Over the years, the Philippines has been scoring good ratings from international gender equality measures and indices for its implementation of gender-sensitive policies. However, more than 10 million Filipino women today still live in poverty and informal settlements which makes them more vulnerable to danger and abuse, according to a study of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Despite this fact, Filipinas, who are unarguably tagged worldwide as resilient citizens, work hard to defy this daily challenge to improve themselves and overcome the circle of tedious poverty. For some women, acquiring tenure security is one of the most intricate initial steps towards their empowerment.

Light of the community

It was a sunny Thursday afternoon and the residents of St. Hannibal Homeowner’s Association (HOA) Phase II in Pasay City were busy welcoming foreign guests who flew all the way from Sweden for a field exposure activity. The community president Noemi Hennon led the welcoming of the guests and greeted everyone with her cheerful face and sunny smile. Hennon said that receiving several guests from different sectors has been a regular activity in their community, being one of the model socialized housing projects in Metro Manila which implements a strict estate management policy.

The community association was under Social Housing Finance Corporation’s (SHFC) Community Mortgage Program (CMP) since 2006, a financing scheme, which assists group of legally-organized informal settler families to acquire security of land tenure and implement site development and/or upgrading and housing construction and/or repair projects. 

Hennon said that she has no idea that she’ll become a community leader because she thought that being a plain housewife is all she’ll ever be. Never in her wildest dreams that she’ll get to interact with a lot of people who usually asked her about her experience in running the organization.

“Before, I hardly interact with my neighbors because I felt shy. I usually stay inside our shanty, reading pocket books while taking care of my children,” Hennon narrated.

But everything changed when their community association began to acquire their own, formal settlements in Pasay City. She was elected to become one of the HOA board members until she was chosen to become the president. Hennon admitted that she doubted her capabilities when the position was given to her.

“I’m just a high school graduate. I am just a plain housewife. How can I handle the position efficiently,” she asked herself then.

But with the help of various NGOs like the St. Hannibal Empowerment Center, Hennon started to go out of her shell. She attended every leadership development training offered to her. She began to interact with other people, and improved her skills through learning exchange activities. She did not let her insecurities pull her down.

“You should always believe that you can do more than what you can think of. There will be a lot of people who will help you along the way and will bring out the best in you,” Hennon stressed.

It was during her helm when they implemented an estate management policy which set the rules and regulations in their community. She admitted that it was a daunting task but through proper and open communication with the members, everything’s falling to its proper place.

“The reason why we implemented an estate management plan because we are aiming for a better quality of life now that we are living in our own homes and community. We want to correct all the (wrong) habits that we used to do when we were informally residing along the waterways,” the lady president said.

Aside from an estate management plan, various programs that enhances the capacities of the members are being implemented. She advocates women empowerment among housewives in the community by giving them leadership trainings as well as exposing them to activities that brings out their talents in singing, dancing, and performing.

With the acquisition of her own home, a lot of things have changed in Hennon’s life. She is now the empowered woman that everyone in their community looks up to. Her third child, Nanette, have nothing but praises for her mother.

“She was a very good leader. She knows how to take care of us (her family) along with the whole community. She inspires me to join organizations where I can share my leadership skills as well,” Nanette exclaimed.

The once plain housewife who gives light to her family now brings a brighter torch, which lights up the whole community.

Expanding capabilities

Women empowerment is an ongoing process. One does not stop learning and exploring to become a better version of herself.

In a coastal community in Roxas City, Capiz dominated by fishermen, a passionate woman holds her own spotlight. Riza Dullano, the community treasurer of Ramon Dinglasan HOA ensures that their community association’s funds are tightly kept and all accounted for. Since their HOA became a member beneficiary of CMP in 1994, Dullano took charge of the finances. Through her own perseverance, she learned the basics of preparing a financial statement.

During their weekly meetings, Dullano presents the facts and figures of their financial statement flashed on the blank pages of an old calendar. Dullano goes through each of the figures up to the last centavo. After which, the lady treasurer came closer to the members and presented the official receipt and transaction records that were contained in a long folder. There was no space for doubts and suspicion in that room. Dullano exudes confidence, knowing that all the figures she presented were truthfully and carefully recorded. Dullano seemed to have been doing the task for the longest time but according to her, she was just doing it rightfully for the last 6 months. After the meeting, the members went out of the room with jolly and secured faces, knowing that their funds were in good hands.

Since the association became a partner-community in the “Post - Yolanda Support for Safer Homes and Settlements Project” of SHFC and UN Habitat in the latter part of 2014, financial status updating has been included in the organization’s regular routine, to ensure proper disbursement and audit of the community’s funds.

Dullano, being the treasurer, was on top of the disbursement and management of the community fund worth P4.635 million. But in order to fulfill this huge task, she needed to improve her financial skills and learn new things, which included opening a bank account.

She underwent financial literacy training through the BDO. The training covers the basic processes in opening and owning a bank account, the deposit and savings scheme, among others. The committees were also provided with finance and audit forms and were taught how to use them.

Dullano can vividly remember the first time she did her bank transaction. How she felt and how she reacted upon the withdrawal of P367,633.74 that their community used to purchase materials needed for the first phase of house construction.

“I asked our purchase committee to accompany me in the bank. And when I received the cold cash, I was shivering. My feet went cold. I hurriedly placed the money inside my bag because I thought that scammers can take it away from me anytime soon,” Dullano exclaimed in a high pitched voice.

To capacitate other members, Dullano trained the other community members in handling finances and in doing a financial report. She always tell them that they should take into account all the money even up to the last centavo.
This experience will be her armor as she continues to embark on a new challenge of sustaining this culture of financial sensibility in the whole community.

Domino effect of empowerment

Empowerment can lead to more beautiful things and bigger opportunities. This is what Cornelia Layosa, or Ate Connie as what her friends call her, believes. Layosa is the president of Champaca 3 HOA in Marikina City which is also under CMP since 2002.

Through CMP, 212 informal settler families have fulfilled their dream of acquiring their own lands, which then led to building their own homes.

“If you already have your own house, then you will be more inspired to dream of bigger things, and to exert more effort in order to achieve them,” Layosa said.

Layosa considers the process of acquiring shelter security as one of the biggest challenges in her life because their community association have been through a lot just to qualify for CMP. But this experience has made her more resilient and improved her leadership skills.

Through her initiatives, Layosa was able to tap the local government of Marikina to provide funds for the construction of road right of way and site development to their community in 2008. Last year, the congressional district of Marikina donated a multi-purpose hall and the construction of the covered court was ongoing.

“You just need to make a step in order to achieve your goals. The government is always there to help,” Layosa said.

The multi-purpose hall will be used to become a livelihood training center for the community members. Other community members were already sent to various livelihood trainings of their choice.

Mariciris Costales now earns P300-P500 per day for rendering manicure and pedicure services. Her earnings will be used for her family’s daily needs while portion of it is saved to pay for her monthly amortization to SHFC.

“Ate Connie inspired me to pursue whatever I want to do. Since we already have our own home, it’s easier for us to follow our passion because having a home is no longer a problem,” Costales said.

Layosa believes that empowerment also means empowering others in order to achieve community success.

“I think that this is my purpose - to help. It is in helping and maintaining a good relationship with your neighbors can respect and fulfillment be achieved,” Layosa stressed. 

Through her role in community housing, Layosa received an award as one of the most outstanding women in Brgy. Fortune in Marikina. Their community won the “Model Community Award.”

The stories of Hennon, Dullano, and Layosa add to the long list of Filipino women who redefined themselves from plain housewives to someone who can make a mark to the society. Theirs are the stories of initiatives that can be perfectly accomplished by women to address issues, such as housing.  They demonstrated strength and creativity as individuals who have responded not only to their rights to adequate housing but more importantly, to shed light on the obstacles hurdled by women leaders.
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