Women offer books, coffee for peace in Mindanao
The Philippines still has a long way to achieving and sustaining nationwide peace, but that isn’t discouraging some of the most hardworking businesswomen from doing their bit for their homeland.
Just ask 22-year-old Arizza Nocum, this year’s awardee under the Youth category of Go Negosyo’s Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneurs. Nocum, who runs the nonprofit Kristiyano-Islam (Kris) Peace Library and Good Karma Shirts, believes that aside from education, a good marriage of business and socio-civic ventures will help in addressing the issue of conflict, especially in Mindanao.
“We’re starting to see [our scholars] have a better grasp of peace. Before, peace wasn’t really something that was taught in school; conflict isn’t really something visible to us, especially if you’re from Manila or Luzon,” said Nocum at Go Negosyo’s recent awarding ceremony. “But slowly but surely, we’re showing them that there’s a culture of peace that we need to propagate—that there are more similarities than differences among Filipinos of different religions and cultures, and that the key to addressing conflict isn’t to create more wars, but to bring more books, more computers, more education to the region, not guns.”
Nocum’s ultimate dream is to set up a social enterprise in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), an area that doesn’t have too many thriving businesses, she said.
“If we create businesses that really provide jobs and uplift the communities, it’ll go a long way in helping with the peace and order situation,” Nocum added. “It’s a slow process; we can’t really quantify peace. But I think [economic empowerment] really comes with security.”
The same goes for Felicitas Pantoja, owner of Coffee for Peace, which was one of the awardees under the Inclusive Business category. Using coffee as a source of livelihood and community-building, Pantoja has committed herself to establishing peace and improving farmers’ quality of life in conflicted areas in Mindanao.
“We go to conflict areas, not just [those with the presence of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front], but also the NPA (New People’s Army) and other elements. We connect [them to] farmers who are connected to peace-building communities, and they are the ones who train them on peace and reconciliation—and we also present sources of livelihood. Because [they are] in the highlands, it is mostly focused on coffee,” said Pantoja about the nature of her business.
Pantoja brought the locally produced coffee to the US and Canada to have it graded, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were labeled “premium” and “specialty.”
“[After that], what we did was to rally more farmers so we could produce higher quality coffee that would command higher prices. Now we train them on processing, and also how to put up their own coffee shops, their own brands. We want to train them and leave them with jobs so [the business] can be sustainable,” she said.
Pantoja also works with tribal communities that are dealing with land-related issues, or “the ones fighting for their ancestral domain.” While she and her team assist in finding legal representation for them, they also train them to become skilled coffee farmers.
“Because some people have said, ‘Oh, the reason your land is being taken from you is because you’re not doing anything with it’—but if they are productive, then they will be able to protect their land,” she said. “So it’s not just about the coffee farming; it’s holistic in the sense that we develop relational harmony with our Creator, ourselves, others, and the environment.”
Nocum and Pantoja were two of the 26 women recognized by Go Negosyo as some of the country’s most inspiring female entrepreneurs in a simple celebration held March 30 at the Malacañang Palace. In front of around 400 other businesswomen, the awards were presented by President Duterte, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Go Negosyo founder and presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion and SM’s Tessie Sy-Coson.
The other awardees were: Wildflour Cafe & Bakery’s Ana de Ocampo, Villa Margarita Hotel & Catering’s Mary Ann Montemayor, Omnimoda International’s Sheree Gotuaco, Terry S.A.’s Anne Gonzalez, Unilever Philippines’ Gina Lorenzana, Chalre Associates’ Rebecca Mills, Great Image’s Evelyn Palomo and Chinese International School Manila’s Felicia Atienza for the Medium-Large category;
HK Stone Craft Trading’s Honie Krizia Navor, Daytao Native Cakes’ Evellin Daytao, BuroBuro Springs Vermi Farm’s Pamela Henares, Dennis Coffee Garden’s Imelda Dagus, Agrea Agricultural Systems International’s Cherrie Atilano, Bahag Footwear’s Ester Vitto, J. Emmanuel Pastries’ Maria Lydia Lomibao and Mabute Lumpia Wrapper and Cheese Stick Maker’s Arlene Mabute under the Micro-Small category; and Echostore’s Chit Juan, Magsaysay Maritime Corp.’s Doris Magsaysay-Ho and Sen. Cynthia Villar as Women MSME Development Enablers.
Pantoja’s co-awardee under Inclusive Business was Cropital’s Rachel de Villa.
As “pillars” in women entrepreneurship, Legacy awards were given to Mercedes Gotianun of Filinvest Development Corp., Corazon Ong of CDO Foodsphere Inc., Socorro Ramos of National Bookstore, and Rosalind Wee of W Group of Companies.
The awards were part of the country’s celebration of National Women’s Month, held every March.
“Many industries today are run and led by women—they are major contributors to the development of their communities and the country. This is why we are recognizing more Filipina entrepreneurs,” said Concepcion. “Like moms to their daughters, may these women inspire and empower a new batch of entrepreneurs who will make their own mark.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.