A eulogy for Sec. Emilia Boncodin

I don’t know former Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin personally. My interactions with her were all from that period when the Liberal Party of the Philippines was beginning to be a “serious” political party, holding policy caucuses to come up with effective approaches to pressing issues of the day. She was our resource person for those caucuses involving, of course, the national budget, a field of specialty some friends who had the honor of working closely with her, even to being taught by her on that field, attest to her being extremely learned in.

Working for the country’s second-oldest political party since I graduated from college in 2000, one could say I’ve been around power, or more like the powerful. I’ve seen how they are, both when they’re in the public view or behind closed doors with only staff members under an unofficial variant of the rule of omerta to bear witness to what they do or say or think when the cameras are gone.

Sec. Boncodin was… How does one put it, exactly? “Unassuming” is the closest word I can think of right now. There she was, this small woman in relatively unimpressive (I mean, compared to the ones in those caucuses, right?), if smart and businesslike, dress, almost shy, not asking or demanding anything from the hurried and harried staff that went by her. She was like that schoolteacher who was waiting for her turn to speak to the Powers-that-be.

But, when she entered, and after the clapping and some banter exchanged with her fellow Cabinet members and people she personally knew, this small, unassuming woman began talking. She spoke about the budget of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, its intricacies and complexities. And she spoke of them as if they were so easy to understand, and not numerals and terms that looked like so much esoterica. Somehow, when she explained this item, or that entry, it all made sense.

And those powerful men and women, many of which could make even Presidents quake in their boots or heed their call… they listened.  She had their undivided attention. Some of them even went to her after the talk to personally clarify something.

Back before the Garci Tapes shattered my illusions of the Philippines’ public sphere, I counted her as one of the elite few whose honor as a public servant was inviolate. This was someone who deserved your respect in more ways than one. Not only was she at the top of her field, she did her work tirelessly, effectively (as effective as one can be given what country that budget is for) and without any hint of corruption or disgrace.

After the 8 July 2005  incident, so many of those paragons, heroes to me, were taken down from their pedestals. But not Sec. Boncodin. I never met her anymore after, but those who had the honor to work with her, or be taught by her, gave a consistent picture of a person and public servant who remained decent and honest.

Most refreshing, I think, was her view on how the issue of Gloria and the ills of the government could be viewed, if not redressed. “”You don’t know what it is to be in the bureaucracy. Unless you actually been in the bureaucracy, you don’t have the right to say those things.” (from Bong’s blog)

I think, in the end, all I wanted to say was that it feels so sad to have lost such a dedicated and wonderful person such as Sec. Boncodin. This country, if not this world, already feels so dark. And now another pyre is snuffed out, and we are made all the lesser because of it.

I raise my sword in salute to you, Sec. Boncodin. I won’t wish you eternal rest, because I know you don’t need that well-wishing. You of all people have earned that right.

The news item at PDI. She was only 55.

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