By Volt Contreras, Philippine Daily Inquirer | March 22, 2010 (Monday) | link to original article
MANILA, Philippines—To quote one of her favorite songs, their love has put her on the “Top of the World.”
Praises and petals rained on the late Emilia Tabalanza Boncodin as the former budget secretary was laid to rest Sunday morning at The Heritage Park in Taguig City.
The rites were poignant but simple and the much-admired keeper of the nation’s tight purse would have approved.
On cue, and to the tune of a Carpenters classic, family and friends tossed flowers at the casket before breaking into applause in final farewell to the ex-bureaucrat, whose career spanned five presidencies up to the Arroyo administration from which she resigned in 2005 as one of the so-called “Hyatt 10.”
At the 6 a.m. Mass preceding the burial, Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias said: “We thank Emy for giving us an example of just being good. Because it is nice to be good; it is its own reward.”
The service gathered some 300 of Boncodin’s hometown relatives and classmates from Iriga City and Nabua town in Camarines Sur province, and friends from the government, civil society and the academe.
The mood was generally somber but for the chorus of pop songs from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s that accompanied the pictorial following the Mass at the Heritage chapel and later at the interment.
The choir of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), where Boncodin started as a fiscal planning specialist in 1978, had prepared a pamphlet of lyrics titled, “ETB’s Old-Time Favorites.”
It contained love songs, as well as tunes that poked fun at the otherwise no-nonsense DBM chief: “‘I’ll Never Work This Hard Again,” a twist on the Bacharach classic “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “Em-My’s Way,” sung to the tune of Sinatra’s “My Way.”
True to her Bicol roots, the repertoire also included the folk song “Sarung Bangui.” But then again, there were the mushy “Paper Roses” and “Close to You.”
Boncodin, 55, died on March 15 from complications arising from her body’s rejection of a kidney donated in 2005.
Sunday’s tributes continued to reveal new facets of her character and work ethic.
“She’s a reformer-bureaucrat—which is almost a contradiction in terms, that’s why she’s rare,” said former Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, who together with Boncodin and eight other Cabinet members resigned en masse on July 8, 2005.
The group that came to be known as “Hyatt 10” (after the hotel where they made the announcement) broke ties with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the wake of the “Hello Garci” election-rigging scandal.
Enough is enough
“Of all of us, Emy was the least expected [to resign],” Soliman told the Inquirer. “But her action spoke a million words. She didn’t have to say anything, she just did it.”
She recalled that Boncodin’s “main theme” or tone during the crucial meetings held on the eve of their resignations was: “Enough, Tama Na!”
“She could have changed her mind,” Soliman said. “But she returned [the day after] to join us. Some of her closest friends did not agree with her action, but she’s her own person, and to me that was an extension of what she’s all about.”
As a technocrat, Boncodin “led changes” in the government procurement system that made biddings more transparent, Soliman said. She also initiated measures that would make data on government spending open to public scrutiny via the Internet.
She also put in place a merit-based performance rating and incentive system in the Career Executive Service Board (CESB), Soliman added.
“While she was doing all this, she had full knowledge of the resistance she would meet. Her magic was she knew how to work the bureaucracy [and] identify her allies inside the Executive and the Legislature,” she said.
A simple person
When she quit the government, Boncodin, who had been relying on her office vehicle to get around, found herself “without a car of her own” as a private citizen, said former Bulacan Rep. Willie Villarama, her classmate at Harvard’s Kennedy Institute of Governance.
“She’s that simple,” Villarama, a former Arroyo aide, recalled fondly.
Another Harvard classmate, then Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, had to call up some friends to lend Boncodin a car, he added.
Villarama also admitted to having a hard time following up Boncodin for the release of funds for his congressional district—even when his request letter already had the “initials” of the President.
“She would say, ‘Hay, Wilfredo, [the President’s] initials alone will not do. Go back and have it marked OK or approved,’” he recounted in Filipino. “She’s that strict with the rules, but she will also explain what you cannot do and what the consequences are.”
Boncodin never considered returning to government service and instead chose to “teach future public servants,” said Teresita “Ging” Deles, Ms Arroyo’s adviser who also joined the Hyatt 10.
Apart from teaching at the University of the Philippines (UP) National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG), Boncodin shared her expertise with INCITEGov (Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance), a project that seeks to educate the public on the budget process to better guard it against abuse, Deles said.
But Boncodin was “a serious person who also had fun,” Soliman said, smiling. She said the Hyatt 10 get-togethers with friends (including the late President Corazon Aquino) usually had impromptu piano sessions and the budget guru would join those singing their hearts out.
And so at Sunday rites at the sprawling Heritage Park, Emy’s family and friends sang the Carpenters ditty, making sure “something in the wind had learned [her] name.”