[Former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman passed away Sunday, September 19. She served the government department in the early years of the Gloria Arroyo administration, quitting only after the “Hello, Garci” scandal, and again during the six years of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino in Malacañang.
In honor of her passing, we asked Nancy Quimpo Fajardo, one of her former Executive Assistants (EA) during the PNoy years (and also her inaanak sa kasal), to share with us her recollections of Soliman as boss and as public servant, and what she deems to be the lady’s true legacy.]
I met Sec Dinky in January 2010, when I joined the Noy-Mar campaign team. She was in charge of the non-conventional campaign, which meant dealing with and harnessing the energy of all the volunteers. “Let a thousand flowers bloom,” she said then.
When PNoy appointed her as DSWD Secretary, I became one of her Executive Assistants, often accompanying her in meetings, speaking engagements and provincial trips, until I transferred to the Presidential Management Staff in April 2012. During those two years, I saw a glimpse of their simple and happy family life, so when my husband and I got married at the end of 2012, we asked her to be one of our godparents or principal sponsors.
What was Sec. Dinky like?
Sobrang sipag, walang kapaguran. There were four of us alternating as her Executive Assistants then, but we were all exhausted at the end of the day, while Sec. Dinky would still have the energy to facilitate meetings. Ang joke namin noon, siguro apat din sya na nagro-rotate with us, parang robot.
Our days would always start early—she loved being out there and talking with the communities we were helping, as well as with the DSWD staff. Pag pupunta kami sa mga regional offices, laging fly in-fly out. We would be at the airport at 3AM—just her and the duty EA, no security or photographer. She would have a jam-packed schedule visiting DSWD projects and meeting with the communities, stakeholders and DSWD staff. Then we’d take the late afternoon or early evening flight back to Manila and go straight to a meeting before going home, where boxes of papers for her review and signature would be waiting.
She had no concept of overtime or weekends or holidays, because she knew there was so much work to be done. Kapag Quezon City day, sa NCR Field Office sa Manila kami nag-oopisina. She was also very accessible. She always made time to attend the weekly flag ceremony and address the DSWD Central Office staff. Lagi siyang maaga. May isang beses nauna pa siya sa amin dumating sa venue ng surprise birthday party namin para sa kanya.
Wala siyang kapaguran sa pag-sagot sa media interviews dahil alam niya kung gaano kaimportante na alam ng mga tao ang ginagawa at ang mga plano ng gobyerno—lalo na kapag may sakuna, para hindi sila mag-panic. Isang umaga nasa sasakyan kami, ini-interview sya sa radyo. After a while, biglang nahulog yung phone niya (Nokia communicator pa gamit niya noon so ang bigat pa). Nakatulog na pala siya. Pinulot niya yung phone tapos binalik sa tenga, pero after a few seconds na-realize niya na baliktad pala—yung mouthpiece ang nasa tenga—kaya mahina yung sound.
Sa budget hearings, grabe ang pasensya niya. Kahit ilang oras kami doon, at paulit ulit lang ang tanong (“Ano ba yung 4 Ps?” “Paano pinipili ang mga benepisyaryo?” “Hindi ba mas maganda to teach a man how to fish than to give him fish?”) sasagutin nya pa rin at ipapaliwanag ng maayos.
Always up to the task
Nung namatay si PNoy, madaming kwentong naglabasan kung gaano siya ka-demanding at striktong boss. Sec Dinky was always up to the task. Babad siya sa trabaho kaya kabisado niya ang mga programa ng DSWD. Pag may disaster, hawak na niya yung mga datos at reports mula sa Regional Directors bago pa siya tawagan ni Atty. Jun (Delantar, one of PNoy’s close-in aids) para mag-update kay PNoy. Hindi siya yung kailangan ng isang batalyon na staff na magbubulong ng sagot pag may tinanong sa kanya.
When I entered government in 2010, the prevailing perception then was that all government officials were corrupt. With Sec Dinky, I saw first-hand that was not true. Madami palang tahimik at tapat na naglilingkod sa taumbayan. She was very well respected by everyone she worked with.
Outside of work, she was like a mother to us – ready to listen and give advice. She loved to eat and dance. And laugh. She had a very infectious and big laugh.
What is her legacy?
Siguro all those lives that she touched.
First, those whose lives were made better because of all the programs she pushed and worked hard for. Yung Pantawid Pamilya or 4Ps, she pushed for its expansion and institutionalization (from 700,000 beneficiaries in 2010 to 4 million in 2016). We also had KALAHI-CIDDS or community-driven development where the community was empowered to identify and implement projects that would benefit them. Yung sustainable livelihood din, and improvement of disaster response (pre-positioning of goods; standby funds; NROC, or National Resource Operations Center).
And second, those of us who were very fortunate to have been able to work with and learn from her up close. Lagi niyang sinasabi noon – “magiliw at tapat na paglilingkod.” Dala namin ‘yan hanggang ngayon, kahit saan kami pumunta.
[Photos courtesy of Nancy Quimpo Fajardo]