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Advocacy In The Midst of Adversity

“We value education above all, it is the only inheritance we can give our children.”

Eliza V. Respicio and husband Panfilo Respicio, hail from barangay Batu, Enrile, Cagayan. She is a homemaker while also tending a small sari-sari store while he is a tenant of rice fields owned by relatives. They live in a 2-room semi-permanent structure upon tolerance and permission of the lot owner.

The couple is gifted with 7 children among which the eldest is the only daughter. Maria Elaine is a graduate of De La Salle – College of St. Benilde with a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management. She is currently employed in the local government of Enrile as an Administrative Assistant for the Sagguniang Bayan. Paul Emmanuel attended TESDA after graduating high school, but soon after decided to pursue higher education, he is currently taking up Computer Engineering in Manila through his own efforts. Not to be ousted by his elder siblings, Al Anthony pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering in a nearby state university and is currently in his fourth year.

The next four siblings are all in highschool, John Michael who dreams to be a chef while competing with his mother in the kitchen is in Grade 12, John Christian who is the family’s future DOTA champion and computer engineer is in Grade 10, Joshua Jandrey who has an inclination for information technology is in Grade 8. Lloyd Kristoffer, Eliza fondly recounts, would often insist on just being a farmer like his dad, at Grade 7, he is determined to be an Agriculturist.

 

Early Life

At a young age, Eliza learned the value of industry, she was working as a secretary for a law firm while also sending herself to tertiary school. As fate would have it, she met Panfilo who worked in a nearby mall. The two soon became inseparable, their love borne them Maria Elaine before eventually tying the knot.

Claiming independence, the young couple moved to Marikina upon suggestion of Panfilo’s sibling. While he continued working at Ali Mall, she helped out at home by making shoes and shoe accessories while taking care of the children. She recounted the difficulty of the odd jobs she had to engage in just to earn two pesos per pair of shoe, made possible by the owner of the small room the family rented who also happens to manufacture footwear.

Being a native of Manila, Eliza was curious as to the roots of Panfilo and decided to visit his relatives on her own. Armed with the sketch map from Panfilo, some samples of shoes and her resolve, she reached Enrile Cagayan with the purpose of gaining a buyer for her shoes. She did not fail.

Successful, she urged her husband to move to Enrile and engage in the buy-and-sell business of shoes and shoe accessories. Panfilo on the other hand, also realizing the swelling family finances and the difficulty in commuting to his work place, agreed.

The couple first resided in the town center, among Panfilo’s family. The couple was fortunate enough to have an agreement with the Marikina supplier to have the shoes on trust, until later on, the couple financed their own business and decided to manufacture their own shoes purchasing the materials from their previous supplier.

They experienced a major setback when their client, Mariana Aresta, took off with their shoes and refused to pay. The couple filed a case against her, but being unfamiliar with the legal process, the defendant maliciously connived with the couple’s counsel to have the charges dropped. Devastated, Panfilo decided to altogether cease manufacturing shoes and resort to farming.

By then, Panfilo was already helping out in the farming of his father’s field but it was at this point that he engaged himself fully in farming to repair shoes only during the periods when the crops are growing. His industry was soon noticed by an aunt who also let him farm her field. At an agreement, the Respicio couple would cover for all the expenses in farming and as soon as harvest is over, would give 25% of the gross income to the land owner. Relatives permitted the family to set up a small hut adjacent to the field in Barangay Batu. This was when the family grew to its size today.

Life Before The Pantawid Program

 Being a mother of 7 growing children proved to be more than a challenge to Eliza. Panfilo was the sole breadwinner, the close interval between children made it difficult of her to even engage in odd jobs or repair shoes. She was left with the task of taking care of the household and nothing more.

Eliza recounts how, each rainy season, they would struggle to keep their home as dry and comfortable. The kids would constantly complain of the leaks on their cogon roof, felt like it was also raining inside. The house needing immediate repair but it was too costly for the family.

School could not be their priority since it was difficult enough for them to put food on the table. The children had to contend themselves with hand-me-downs, giveaways from relatives and even neighbors, and school supplies that have to be conserved for the whole year.

Despite that, the children excelled. At a young age, Elaine manifested intellectual prowess, being consistently an honor student throughout her education, she was always picked to represent the school in various competitions. As much as Eliza was proud of her eldest child’s achievements, this also borne the family some difficulty. In regular classes, the children only wore rubber slippers that get to be replaced only when it has become unusable, but during competitions, the children would have to wear shoes.

Even if he repairs shoes as a sideline, Panfilo could not afford to get the children shoes, so what Eliza would do was to go to the town and ask to borrow from friends or relatives shoes that fit the children. Sometimes kind-hearted people, including Elaine’s teachers would give her the things she needed.

One incident that the family would not forget was when Joshua was 3 years old and had an asthma episode. The young toddler was gasping for breath late in the evening forcing the couple to decide to bring him to the hospital. Eliza woke the young Elaine to entrust the care of her younger siblings and braved the perilous road to get to the town proper. She vividly remembers feeling helpless, there was no means of transportation from the barangay to the town proper, the couple had to go on foot, crossing rice fields and an old bamboo bridge to get there.

The nearest hospital was in Tuguegarao city, another 30-minute ride after their hour trek. She recounts not having Philhealth and bringing the child directly to Holy Infant clinic since Joshua stopped breathing. Doctors acted with efficiency in reviving Joshua but later on advised the couple to move to a government hospital. They were shocked at the hospital bill amounting to seven thousand pesos for just the few hours of their stay. Eliza and Panfilo took turns going to friends and family to borrow money for Joshua’s hospitalization. All the time, Panfilo would repair shoes and bring home what he earned for their eldest to buy food while Eliza stayed with Joshua pumping the bag valve mask resuscitator.

It was with the help of loved ones that the family was able to come out of the trial with just a dent on their finances. After experiencing the difficulty of begging for her son’s recovery, she had resolved to herself to always be willing to provide assistance to those who need it.

It was year 2009 when an enumerator from the National Housing Targeting System for Poverty Reduction came along to conduct an assessment. Eliza remembers it well because that day, it was exactly lunch break and she was breastfeeding the youngest with Joshua in tow and Christian playing on the soil. The older children arrived home looking for food but only had rice cooking on the stove since Panfilo had not yet arrived home with the day’s earnings.

She recounted feeling embarrassed as the children asked her “Ma, niyan makan?” (Do we have food?) but she could not tell them that they had none. In the end, the enumerator saw how the kids helped themselves with rice and soy sauce, eating hurriedly and hungrily before heading back to school.

 

The Advent of the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program

It was 2011 when the family became part of the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program. According to Eliza, this was the time opportunities started to flow in.

Prioritizing the children’s education, Eliza used the first cash grant she received to buy each child a pair of shoe. The grants, she used solely for the children’s educational needs. Their finances not only provided for enough school supplies, it was also enough to let the kids join in on school activities and contribute for school projects.

It was also that year when Panfilo’s aunt gave them Ten thousand pesos to be able to set up a more sturdy structure for their house. They scrimped on the construction materials, borrowing hollow blocks from kind-hearted neighbors to be paid on demand and used the “Bayanihan” system in constructing the structure. The bayanihan system being a strategy of helping each in the form of community labor by the community members, to which Panfilo always takes part in. The rest of the proceeds, Eliza used as capital for a small store starting with a few cans of sardines, packs of coffee, sugar and rice.

Despite the discrimination brought by their being a 4Ps beneficiary from non-beneficiary neighbors, Eliza only saw all the advantages and opportunities that the program brought. She claims thus: “Noong wala pa ang 4Ps program, hirap dumating ang grasya. Pero noong naging parte kami nito, sunud-sunod naman ang pasok ng biyaya” (Before the 4Ps program, blessings came in slowly but after we have become part of the program, opportunities started flowing in). Government institutions began recognizing the need for interventions and would thus prioritize 4Ps beneficiaries in their development programs.

A micro-finance cooperative, CARD Inc., encouraged Eliza to expand her store into a sari-sari store with an initial loan of five thousand pesos. The Unit head of the company likewise provided her with technical assistance in managing the store finances and proper bookkeeping. From the income of the store, Eliza was able to augment her husband’s earnings.

The Department of Agriculture prioritized 4Ps beneficiaries in giving out farm implements to the farmers. Panfilo no longer depended solely on loans from mill owners with exaggerated interest rates. DA also implemented a hog-dispersal program wherein the 4Ps beneficiaries were individually awarded with piglets to raise and breed. The proceeds from which the family was able to complete the structure of the house. The materials

The Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC) also offered a variety of services for the farmers who were members of the 4Ps program. The family felt secure in case their crops will be destroyed by drought or flooding.

The Department of Health prioritized 4Ps beneficiaries in its health programs including the provision of Philhealth membership. Compared to when Joshua had an attack and the family did not have any Philhealth claim, the family had to shoulder all the medical expenses as well as to transfer him to a government hospital. Just recently, the youngest, Lloyd, fell off a Kaimito tree and the couple had to rush him to the hospital. They did not think twice in bringing him to a private hospital to run the necessary tests because they were confident that the hospital will honor their Philhealth membership.

The now defunct Self Employment Assistant-Kaunlaran (SEA-K) program soon followed providing the family with an additional ten thousand peso loan for capital. The program was replaced with the Sustainable Livelihood Program of DSWD. Through the proceeds the couple was able to purchase a second-hand side car at two thousand five hundred pesos and a loan for a second-hand motorcycle paying 650 pesos weekly for 1 year.

 

Family Advocacy

For a family who has been through a lot of hardship, the Respicio family has made it to a point to always lend assistance to those who are less fortunate. “Pinagdaanan ko lahat ng hirap. Hindi ko makakalimutan yung pakiramdam na parang wala akong magawa para kay Joshua noong naospital siya, kaya kapag may mga kapitbahay kaming nangangailangan ng tulong, tutulungan namin hangga’t makakaya. Konsensiya ko na rin ang kalaban ko kapag di ako tumulong” explains Eliza. (We have been through a lot of difficult times. I cannot forget the feeling of helplessness when Joshua was brought to the hospital, which is why we never have second thoughts when other people ask us for help. It will be my conscience I will be fighting against)

From the time the family acquired the secondhand tricycle, it has been the main source of transportation for day-to-day since there was no public transport available in the barangay. Travel to the town center takes 30-45 minutes while the travel to Tuguegarao city takes an hour and a half. In cases of emergencies, neighbors would run to the couple and ask to help them bring the sick to the hospital to which Panfilo would always oblige, asking for nothing but the reimbursement of gas. It has been that way since 2012, their tricycle tagged as the barangay tricy ambulance.

Being a parent leader for more than 5 years before relinquishing the role, Eliza has acquired the reputation of a good counsellor. Fellow beneficiaries would use the time after their family development sessions to air out grievances and Eliza would always make it to a point to assist in conciliation. She had become so effective at the advice she gave that eventually, even non-beneficiaries would seek her counsel.

The barangay Chieftain herself attests to Eliza’s role. “Madalas, kapag may away mag-asawa, nagpupunta sila kay Eliza. Marahil doon na rin sa ehemplo na pinapakita ng mag-asawa sa kanilang mga kapitbahay” (When couples argue, they would seek Eliza’s counsel. This may be because the couple is a good example to their neighbors.) Even the chieftain would find herself at the couple’s doorstep when faced with the task of identifying a practical structural/health project for the barangay. The Provincial Local government awarded their barangay with a fund for a health-related project, at Eliza’s advice, the barangay council set up a water facility in the area.

Another advocacy of the family is their desire to encourage the establishment of water-sealed toilets for each household. Before the installation of water-sealed toilets, people, especially the children, would just relieve themselves anywhere. Aside from its being unhygienic, it had been a nuance to the children going to school on foot with not so much but worn out rubber slippers, complaining on stepping on human waste hidden under grassy patches. Through the bayanihan, the men in the community worked together to install household toilet to a majority of the homes.

With farming as the primary source of livelihood, education is not a priority amongst the members of the community. However, the high number of out-of-school youth has increased alarmingly with employment opportunities becoming slim. The couple resolved themselves to be the adviser of the 4-H club, an organization for out-of-school youth in providing livelihood opportunities and personality development funded by the Department of Agriculture.

Completed projects include reselling goods such as baked breads, cake and leche flan; setting up of booth during the Town Fiesta and selling food products and agriculture. One such project by the 4-H club is the establishment of a fishpond. In digging and making the dike, the 4-H club sought the assistance of DSWD through the Cash-For-Work program instead of hiring a buck hoe. Irrigation of water and the supply of fingerlings were made possible through DA. The assistance also included inputs such as fish feeds. After harvesting, the proceeds were used as capital for other income projects.

With the increased interest of the young people to earn good living, majority of them have enrolled in various learning programs with TESDA and the Alternative Learning System of the Department of Education.

Elaine, being the firstborn, has also manifested the character of her parents, being an advocate herself for education. Having attained her degree under full scholarship, she encourages her brothers as well as other children in aiming for a higher education with the conviction that poverty should not be a deterrent for them to finish their education.

Recently, Elaine was invited as a guest speaker for the commencement exercises of her primary school. She took this as an opportunity to inspire the children through the story of her industry and her parents’ unwavering support.

 

As FO2’s Regional Candidate for Huwarang Pantawid Pamilya 2017

 

It comes as a pleasant surprise for the family to be picked as the Province of Cagayan’s nominee for the regional search for Huwarang Pantawid Pamilya, moreso after they were declared the regional winners and FO2’s own contender for the national title.

The Municipal Social Welfare and Development Officer of Enrile, Mrs. Erlinda Apostol, testifies to the positive impact of the family not only to their fellow beneficiaries but also to those who are not part of the program. She declares that the local government also recognized the commitment of the family in public service which is why, Elaine, was immediately offered a position under the office of the Sangguniang Bayan.

For Panfilo, he exemplifies the strength and industry as the head of the family. The one with the cool head and the calm composure in dealing with family difficulties. Together with Eliza, there is consensus in decision-making and child-rearing.

Eliza is the beacon of hope and display of perseverance. She radiates an empowered woman fostering cooperation and partnership with her other half. She instils the values and traditions of their ancestors while fostering faith in the Almighty.

The children are the joy and treasure of the family. The promise of a better future. Education is of utmost priority, all the while nurturing industry and resourcefulness. Faith in the Almighty is encouraged but religion is upon the choice of each member as they reach the age of discernment.

Truly, the Respicio family embodies the character of a Huwarang Pantawid Pamilya. They are an inspiration to others and personification of advocacy amidst adversary.

This post was written by:

- who has written 69 posts on DSWD Field Office 2 Official Website.

Writer. Painter. Photographer. Director. Poet. Law Student. Thinker. Friend. Enemy. Critic. Fan. Accomplice. Cook. Nerd. Mom. Daughter. Sister. Lover. In any order.

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