain marginalized and underprivileged. We identified the creative economy – using people’s inherent skills as their capital – as a low hanging opportunity. We also talked about the “big brother program,” where large corporations adopt aspiring entrepreneurs and micro enterprises into their supply chain to ensure they become sustainably integrated into the revenue cycle.

When I moved to the Department of Finance in early 2005, she was one of the first Cabinet secretaries who contacted me to discuss how we can continue funding her DSWD initiatives, including the Kapit Bisig Laban Sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS). At this time, she was already exploring how the Philippines can fund a program similar to Mexico’s Opportunidades, which Mexico launched in 2002, and Bolsa Familia, which Brazil President Lula launched in 2003. She was always looking for ways to help her constituency, the poor and underprivileged – 24/7 and without rest.

Through the turbulence of serving in the public sphere, we stood together as friends and kindred spirits, bound by our conviction that integrity and credibility are key to winning and keeping the trust and confidence of our people. Dinky believed that public servants should always put country over self, many over the few. In her words, “magiliw at tapat na paglilingkod.”

After returning to the private sector, we worked closely to set up InCiteGov to continue our advocacy for better governance in the country at all levels.

Our paths crossed again when we volunteered to support the presidential run of Mar Roxas and ultimately, of PNoy in 2010. Dinky, working with civil society, led the non-traditional part of the campaign. Dinky used her extensive network and social capital in civil society to mobilize support for Daang Matuwid. Dinky had limitless energy and was omnipresent in meetings and campaign rallies.

Upon Dinky’s return to DSWD in 2010, CCT was at the top of her mind since she helped germinate the idea and supported it as a private citizen. She and PNoy were convinced that the program not only had to be continued but had to be expanded. By the end of Dinky’s tenure, it covered almost 5 million beneficiary families from the 800,000 in 2010, with plans to increase it further to 7 million. This gave millions of next generation Filipinos a fighting chance to break the vicious cycle of poverty and have a hope for a brighter future. This expansion of the 4P’s program alone should seal Dinky’s legacy of truly caring for the #poor and #underprivileged.

But her body of work was much more than 4Ps or KALAHI-CIDDS or the laws she championed such as the Magna Carta of Social Workers, Magna Carta for Women and Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, or her initiatives in improving disaster response such as the pre-positioning of relief goods, standby funds and the setting up of the National Resource Operations Center. Beyond these, Dinky inspired her co-workers and comforted the victims with her constant presence and warmth, in her signature red chaleco, in all the calamities that beset our country.

In PNoy’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA), he paid tribute to Dinky’s work ethic by referring to her as his secretary-on-call, 25 hours a day and 8 days a week. And this was no exaggeration. I saw this first-hand when PNoy assigned me to handle logistics for the Typhoon Yolanda relief operations. I remember being at the Port of Manila at 2 a.m. with an urgent issue to resolve. So I took a chance at calling Dinky. Thinking I woke her up, I apologized but she cut me mid-sentence to tell me that she was at the Relief Operations Headquarters. That was Dinky. She had no concept of overtime or weekends or holidays. She had no concept of self because she lived her life to help others.

Dinky, you were one of a kind. Your time on earth was not enough compared to the amount of good you could still have done and wanted to do. Despite this, you helped, touched and gave hope to millions of people, especially those who needed society’s help the most, many of whom are mourning right now. They are too numerous to name because you were tireless in helping them – typhoon and calamity victims, informal settlers, orphans, victims of human trafficking and of human rights violations. Wherever social injustice can be found, your small physique was always a towering presence filling the void. Your voice was a source of hope.

Dinky, I wished I hugged you the last time I saw you at PNoy’s wake – but that would have violated social distancing protocols. We sat together sharing our heartache on the passing of PNoy and wondered why the good people have to die young. Now, I hope God has filled up his quota of good people, because there was so, so much good taken away from the world with your passing.

But with the good that was taken away, we are comforted by the knowledge that Dinky, you have left a lasting legacy of caring, solidarity and compassion for the people – as a devoted wife, loving mother and grandmother, untiring #communityworker, the epitome of a selfless, honest, competent, fearless #publicservant, courageous advocate for #socialjustice and reliable #leader of #civilsociety; an empathetic friend and just simply an amazing human being. I hope your exemplary legacy will inspire many more Dinkys to sprout from the ground, like a million young sunflowers facing the sun, towards hope and towards goodness.

We will never forget your hair streak to remind ourselves of the need to continue fighting for change, for more transparency and more accountability in government. Sunflower Bliss, Dinky!

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Cesar Purisima served as secretary of finance in 2005 and again from 2010 to 2016. He is the Asia Fellow of the Milken Institute.

MAR ROXAS PNOY
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