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Humphrey Fellow Extends Philippine-Maxwell Alumni Connections

May 19, 2023

When Niño Raymond Alvina of the Philippines learned he would be spending his Hubert H. Humphrey fellowship year at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, he was delighted.

Benjamin Diokno and Niño Raymond Alvina
(left to right) Benjamin Diokno ’81 Ph.D. (Econ) and Niño Raymond Alvina during the Philippine Economic Briefing at the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington, D.C.

It wasn’t so much the world-class reputation of the school—although that was definitely a factor. And it wasn’t the opportunity to spend his fellowship year in a region renowned for its cold winters—that was definitely not a factor.

It was the chance the fellowship assignment gave him to follow in the academic “footsteps” of two distinguished Philippine leaders and scholars whom he deeply admires and who both have had a direct impact on his own career trajectory.

Alvina, executive director for the Bureau of Local Government Finance for the Philippines’ Department of Finance, is the fourth Humphrey Fellow from the Philippines to study at the Maxwell School. And he continues a legacy of connections with Maxwell that intersected with his own career aspirations shortly after graduating from the University of Philippines in 2004.

“I was looking for a job and saw a posting for a project assistant/researcher for a writing project,” Alvina said. The project was led by Juanita Amatong G’59 who had served as the nation’s first female secretary of finance and was now compiling a casebook on best practices in local fiscal and financial management. Amatong, Alvina would learn, had earned a master’s degrees in economics from the Maxwell School in 1959.

“Her passion is really local finance,” Alvina said of Amatong, “and I got a big chunk of that from her. She opened my eyes to local finance issues when I became a part of her team to document best practices and provide trainings for local governments.” Although Amatong is now retired from public service, Alvina says, they have stayed in touch over the years, and he was sure to inform her of his upcoming fellowship year at Maxwell. “She was very happy and excited to learn about my study program,” he said.

From that first position as a project assistant, Alvina steadily worked his way up the ranks in the field of local government finance, and in 2018 he was tapped to lead the country’s Bureau of Local Government Finance. His current boss—the secretary of finance for the Philippines—is another Maxwell alum, Benjamin Diokno ’81 Ph.D. (Econ). Prior to his appointment as secretary of finance, Diokno headed the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the central bank of the Philippines.

Diokno is “a paragon of excellent public service and an inspiration to me,” said Alvina. “He shepherded many reforms in our country.” Diokno was the one who approved Alvina’s leave as a Humphrey Fellow and expressed delight when he found out Alvina was heading to Maxwell. “When I briefed him on my leave of absence and told him I was to study at Maxwell, he smiled and said the winters might be warmer now in Syracuse because of climate change,” Alvina said. “I told him I would find out.”

Alvina said he made a point soon after his arrival at Maxwell to track down a copy of Diokno’s doctoral dissertation in the University libraries. “It really underscored his strong interest and hope in local finance,” he said.

It’s an interest Alvina shares, and a big reason he decided to pursue the Humphrey Fellowship. “When I was first offered the position to lead the Bureau of Local Government Finance, it was very difficult because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into—leading a full-blown bureau of national scale and scope,” he said. Since then, he has led a number of policy reforms and worked to elevate professional standards in local finance management. 

He expects the Humphrey year to further inform that process, he said, as he has delved into best practices in the U.S. and elsewhere and worked to identify interventions he could adapt for the Philippines.

He said he hopes that by sharing what he has learned with others, he can generate what he hopes will be ripples of positive change. “So the end of the Humphrey Program is actually the beginning of something bigger,” he said. “Something that will allow me to have even more impact and generate more opportunity.”

And he is not necessarily prepared to say good-bye to Maxwell for good. “I’m looking forward to the time when I can come back and complete the credits for the full master’s program,” he said, perhaps inspired by those in whose footsteps he followed here.

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