Dinky Soliman’s legacy: Reducing poverty, responding to calamity


Sonny Coloma

From 2006 to 2015, the World Bank reports, “Robust economic growth helped the poverty rate in the Philippines to fall by 5 percentage points... from 26.6 percent in 2006 to 21.6 percent in 2015, due to factors like the expansion of jobs outside agriculture, government transfers, in particular to qualified poor Filipinos through the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and remittances.”

Poverty reduction through the provision of social safety nets was shepherded by the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) led by Secretary Corazon ‘Dinky’ Soliman during President Benigno S. Aquino III’s administration from 2010 to 2016. She served in the same capacity from 2001 to 2005 with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during whose watch the program was launched.

In 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act 11310 institutionalizing the 4Ps as the centerpiece of the country’s poverty reduction and human capital investment strategy that provides conditional cash transfer to the most needy families for a maximum period of seven years to improve health, nutrition and education.

Covered beneficiaries of the 4Ps include “farmers, fisher folks, homeless families, indigenous peoples, those in the informal settler sector and those in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas including those in areas without electricity.”

Previously, the 4Ps was simply an executive program that was subject to annual appropriations made by Congress. The new law ensures the sustainability of the program until poverty incidence is brought down further to 16 percent, or one-half of what it was in the baseline year 1990.

Most importantly, observed Secretary Soliman: “As a long-term investment, (it) helps reduce the vulnerability of families to sudden economic difficulties and contributes to breaking intergenerational poverty by helping today’s children become productive members of society. After only a few years of implementation, we are already seeing its tangible benefits to poor Filipinos.”

Indeed, the 4Ps initiative has produced far-reaching effects that have greatly enhanced social inclusion among the erstwhile poor and marginalized Filipino families.

Yet another important legacy of Secretary Dinky Soliman was the building of institutional capability for responding quickly to the needs of communities ravaged by natural disasters, especially powerful super-typhoons like Yolanda (or Haiyan) that destroyed Eastern and Central Visayas in late 2013.

Based on President Aquino’s guidance, Secretary Soliman directed DSWD regional offices to preposition relief goods in appropriate storage facilities to ensure quicker response when typhoons or other natural calamities occur. Local warehouses were used in partnership with schools, as well as other government agencies like the NFA.

In 2015, the DSWD completed the building of a modernized repacking center in Pasay City capable of producing not less than 50,000 food packs per day. The objective was to ensure that in any province hit by a strong typhoon or other major natural disaster, the DSWD could quickly deploy enough food packs to feed not less than 250,000 for three days.

Support from the World Food Program and the United Kingdom government enabled the DSWD to establish the center and install a system consisting of rice bagging machines, case erectors, a conveyor system and a pallet racking system. Each family food pack consists of rice, canned goods and coffee.

Dinky Soliman devoted herself to her mission to serve with utmost dedication and great energy. She was a veritable human dynamo, always an enthusiastic cheerleader, and never lacking in patience and perseverance. She sported a trademark hairdo accent in violet or gold, or bright orange. Sunflowers were her all-time favorite fresh blooms or signature logo as they signify positivity, resilience and fidelity.

I was fortunate to have known Dinky Soliman from our freshman year in UP Diliman many, many moons ago. As products of Catholic schools (she was from College of the Holy Spirit of Tarlac and I from Don Bosco Technical Institute in Makati), we joined the UP Student Catholic Action. It was there where she met her husband Hector Soliman, my fellow staff member in the UPSCA Newsletter. Hector went on to serve as Undersecretary for Legal Affairs at the Department of Agrarian Reform and has been a public interest lawyer for the past four decades.

I last met Dinky at the wake of our former boss, President Noynoy Aquino at the Ateneo Church of Gesú. She was one of the Cabinet members who reminisced our golden years of serving with our esteemed and beloved leader.

Many admired the account posted by Hector Soliman on how his entire family was afflicted by COVID --- and how they eventually overcame it: “We thank God...and all family and friends...who have provided counsel, advice and prayers through these very difficult times. We shall overcome, and we look forward to better times ahead.”