The story is told of the Greek mythical god Diogenes who goes from house to house in the middle of the day with a lighted lantern in hand and knocking on every one’s door.
When asked what he was doing, Diogenes replied that he was looking for an honest man.
In the Philippines, Diogenes would have stopped looking for his honest man once he’d knocked at Emilia T. Boncodin’s door. Just from the looks of the door, Diogenes would have known that the house’s occupant was honest.
And Emy, as the former Budget secretary was called by friends, is dead. She died of kidney failure at the age of 55, honest as she was when she first joined the government at age 18.
The Inquirer, in its news about Emy’s death, said Emy lived simply.
When the late Blas F. Ople, another honest man, was elected Senate President in 1998, one of the very first things he did was to ask Emy and her friend, Patricia A. Sto. Tomas, for a meeting at Ople’s office at the Marbella Condominium on Roxas Boulevard. Emy and Pat then were out of government, having resigned when Joseph Estrada took the reins of government after trouncing Jose de Venecia in the presidential election. Emy was teaching at the UP at the same time that she and Pat were doing consultancy work.
“We need honest people to help us in the Senate. Let us meet with Pat and Emy,” Ople told me in summoning the meeting. Also summoned were Willie B. Villarama, Art Brion, Fred dela Rosa, and Fred Rosario. All were Ople protégés and have worked with the country’s longest-serving labor and employment secretary.
Emy spoke softly and with conviction. On occasions when I visited her at her office in Malacanang to run errands for Ople, she saw me promptly, going straight to official business because she was so busy. The Department of Budget, where she served for the longest time, was a beehive and, as the official money adjunct of the government, a nest of whispered corruption. But under Emy’s captainship, it was run as a tight ship. No leak. No whiff of scandal. No corruption. Her honesty rubbed off on every body. Even her dress bespoke of her simplicity and honest living.
As budget official, she knew her work like no other, and Ople was astounded by her phenomenal command of the budget—its details and implications and the policies that govern it. She served gratis as Ople’s consultant in his Senate office, same with Pat, Willie, Art, and the rest of Ople’s people.
Emy is gone.
It might take a long time coming for another Emy, yet with her legacy of honesty in public service indelibly etched on in our memory Diogenes can take comfort and take a respite from knocking on doors looking for an honest man.