Ladies and Gentlemen, Vicki Jardiolin-Villa.

Apr 17, 2011 by

The following piece is published with permission from the author herself, Victoria Jardiolin-Villa. This is the speech she delivered as guest speaker at the Awarding Ceremonies of the Outstanding Women of Iloilo. She is the president of Confetti, Natasha and Marikina Shoe Exchange. She is also a highly distinguished and multi-awarded faculty of the UP College of Business Administration in Diliman.

This piece should inspire and move us, Ilonggos, to work together for a better Iloilo.

Maayong hapon gid sa inyo tanan. Hon. Congressman Jerry Treñas, Honorable Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog, Honorable Vice Mayor Joe Espinosa III, City Officials, congratulations for this tribute to the Outstanding Women of Iloilo. To these Outstanding women, I applaud you.

Many years, and 50 pounds ago I saw a hit musical movie titled Flower Drum Song, in it. Nancy Kuan sings “I am glad I am a girl”. If I were any older or wiser then, I would have said – abaw Inday, you don’t know how difficult it is to be a girl, much less an outstanding woman.

In this matriarchal society, (and I challenge the machos in this audience to disagree with me), on that being a woman is not an easy. Chairman Mao once said women hold up 50% of the sky. I suspect we do more than that in this developing country. We strive to be corporate achievers, entrepreneurs, economists in the kitchen, mothers, sweethearts, role models, devils in bed, saints, sirens. Indeed we live a paradox.

Of course, we have it better than most women in the world. In Yemen, girls can be married off at age 10. In Riyadh, women cannot travel without male permission or drive a car. In other parts of the world, they certainly cannot wear shorts as some of my students at UP do. But we do not have complete boasting rights yet about our positions of respect in our society. The RH bill has not yet been passed.

But we have our own challenges. Our poor country has been ravaged by natural calamities like Typhoon Frank and plundered by human ones. Need I say by whom? We must do our part in the recovery. Let us be both entrepreneurs and leaders of social and economic change in Iloilo.

Let me tell you some inspiring stories.

Patis Tesoro & piña of Aklan. There is a story about Korina Sanchez piña wedding gown. The house of the bordador in Laguna was threatened by Ondoy’s floodwaters. Clutching only the yet unfinished gown, he clambered to the roof crying “Malunod na ang lahat, huwag lang gown ni Ma’am Korina”.

Piña was not always the fabric of choice of brides like Korina Sanchez. At least not until Patis touched it with the magic of her artistry and celebrity. Now a piña wedding gown is the fashionable bride’s dream. Piña now comes in pastels, monochromes, and are expensively embroidered in Laguna, boosting yet another industry.

Grace Gupana and ABS Herbs. Grace supplies Natasha with some products so I know her personal story. She started out as a sidewalk vendor of medicinal herbs & roots in the Quezon City Hall area. Our fellow Ilonggo MSA, the QC city administrator at that time was trying to clear the sidewalks. Grace marched to Dr. Alba’s office & said “Dr. Alba if you remove me from there, I will have no livelihood. Maghohostess na lang ako”. She kept her puesto.

Now, ABS Herbs, is the manufacturer of among others: ABS Bitter Herbs capsule, ABS Herbal Tea, Charagen Ampalaya Tea, all for diabetics.

Independent surveys show that ABS Herbs is the most recognized herbal supplement company in the Philippines, and generated the highest volume sales among all herbal supplement marketers in the country. Think of how the farmers who grow the amargosos have prospered.

And there’s “Chit” Juan whose ECHOstore (stands for Environment, Community, Hope, Organization). The shop offers “upcycled” products by marginalized groups making use of old newspapers, magazines, juice pouches and even tarpaulin from billboards. ECHOstore’s message is by being resourceful and creative, we can help save the environment for future generations.

Livelihoods have been created for economically deprived communities. Gawad Kalinga, housewife coops in Smokey Mountain among others supply ECHOstore. Chit’s group provides trendy product design (artistic intervention) and marketing outlets.

Dita Sandico Ong, who created my wedding gown. Known for innovations using natural and beautifully handmade textiles, she has made her mark in Philippine fashion design. An advocate of environmental and cultural heritage, Dita works with indigenous weaving communities across the Philippines. She made my gown from a banana fiber/linen/rayon blend from Catanduanes.

Her clothes, marked by distinct Filipino motifs, help improve livelihood in indigenous communities. Her trademark paru-paro wraps and lukot line have redefined and modernized Philippine fashion without taking out its essence.

Narda Capuyan was a family planning nurse in La Trinidad, Benguet when she had the brilliant idea of harnessing the weaving skills of the Igorots to create blankets, rugs, and assorted items out of recycled yarn. This was also her way of keeping the women busy & distracting them from making babies. The church would have approved.

Narda’s products are now on display at department stores, including Rustans and Bloomingdale’s in New York, and are exported to the world market. The dying art of weaving was saved, the industry is alive and well & so are the families enabled and employed by Narda.

I love these stories of enabling, organizing, energizing, and empowering, of social commitment. But now maybe you ask. What are the opportunities for involvement, for social entrepreneurship in Iloilo? To cite a few:

1. Hablon – 40 pounds ago, I already tried to wear hablon but the colors, the textures were not,hmmm, fashionable. Because of this, it was not exactly in great demand. In this rut, the industry was on its last legs and only 80-year old women were at the looms. Then, during the term of Dr. Emer Roman, first woman president of UP, togas at commencements were replaced with the sablay, a hablon malong type piece with University of the Philippines in Alibata script woven into it. This revived the industry somewhat.

But the potential of the fabric, if it can be bought closer to couture standards is huge, partly because there are more weavers now.

Taking about opportunities, for hablon let me cite Thai Silk. When Jim Thompson, an ex-GI discovered it, it was where hablon is now. With his artistic intervention, Thai silk became a fabric fit for Queen Sirikit and the Thai royal family. The fabric was made into gowns, shawls, and many many more products.

The Thai silk industry earns millions of dollars for those who make & sell Thai silk & Thai silk products to the 15M tourists who visit Thailand every year and the Jim Thompson house is like a shrine. Would you like a shrine in Miag-ao too?

Hablon Weaving in Oton, Iloilo

2. Talking of tourists and their economic impact.

a. Tours- I often hear of people asking-where to go in Iloilo. After you have done La Paz batchoy and Tatoy’s, what to do? Let’s not reinvent the wheel. In once impoverished Bohol, up from number 72 poorest province to number 12 because of tourism, Bea Zobel Jr. organized and enabled the community to preserve its cultural heritage and develop them into tourist attractions. Livelihood programs were promoted through sustainable tourism.

Now you can go to Bohol, buy an organized tour which will introduce you to some tarsiers, Baclayon church & its antiques, and cruise down a green river eating a forgettable lunch. There must be 200 boats in the special pier built just for the river cruise. The tour is climaxed by a demo of the Coconut King husking a coconut in 20 seconds with his bare teeth. Ugh.

This is not yet world class. The tarsiers probably hate it but all these have propelled tourism stakeholders in Bohol-the boat owners, caterers, tourist guides, souvenir makers, men with strong teeth, etc., etc., into prosperity and Bohol into a must-see destination in the Philippines.

We can do this in Iloilo too. We have developed world class festivals, plus our beautiful churches. Congressman Treñas then Mayor invited the press & got them rhapsodizing about our food.

3. Pasalubong Center. I love Deco’s Pasalubong Center but what about finding the best in Iloilo products – food, handicraft, hablon items, etc. Narda, Patis & Dita have shown traditional arts & crafts products can be the basis of a social enterprise. We have delicious snack foods. But the handicrafts & hablons still need much development work.

Introduce producers to sources of financing and to sound business practices to build capability. Rationalize production. Invest in professional designers to develop product design, packaging and branding. This will enhance their market access. Monitor, organize and empower the small producers.

The Pasalubong Center is only a first step. The products developed there may find outlets in the national & international markets.

4. Restoration. If I were Mr. Alfonso Tan, the Sarabias, Mars Florete, the Uy Gongcos, Mr. Romeo Go I would buy or lease a heritage building downtown or a house preferably near the blighted Jaro Plaza. It could be converted into a tourist destination, a place for a classy pasalubong center, a heritage gift shop, and cozy cafes where one may dine on Ilonggo delicacies, a charming venue for weddings & similar gatherings, a living museum. It would be the beginning of a much needed facelift & possibly begin & help to return our beloved city to its old glory.

The Sanson-Montinola Antillan House in Jaro

Iloilo has a rich cultural heritage and a vibrant economy.

Opportunities abound where a woman with vision, compassion, drive, and the courage to take risks can make a difference. Can you make a difference?

Let’s be enablers. Let’s make money and change lives, ours and others’. Let’s be innovative & entrepreneurial.

Again, my warmest congratulations to these outstanding women who have shared their lives with us and touched our part of the world in a meaningful way. Palakpakan naton ining mga kababaihan na Ilongga na naghatag sa aton sang dako nga bugal. To paraphrase Mayor Mabilog, our women, my city, my pride. Maayong hapon sa tanan.

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