I am in awe of all the people who helped and continue to help in the relief and rebuilding after Typhoon Yolanda/ Haiyan. Love and compassion are overflowing. So many deserve more than a pat on the back. They deserve our unending gratitude.
But, if I may, if there is one – only one – person who can be given a medal in all this, I chose Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, Secretary for Social Welfare and Development.
Soliman was literally first responder. As devastation was becoming apparent she was on the horn with her troops, the United Nations and other aid agencies. She was in action, despite having had little rest from the successive devastations of the Bohol – Cebu earthquake and the ZamboangaCity – MNLF siege just weeks before, and the series of typhoons, floods and other disasters months before and in quick succession since PNoy came into power.
Soliman was among the first in the scene and, more importantly, the first in national government to act decisively and with dispatch, beating even those who were already there in Tacloban before her.
Yes, she did say on national television that when she arrived they could not deliver relief immediately because there was no one there, nobody from the local social welfare group to be called upon. But she didn’t say it begrudgingly or complaining the people abandoned their post. Definitely so unlike Mar Roxas, the Secretary of Interior and Local Governments who was complaining that the Leyte police had not reported for work and abandoned their duty. Dinky Soliman was merely stating the condition as a fact.
And neither was she complaining about it, nor was she using it as an excuse for not having delivered relief goods early and fast enough to the hungry survivors. She was merely illustrating they difficulty they faced, when asked by an inquisitive media.
All throughout she managed resources as an experienced and decisive manager would, not falling trap to analysis paralysis and bureaucratic red tape. She was not officious at all, quickly allowing others with resources to mobilize, merely ensuring that the allocation of relief resources was properly allocated to the various communities. No doubling, no hoarding. Among the first to deliver was a Korean church group, and Soliman made sure that the trucks and security were there.
There were slip ups in her department, especially with her people down on the ground, low in the hierarchy of authority. Like one who insisted they cannot deliver relief goods but it was for the barangay chairman to pick the goods up. Amid all the chaos she probably forgot that the barangay leaders did not have the transport means because Yolanda had washed them off to sea.
Or the staff who was opening up foreign aid relief packets or even repacking them to DSWD bags. It’s SOP for them to check the validity and expiration dates of the care packs. It isn’t an official act to EPAL or grab credit.
To me these little snags further illustrate that Soliman is where she is supposed to be: commanding the troops from her base of operations, giving them the leeway to make certain judgment calls. An effective manager delegates responsibility. Yes, some will falter, overstep their boundaries, but as boss Soliman cannot be there to repack and hand out relief goods herself if she wants the whole machinery to move. And she knows that.
I’ve known Soliman for a few years, and I haven’t always agreed with some of her political moves or decisions. But she is one who knows where politics ends and real work begins. The last time I saw her was in BaguioCity, in a more relaxed atmosphere. It was a weekend lunch for my wife and I when we bumped into her and her group. But for her it was work weekend, stopping only for a quick lunch break as she was moving about the mountain province with people from multilateral agencies, checking people programs that need support.
Many will recall her leading that serenade to a falling President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – “if we hold on together’’ – as her delivery of her most unkindest cut, as in the next moments she was with the Hyatt 10 relinquishing their government posts and abandoning their boss and publicly denouncing her. A snake, they said.
I believed the contrary. I always thought that among those in that Hyatt 10 group I felt Soliman was the only one who tried to redeem the duly constituted authority of the country, an act of a loyal subject to an anointed leader. For love of country it was worth one last try, even at the risk of failure. And fail in that effort she did.
If anything, it showed character, stooping down low if it would serve a greater good. Just as Soliman showed character in caring for the poor and marginalized, for the hungry and suffering of the successive trials under her watch, never calling attention to herself but to the plight of those she is serving.
Soliman is compassionate, even as people attempt to pillage the facilities and warehouses under her command. This is a far cry compared to that officious Roxas who says that he would like to arrest the looters but it would be impractical to prosecute them because the prosecutors and his office are likely dead or missing from the storm surge. This while complaining that the Leyte cops should be taken to task for abandoning their duty even if they did suffer the same fate as the prosecutors. And lately, this bum was so brazen as to jump to the conclusion that local officials are hoarding relief goods for themselves when clearly the stacks under their care could not be moved fast enough because they either had no transportation, no fuel or both.
I don’t know if we will ever be able to give a medal befitting Dinky Soliman. But I do believe that when the sun finally rises from the darkness, the sunflowers that she so loves will again bloom for her.