Tonight, the NEDA community joins the family, friends, and colleagues of former Secretary Cayetano “Dondon” Paderanga Jr. not so much to mourn his untimely loss but to celebrate his life. Dr. Paderanga was not only the country’s former chief economist and the agency’s head; he was also a dedicated professor who mentored not just his students but anyone from a rank-and-file employee to a newbie reporter seeking knowledge and understanding of economics and development.

NEDA, as a strong institution it is today, owes a lot to his tireless efforts in achieving what’s best for the agency – all in terms of management, employee development, and improvement of its facilities.

As NEDA Director-General in the early ‘90s, Secretary Paderanga upheld NEDA’s primacy in Official Development Assistance and public investment programming amidst pressure to transfer such function to the Office of the President. Indeed, this was an important function requiring technical competence and credibility, which he made sure NEDA would always have.

Yet he was also deeply concerned that “NEDA’s bench was too thin.” Concerned about losing the good people to international organizations and aid agencies, he negotiated with the Civil Service Commission to allow NEDAns to go on consultancies subject to guidelines. This provided opportunities for NEDAns to benefit from the higher pay while also keeping the doors open for them to come back.

Beyond innovations to strengthen NEDA as an institution, Secretary Paderanga pushed for bigger structural reforms during the administration of former President Corazon C. Aquino at a crucial time of transition in the country. Inspired by the incisive analysis and recommendations by a group of original thinkers in economics led by eminent economist Paul Krugman, which he himself was responsible for bringing over, Secretary Paderanga acted swiftly to institute the recommended reforms that would allow for quick economic recovery, rationalize government’s participation in the economy, and bring about profound post-Marcos structural change that would nurse back the economy to a higher growth path. In line with this, he worked hard for the passage of tariff reform bills in Congress, intently monitoring how each congressman and Senator would vote.

Upon returning to NEDA in 2010, Secretary Paderanga pursued to revitalize the public-private partnership or PPP financing for infrastructure projects nationwide. As this eventually became a cornerstone of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s administration platform, the Build-Operate-Transfer or BOT Law was amended, leading to the creation of the PPP Center attached to NEDA.

His dedication in strengthening NEDA continued to be evident as he made strides in building up NEDA as the prime authority in socioeconomic planning and policy in government as it should be. To beef up expertise of NEDA’s management, he supported a partnership with the Asian Development Bank through a Capacity Development Technical Assistance program.

At the same time, he would always look after the welfare of NEDA staff. To quote his former executive assistant, Monchi Roderos, he would always express his intent to promote NEDAns who deserve a higher position and do away with provisional OICs but unfortunately, the bureaucracy’s policy sometimes got in the way.

Furthermore, in support of continuing education for government workers, he revived the Master’s program for middle-management executives at the Development Academy of the Philippines. He even became DAP’s chairman and secured the program’s success while ensuring NEDA’s participation in the program.

Before he resigned from NEDA in May 2012, he convinced world-renowned international economist, the late Dr. Ronald McKinnon, to share his ideas on development with the best of the best economists of the country. Dr. McKinnon was professor emeritus in economics at Stanford University where Secretary Paderanga obtained his PhD.

These are just a few highlights of Secretary Paderanga’s career in NEDA. Even beyond NEDA, his everyday hard work and dedication to serve the Filipino people are widely acknowledged and appreciated.

Over the weekend when his passing was reported in the media, we heard countless testimonies of his kindhearted ways as a boss, professor, colleague, friend, and a gracious source for journalists covering NEDA. They shared how Secretary Paderanga would always initiate intellectual discussions on the economy or governance; more impressively, he did this with his unique sense of humor but he took care that he got his point across. Also, people would recall his musings on one of his favorite topics, Japan, where he taught economics for a number of years. He was always inspired by its beauty and the discipline of its people. How he wished that the Philippines would be as developed as Japan one day! Secretary Dondon was as a fine teacher of economics, a father-like boss, and a generous and humble public servant whose example is worth emulating.

As we celebrate his life this evening, let me close with these lines from Wordsworth:

“Though nothing can bring back the hour
of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower
We will grieve not, rather find
strength in what remains behind…”

Farewell, Dondon.