It’s been a month since Dinky Soliman joined the rest of the Hyatt 10 in breaking away from the President and in calling on her to resign. Yesterday, she circulated an extraordinary, forthright, letter of stock-taking. Dan Songco of pagbabago@pilipinas was kind enough to send me a copy, and even kinder to get permission to publish from Dinky. It’s a long read, but worth the time we take to read it closely:
Sunflower greetings to my friends in Pagbabago!
It has been a month since I resigned from the Cabinet of PGMA. It has been ages since you have heard from me. Well, I have found time to write my thoughts and reflections. I am sharing it with you and your friends.
WHY I RESIGNED FROM GOVERNMENT, AND ASKED MY BOSS TO RESIGN AS WELL
A Personal Piece by Dinky Soliman (August 8, 2005)
I joined government as a member of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Cabinet because of the principles that I believed in and fought for in the last 30 years of my life. Justice, good governance, equality, empowerment of the poor and marginalized, truth, freedom and love are values and principles that had been the anchors of my involvement in the struggle to transform society. It is because of these same principles that I resigned from government service last July 8, 2005 (exactly a month ago).
Most of you have journeyed with me in the struggle to keep DSWD as I found it, insulated from politics. I admit there were some actions that we did that were politically motivated; I had asked my colleagues in DSWD to implement projects for political accommodation. I apologize for those instructions.
It was always a struggle between good and evil: old habits of traditional politics versus alternative new politics with communities asserting their power. The first three years proved that the reforms far outweighed the political accommodation. Specially when we were able to launch KALAHI-CIDSS; catch up and be on time with commitments on the Early Childhood Development program; install performance management systems; set-up the standards for DSWD institutions (like Golden Acres) as centers of excellence; start the Bright Child campaign for early childhood education, and many more enhancements for our on-going programs. These outweighed the discomfort I had with the Balikatan exercise because I do not believe in foreign troops in our country, and other activities which I felt have compromised my principles. I was conscious that compromises allowed me to protect the gains of the reform we were undertaking.
The period after the 2004 elections became very challenging. When I thought that the President had a clear mandate, I anticipated that there will be less political accommodation and we will zoom ahead on reforms. Most of you were witness to a series of accommodations including in the DSWD. The appointments of Cabinet members and heads of revenue generating agencies were influenced by the factor of "those who helped in the campaign". The last three months was particularly difficult as the scandals were all coming out. It was so disturbing that we have a jueteng scandal involving the highest levels of government (that is the perception) after we threw out former President Joseph Estrada on the same issue. The tapes, while we do not prejudge the outcome of the investigation, definitely cast doubt on the integrity of the President and in the electoral mandate that she won.
I have discussed these issues with the President many times, alone and with the whole cabinet, with the lady cabinet members. The last three months especially we were discussing ideas on how to win back the credibility from a high distrust by the people. There were two schools of thoughts: 1} political survival at all costs 2} undertake swift and credible action of reforms to survive politically and to govern effectively and efficiently.
Last June 27 the President broke her silence on the tape. I felt hope and was very encouraged because that was the signal to begin the swift and credible actions of reform. Yes, I did sing and meant every word I sang. Then the same pattern of non-action or slow action set in, especially when it will affect people whom she owes a debt-of-gratitude. The July 5, 2005 Cabinet meeting was a tipping point, where it became clear that the frame of action is survival at all cost.
On a personal note, the questions of my children regarding what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false…made me realize that the only thing of real value I can leave to my children is a sense of right and wrong. I made up my mind that I needed to resign; I also asked her to resign for the sake of the country and our future.
CREDIBILITY AND LEADERSHIP
The reforms that are needed to reduce and eventually eradicate poverty require sacrifice from all sectors. There are those who need to give up a significant amount of power and prestige; there are those who will have to tighten their belts because to raise revenues for poverty reduction programs of government we need to discipline ourselves and raise tax collection. This has impact on the working class thus they must also sacrifice over and above their own current struggle.
To move the country forward, we need a leader who can unite the country and undertake these difficult reforms. Unfortunately the President herself is the cause of the division. While we are still struggling to ferret out the truth from all the scandals, she introduces another issue which will cause more division among us: charter change. And yet she also agreed to have a Truth Commission which she will organize to investigate her actions. And over the past four weeks we have seen the resources of the government brought to bear on a media blitz to recover her image. Time and energy of Cabinet members have been used to defend the President and do things other than their work in their own departments. This is the President who is fighting for survival.
One question that has been often asked is if I stayed 4 years and a half — was I not part of the mistake. I was. I believe that PGMA is a product of her own personal history. She was exposed and has accepted the practices of traditional politics such as pay backs, pay ups, operations of dirty tricks; at the same time she also believed in instituting reforms in the economic, social and governance spheres using principles of transparency, accountability, and service to the people. She believed that both worlds can exist in one person and the dissonance and disconnect will not clash in her and in her actions.
On hindsight, the same thing happened to me. I was able to develop a team in DSWD that crafted and implemented a community driven development program which was funded by the government through a US$ 100 million loan from the World Bank. It brought to the most marginalized communities the opportunity to use their power to analyze the situation and develop solutions that will be implemented by the community and there will be resources made available to them through the projects. It was an empowerment program that had resources and scale. It was so consistent with my vision of power to the people and it covered 5000 barangays.
To get support for this program I had to work with the rest of the Cabinet and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. I had to be and was a team player. So on the many times that protesters and critics of the administration will be mobilized, I was to be part of the team if not leading the effort of what I call now domesticating tactics. I had directed my colleagues in DSWD to prepare packages of goodies for the urban poor communities as either part of raffle draws, food for work and family day activities to keep them from joining the rallies. We even had medical civic action that had circumcision as part of the package. I admit I was one of those who crafted that strategy; I thought that rather than getting the urban poor out in the rally with the potential of getting pounced upon or even violently dispersed, it was better for them to stay in the community. In the meantime, most of those who wanted numbers in the street began giving cash incentives for the people to stand an hour or two for their rally. The sacred right to stand up for your voice and be heard in the street, the right that many of my friends had died for was now a commercial transaction. Truly, this has led to the commoditization of rights. This to me is the height of insult to the poor because we know that they need the money thus we bought their time — but it was not only their time that we bought– we bought their soul and in the process destroyed our own too. Sadly, this was being done by the opposition and the government.
So as I was undertaking the empowerment processes in the KALAHI-CIDSS area, I was part of the domesticating process of the urban poor communities. The urban poor organizations who I was relating with began to see me as their patron as they get favors or first information on the benefits from government.
I was living two sets of values now. I was like PGMA. I was contradicting myself and counteracting my programs. Like PGMA proclaims transparency and accountability but has several parallel operations for an issue.
We were buying loyalty of the people. Instead of serving the people as part of the responsibility of government, instead of recognizing that the services we were providing were the rights of the citizenry, we invoked the utang-na-loob syndrome, exacting loyalty instead of recognizing that it is the right of the citizen and the taxpayer, to exact services and programs from government. We used our resources and power to domesticate the urban poor. I violated a basic principle which I had fought for so long, empowerment of people; I was party to their disempowerment.
One of the strongest criticisms hurled against me was my disloyalty. How could a Cabinet member, a perceived close friend of the President, have the gumption to ask her boss to resign?? Even some of my friends silently believed that I could have made a mistake in my action. I have been reflecting on this point; it was not an easy decision as I have narrated. It was a long and agonizing process; it was to wake up everyday and ask if I am still consistent with my principles and the people I vowed to serve.
Then VP GMA knew about Dinky only in October 2000. Contrary to popular belief, I am neither a classmate nor a long time associate. We had a common vision for good governance which was born in the struggle against the Estrada government. Over the 4 years and 6 months that we worked together we developed a bond of respect for each other; got pleasantly surprised that we had some shared values and even common personal likes and dislikes on people. I treasure the relationship and would have wished that I did not have to do what I did. I know it hurt her and it pains me that I had to do what I had to do.
It was clear to me that I was in government because of the principles and vision that I believed we shared. The source of her authority emanated from the people by virtue of the mandate they gave her (both in EDSA II and the 2004 election). While it is true that PGMA appointed me to my post, my loyalty to the people is higher than my loyalty to her because ultimately, we are all accountable to the people. I believed that the reforms and the truth were compromised because she has lost credibility and leadership.
It could have been easier if I just resigned and carried on with my life in development work. But then I would not have only been party to disempowering the poor, I have also been disempowered. Some of you might say to me: "Hello. Wake up, government is all about compromises." I say the people deserve more than compromise. If we want our democracy to work for all especially the disempowered and oppressed then we all have to make our stake, be involved in making it work as an active citizen of this democracy. We have to Speak up and Act now.
Today’s gospel spoke of the time when Jesus walked on the water towards the boat of the apostles. Most of them were frightened and thought Jesus was a ghost. But Peter was inspired and he jumped the boat and walked in the water too. He was pummeled by the waves and the lightning, and wavered, but ultimately he kept the faith and did not sink.
We too have taken our "walk in the water". We too have been at the eye of a storm, and have been called traitors and have suffered a lot of humiliation. But we believe that our children deserve a truthful society and leadership with integrity. I have not taken an easy path, but we hope to keep the faith, and keep our heads above the waters of despair and indifference.
I am well and very occupied re-organizng my life and very engaged in the Cause.