Women’s contribution in societal development and transformation amid challenging situations cannot be discounted. Even as gender roles evolve over time, women maintained their position in shaping their communities and the world by showing that they can be more than their traditional stereotypes.

Bernadette de los Santos, Marilyn Haya, and Rossinni Obligacion are living proof that women can indeed rise above anything—even the COVID-19 pandemic. The three women agripreneurs shared their success stories as well as their feats amid the COVID-19 pandemic during the “Bida ang WonderBicolJuana: Agripreneur Talkshow” as part of the Bicol Rural Women’s Day celebration held on March 9, 2021 in Naga City.

De los Santos of Brgy. San Nicolas Baao, Camarines Sur is a visual artist and foundress of Bidibidi Enterprise, a social enterprise that provides jobs to rural women and scholarships to deserving youth in Baao, Camarines Sur. According to de los Santos, since childhood, she held on to her three dreams: to have a garden, a gallery, and a charitable foundation which she achieved in less than 10 years after resettling to her hometown after many years of working in the U.S.

“Naniniwala ako na kapag mayroon tayong dream or goal, you have to write them down para mas ma-instill mo sa mind mo… There was never a day that I was never working or playing to achieve my goals,” said De los Santos who, aside from managing her social enterprise, owns the La Huerta de Rosario, a one-hectare Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)-certified farm in Brgy. Sta. Teresita Baao. Camarines Sur, and the Café Bidibidi in Brgy. San Nicolas, which also serves as gallery for her masterpieces including her handcrafted bags and paintings.

The 2008 Regional Outstanding Rural Woman and 2nd place winner of the National Outstanding Rural Woman Award and the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Best Green Economy Project Awardee encouraged her fellow women to cultivate their passion to achieve success and reminded them to always practice gratitude.

“It all starts with what you love doing and be consistently authentic to yourself. It is always good to appreciate whatever grace or whatever opportunities that we are presented with… we always have to look back and be thankful. Sa ating mga kababaihan, we have to lift each other up not push each other down,” she said.

On the other hand, Marilyn Haya, proprietress of M. A. Haya Dried Fish and Flavored Tinapa in Brgy. Sabang Calabanga, Camarines Sur started as an ordinary housewife who desired to help her husband, a fisherman, gain more income for their family of six. 

“Sa amin po kasi, ang dagat yun ang talagang pangunahing hanap-buhay sa amin, ang mangisda. Halos 90 percent ng tao sa amin ang hanap-buhay is dried fish kaya ko naisip ito na tutukan din,” Haya said. Known for her Dilis Delights or anchovies with a twist, Haya shared how her engagements with the Department of Agriculture through the Chief of the Regional Agricultural and Fisheries Information Section (RAFIS) and the Gender Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women (GREAT) Women Project as well as the Municipal Agriculture Office have helped her elevate the quality of her dried fish products.

She also encouraged her fellow Juanas to avail of capacity-building activities, seminars and skills trainings offered by the government to establish their own business enterprises and empower themselves and their communities.

“Ang pandemic na ito malaking aral, sana yung mga tao na imbes na nagtitsismisan sa ngayon, magsikap sila para magtrabaho. Kailangan pursigido ka, desidido ka, kahit hindi mo kaya, sasabihin mong kaya mo para sa pamilya mo at sa mga katulong mo. Hindi puwedeng mag-surrender kasi ang pamilya mo umaasa din sa’yo tapos mayroon kang mga tauhan na umaasa sa’yo. Pagka tinigil mo, wala na rin sila. Bangon! Kailangan lang wag tayong mawalan ng pag-asa,” Haya, who also serves as a community leader and co-founder of the Sabang-Talisay Fisherfolk Association, an organization composed of 60 rural women and nine fishermen, said.

Meanwhile, from being a registered nurse by profession, Obligacion transitioned into a certified organic farmer when her family decided to move to the province because of her congenital asthma. She started developing the JoRoss Farm, a 1.8-hectare family-owned farm in Brgy. Tinampo Ligao City in 2012 by attending various seminars and trainings particularly on Integrated Diversified Organic Farming System provided by the City Agriculture Office, the Agricultural Training Institute, and the Department of Agriculture Organic Agriculture Program.

“Ang paniniwala ko talaga, ang lahat ng bagay puwede mong pag-aralan basta nandoon yung puso mo at ready ka kung anuman ang mga nakasalalay sa pag-aaral mo, ready kang yakapin yun. Yun ang ginawa ko,” Obligacion, now a Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) certified organic agriculture (OA) practitioner and trainer and a National Certificate II (NC II) in OA holder, said.

The 2019 Regional Outstanding Rural Woman and 2nd place winner of the National Outstanding Rural Woman Award offers this advice to her fellow rural women “Be sincere, be kind kahit minsan ayaw mo na, andun ka kasi maraming umaasa sayo. Kapag lalo kayong pinagpapala, lalo kayong maraming opportunities na dumarating sainyo, lalo kayong magpapakababa, lalo kayong maging humble, lalo kayong maging ready to help. Nakakapagod pero ito po talaga ang kailangang gawin ninyo at parati kasama po ng pamilya natin magiging magandang ehemplo po tayo.”

With their innate creativity, passion, resilience, and servant-leadership, the three women agripreneurs were able to not just survive but thrive amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the cancellation of almost P250,000-worth of orders because of the lockdown, de los Santos remained undaunted. Rather, to keep the employment of her sewers, she thought of repurposing the stocked fabric into face masks and distributed them for free. She also conducted workshops on embroidery with students from Naga City and Baao, Camarines Sur. By the end of 2020, Bidibidi Enterprise was able to produce 10,000 pieces of embroidered face masks branded as “Mascaras.” The fabric face masks have reached as far as Europe, Las Vegas, and Florida in the U.S. which eventually drew support for her advocacy. “To me, it means, more faces, more jobs for my embroiderers,” she said.

Likewise, after the economic setbacks caused by the pandemic and the series of typhoons that hit Bicol, M. A. Haya Dried Fish and Flavored Tinapa is back into business in various provinces in Bicol as well as in Batangas, Laguna and Cavite. The pandemic also paved the way for JoRoss Farm to partner with TESDA, Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in offering Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Courses through blended learning activities. It also expanded Obligacion’s sphere of influence in promoting organic agriculture not only in Bicol but also abroad.

Dr. Gilda Gayle R. Abonal-Gomez, a psychologist from the Local Government Unit of Naga City also delivered a womenar on “Mental Health Care Amid the Pandemic.”

The Bicol Rural Women’s Day celebration was organized by the Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (PMED) and Regional Gender and Development (GAD) Focal System headed by Aloha Gigi I. Bañaria. About 100 rural women, women agripreneurs, GREAT Women project beneficiaries and leaders of women-led organizations such as Rural Improvement Clubs regionwide attended the blended learning activity. DA-Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) Director Jocelyn Alma R. Badiola, Undersecretary for High Value Crops and Rural Credit and Chairperson of the DA GAD Focal Point System Evelyn G. Laviña, Naga City Vice Mayor and Bicol Rural Improvement Club President Cecilia V. De Asis, DA-Bicol Regional Technical Director for Operations Luz R. Marcelino, and Camarines Sur Multi-purpose Cooperative (CSMPC) General Manager Annielen L. Panerio graced the occasion which was also highlighted with the awarding of cheques worth a total of P500,000 to five rural women beneficiaries of the DA-ACPC’s Agri-Pinay Credit Program. 

To cap the activity, the rural women were enjoined to participate in an Agri and Non-Agri Purple Showtime, featuring a fashion show and various contests in support of the Philippine Commission on Women’s (PCW) advocacy campaign for the 2021 National Women’s Month celebration. Furthermore, Bañaria assured the women participants of the DA’s commitment to advance gender equality and women empowerment saying “Keep in mind that pandemic or not, the Department of Agriculture will always be here for you. Together, we STRETCH—Strive Tirelessly to Reach Excellence and Triumph over Challenges and Hurdles because Juana Laban sa Pandemya, Kaya!”(Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V)