The One Country, One Voice (OCOV) is the Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) consultative mechanism to allow stakeholder participation in trade policy formulation. Launched in 2011, OCOV facilitates transparency and accountability as government undertakes the process of engaging in dialogues, building mutual trust, and arriving at rational, sound and balanced trade policies in pursuit of national development.

For 2019, the OCOV’s theme of “Seizing Opportunities Amidst the Challenges of International Trade” will have three thematic topics:

  1. Philippine Development and Trade Policy
  2. Rising Global Protectionism: Reflections on Trade Policies
  3. Navigating New Horizons: Forging Ahead through Strategic Economic Partnerships

This year’s forum will bring together thought leaders and practitioners from government, academia, businesses, embassies and civil society to exchange views on current issues in international trade and identify ways to address the challenges and take advantage of opportunities for the Philippines.

One Country, One Voice (OCOV) Forum on International Trade
“Seizing Opportunities Amidst the Challenges of International Trade”
4 December 2019 
8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
New World Hotel Makati, Philippines

This event is by invitation only and has very limited seats. For inquiries, you may contact the event secretariat at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Download Program of OCOV Forum on International Trade.

Download the Presentations during the Forum.

View Speaker Profiles

Department of Trade and Industry

Ramon M. Lopez is the Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). His extensive government experience with the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), DTI, and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) in the early part of his career provided him with a solid background on macroeconomic and industry development that allowed him to adopt a more holistic trade approach when he moved to the private sector and became a top executive of a major Philippine food and beverage company for over 23 years.

As a strong advocate for free entrepreneurship education for 12 years, he was called to serve the country again under President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s administration as the DTI Secretary. He chairs several institutions under DTI such as the Board of Investments (BOI), the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL), the Small Business Corporation (SB Corp.), and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).

He has received several awards such as: the Honorary Agora in Nation Building Award in 2018; the 2016 Nation Builders Award for Government Service for his role as prime mover in Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) development; and the Philippine Innovation Man of the Year Award in 2017 for the promotion of social entrepreneurship through innovation. In 2018, he received from President Duterte the Order of Sikatuna, with a rank of Datu, one of the senior honors one can receive in the Philippines.

He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of the Philippines and topped his Master’s Degree in Development Economics at Williams College, Massachusetts.


Secretary General Pacific Economic Cooperation Council

Mr Eduardo Pedrosa is the Secretary General of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council. He co-edited An APEC Trade Agenda: The Political Economy of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific and “Towards Balanced and Sustainable Growth Strategies for Post Crisis Asia”. He has written extensively on regional issues including Towards an ASEAN Economic Community: Matching the Hardware with the Operating System and Implications of an Uncertain Global Economy on Integration Initiatives.  He is a member of the Advisory Board of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report as well as their Ecommerce Expert Group. Before moving to Singapore, he was the coordinator of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s Southeast Asia cooperation program based in Manila and also the co-editor of its journal on regional economics and politics. He has also worked for the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Philippine government. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. 

Department of Trade and Industry

Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo leads the crafting and implementation of Philippine industrial policy and international trade negotiation agenda. He is concurrently Managing Head of the Board of Investments (BOI). He also sits in the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Board and Chairs the committee that coordinates the 18 investment promotion agencies across the country.

Undersecretary Rodolfo—or Usec. Perry, leads the Philippine government’s bilateral trade and investment engagements with key partner economies. He was the Philippines’ Chief Negotiator for the Philippines-European Free Trade Association Free Trade Agreement (PH-EFTA FTA)—the only signed bilateral FTA of the country other than that with Japan. He was also the focal Senior Official for the Philippines’ successful application to the EU GSP+ Program.

Usec. Perry leads the implementation of the Comprehensive National Industrial Strategy (CNIS) and the Manufacturing Resurgence Program (MRP), including the Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy (CARS) Program. He likewise oversees the development of focused, performance-based, incentive programs similar to CARS: including, prospectively, for Steelmaking, Shipbuilding and Ship Repair, e-Vehicles, Pharmaceuticals, Mass Housing, Copper Products, among others.

He is a recipient of the 2017 DTI Secretary’s Award for performing extraordinary acts in the interest of the public through outstanding government service. He was also awarded as DTI’s Most Outstanding Executive in 2014, his first full year as a public servant. And, in his three years as BOI Managing Head, he set the highest investment registration in the Agency’s 51-year history amounting to Php 915 billion – securing a 47% growth from the Php 617 billion approvals in 2017 (the second highest record).

Usec. Perry is on government secondment from the School of Management (SMN) of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), where he previously served as Vice Dean (and Acting Dean) of SMN and Academic Director of the Advanced Management Program.

He obtained his Economics Degree from the School of Economics of the University of the Philippines and his Master of Science in Industrial Economics, on full scholarship from the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany, from the Center for Research and Communication (CRC), now known as UA&P. He also holds a DPA from the National College of Public Administration and Governance of the University of the Philippines.

He is the first Filipino participant in the Strategic Management Program of the Industrial Management Institute (IMI), under sponsorship by the IMI and by the Islamic Development Bank, held in Tehran, Iran (1995). Usec. Rodolfo is also an alumnus of the International Faculty Development Program of the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain (2007).

Senior Adviser
SM Group
Former Secretary of Trade and Industry

Mr. Gregory L. Domingo rejoined the SM Group in 2017 as a Senior Adviser focusing on Digital Economy and Innovation.

Domingo served for five and a half years (June 2010 to December 2015) as Secretary of Trade and Industry during the Aquino administration. He previously served in the Philippine government (2001-2004) as head of the Board of Investments.

In his role as Trade Minister, Domingo actively participated in international trade fora such as ASEAN, APEC and WTO. He chaired the APEC Trade Ministers’ meetings during the Philippine hosting of APEC in 2015. Domingo also participated as one of the Vice-chairs of the WTO 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi held December 2015. He was one of the strongest proponents for crafting a global and regional trade agenda to open export opportunities to micro and small enterprises.

He worked in the U.S. for 13 years (1982-1995) starting in IT with Mellon Bank, moving on to fixed income research on Wall Street with Drexel Burnham Lambert and First Boston, and ending up with portfolio management/trading at Chemical Bank. At the time he left the U.S. to return to the Philippines in 1995, Domingo was a Managing Director at Chemical Bank New York in charge of the Bank’s $14 billion proprietary long-term fixed income portfolio which consisted of mortgage-backed securities hedged with derivatives such as interest rate swaps, Eurodollar and bond futures and options.

Since his return to the Philippines in 1995, Domingo worked in the financial and real estate sectors in various capacities and was appointed to a number of corporate boards including some of the largest Philippine companies. Upon appointment as Secretary of Trade and Industry in 2010, Domingo relinquished all his private sector positions as required by law.

Domingo has been conferred numerous awards from the private and public sectors and the academe.

He has participated in numerous conferences and fora as a speaker and panelist including some at World Economic Forum in Davos and Asia, WTO in Geneva and Euromoney in Asia. He was a member of the Asia Society Policy Institute Trade Commission that issued the report “Changing a Course for Trade and Economic Integration in the Asia-Pacific” issued March 2017.

Domingo earned a Master of Science in Operations Research from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania with a Research Fellowship at the Wharton Applied Research Center. He also obtained a Master in Business Management (with Distinction) from the Asian Institute of Management, and a Bachelor of Science in Management Engineering from Ateneo de Manila University.

In recent years, he has taken an interest in the area of digital economy and tech innovation in business. In 2016, he attended a 12-week data science boot camp at NYC Data Science Academy in New York.

Senator of the Philippines

Hon. Imee R. Marcos currently is Senator of the Philippines. She is Chairperson of the Committee on Economic Affairs, Committee on Cultural Communities and Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation.

Imee R. Marcos has decades of local governance and creativity under her belt that have molded her own distinct brand of proactive and innovative leadership. Since 1975 to 1986, she chaired the Kabataang Barangay (KB), a village youth organization that provided platforms and opportunities for young Filipinos to engage in nation-building. She was also director-general of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines.

In 1998, she ran for and was elected Congresswoman of the Second District of Ilocos Norte. She served for three terms, authoring and co-authoring bills with a primary focus on women, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and the youth sector such as the house bill for Magna Carta for students and house bill for Loan Filipino Migrant Workers.

In 2010, she bagged a landslide victory as Governor of Ilocos Norte, turning over a new chapter for the province. She largely focused on poverty reduction through local employment and investment; promoting tourism; and reviving the youth sector. Her flagship program, “Task Force Trabaho,” paved the way for the provincial employment rate to reach above 98% through regular job fairs, job placement programs, an OFW Desk, livelihood assistance, and small and medium enterprise (SME) development. Moreover, she initiated the entrance of business process-outsourcing (BPO) giants Accenture and Alorica. Simultaneously, she launched the Capitol Express (CapEx), which involves the distribution of agricultural inputs, livestock, fingerlings, food packs, medicines and other needs of far-flung barangays directly to the residents.

The 2012 “Paoay Kumakaway!” tourism campaign likewise caused a boom in the industry: from around 200,000 total visitors in 2012, Ilocos Norte now welcomes two million tourists yearly with almost 500,000 coming during the Holy Week Season alone. The governor had invested in new activities in existing tourist spots, such as watersports in Pagudpud, horseback riding in Kapurpurawan (Burgos), and 4×4 dune-bashing in Paoay.

Likewise, new sub-sectors were opened: cultural tourism through premier events (“Himala!” Arts & Music Fest and “Tan-ok” Festival of Festivals) and new museums; film tourism, yielding undiscovered locations in the province to be featured and promoted through television productions; sports tourism, through the Tri Ilocos Norte triathlon and dragonboat racing; and the cruise ship industry, with Star Cruises’ Superstar Virgo docking at the Port of Currimao.

In late 2012, the Sirib Express began and the governor came face-to-face with the Ilocano youth, listening to their hopes and ambitions. Soon, the first Sirib Leadership Camp was held wherein participants themselves proposed and established the Sirib Ilokano Kabataan Association (SIKA) Inc., as an alternate platform for youth in public service and nation-building. This was in response to the suspension of the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK).

These thrusts were further coupled with programs to lower food prices while maintaining high agricultural production: the Kadiwa Pop-Up Market System was implemented in Ilocos Norte, with the Provincial Government acting as middleman for farmers, free of charge, and helping to sell their produce and other household commodities at lower prices without sacrificing farmers’ profits. She also expanded the agribusiness market, tying up with other local government units such as the Quezon City Government for producer-to-consumer bazaars.

Co-Founder and Principal
Sorini, Samet & Associates (SSA)

Amb. Ron Sorini is Co-Founder and Principal of Sorini, Samet & Associates (SSA), Mr. Sorini implements and manages the firm’s business development, consulting and lobbying practice on international trade negotiations and legislation. He represents several major U.S. corporations and trade associations before the U.S. Government and Congress on international trade issues and legislation. Mr. Sorini’s unique combination of government, political and corporate experience enables him to provide well-rounded strategic advice and international market analysis to multinational corporations and foreign governments.

Prior to starting Sorini, Samet & Associates, Mr. Sorini, served as President of the Trade Negotiations and Legislative Affairs practice for eight years at an international trade law firm. Mr. Sorini created and developed this practice into a multi-million dollar business at that firm, where he managed the group’s client development, consulting and lobbying practice on international trade negotiations and legislation. and served on the firm’s operating committee. Mr. Sorini served as Senior Vice President for International Development & Government Relations at Fruit of the Loom for four years. At Fruit of the Loom, Mr. Sorini conducted an intensive study on the Chinese market, identified potential business partners and began negotiations on a manufacturing/marketing joint venture. Analyzed new locations for manufacturing facilities in Mexico and Central America and developed strategies for hedging in the cotton market. He developed and advocated company positions on trade, tax and regulatory issues before the U.S. Government.

Mr. Sorini has more than thirteen years of experience in high level positions in the Federal government at the Department of Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). In 1989, Mr. Sorini was appointed by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate as Ambassador and Chief Textile Negotiator for USTR. Ambassador Sorini advised the U.S. Trade Representative, the Cabinet and the President on domestic and international economic issues. Developed and implemented policies to enhance the international competitiveness of the U.S. fiber, textile and apparel industries. Mr. Sorini chaired U.S. delegations in the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Uruguay Round and bilateral agreements with more than fifty nations. He developed U.S. negotiating positions, weighing the views of other government agencies, domestic industry, retailers and broader economic and foreign policy considerations. Opened foreign markets for domestic manufacturers and helped U.S. companies with trademark and design counterfeiting problems. Worked with U.S. Customs Service to identify and eliminate fraud and circumvention of U.S. trade agreements.

Second Congressional District of Albay

Hon. José María Clemente "Joey" Salceda Representative Joey Sarte Salceda is now serving his 2nd term as Congressman of the Second Congressional District of the Province of Albay. He is currently the Chairperson of the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Vice Chairperson of the House Committee on Appropriations and Committee on Economic Affairs this 18th Congress. His work in the House of Representatives started when he was voted unopposed in his 1st term as Congressman of the Third District of Albay. This was followed by two more terms (1998-2007) holding key positions such as Chairman of the Committees on Appropriation, Economic Affairs, Oversight and Trade & Industry. He then served as the Chairperson of the House Special Committee on Climate Change for the 17th Congress, where he became the Senior Vice Chairman of the House Committees on Ways and Means, Economic Affairs, and Local Government; and Vice Chairman of House Committee on Appropriations. He also served as an economic adviser to various Philippine presidents, and was the Presidential Chief-of-Staff of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He has also worked as the Chief-of-Staff of then Congressman Raul S. Roco, and a Congressional Fellow of Speaker Ramon V. Mitra.

Representative Salceda is the principal author of Republic Act No. 10931, or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act of 2017, and co-author of eleven (11) other laws, which was passed during the 17th Congress, namely: (1) Republic Act No. 10963, the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN); (2) Republic Act No. 11035, an Act Institutionalizing the Balik Scientist Program; and (3) Republic Act No. 10928, Ten (10) Years Validity of Philippine Passports.

He was the Chairman of Technical Working Group which paved the way for the approval of the following bills by the House of Representatives on their third and final Reading, namely: (1) Creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience, and (2) Proposed Amendments to the Public Service Act. Further, he is also the Chairman of Technical Working Group for the approval of the following bills currently on their second reading, namely: (1) Rationalization of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Law; (2) Collective Investment Schemes Law; and the Science for Change Program (S4CP) Law.

Representative Salceda was elected as Chairperson of the Department of National Defense Multi-Sector Advisory Council (DND MSAC) for the implementation of the Philippine Defense Transformation Roadmap 2028. He was also the Chairperson of the Regional Advisory Committee for Philippine National Police Transformation and Development (RACPTD).

Before heading to Congress, Representative Salceda was formerly a three-term Governor of Albay, and unopposed in four of six gubernatorial elections. He was also a 3-term Chairman of Regional Development Council (RDC) of Region V having been nominated alone for the position. He has been a member of the Board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the finance arm of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC). He was its Co-Chairperson (for Developing Countries) – the first Asian to chair the GCF. He was also acknowledged as the First Senior Global Champion on Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR). He is recognized as the “Green Economist” and the father of the “Albay and Manila Declarations on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA)”.

A native of Polangui, Albay, he was born in 1961. He is a graduate of Bachelor of Science major in Management Engineering, Cum Laude at the Ateneo De Manila University. He earned his Masters Degree in Business Management with a Distinction from Asian Institute of Management and was conferred Doctor of Humanities, Honoris Causa by the Bicol University.

Founder and CEO
Solar Philippines

Mr. Leandro Leviste is founder and CEO of Solar Philippines. In 2013, Leandro Leviste founded Solar Philippines while only as a sophomore at Yale University. With his youth energizing him, he propelled the company into having 300 MW in projects, employing 600 employees, and providing renewable power to more households. Today he continues to lead Solar Philippines, Southeast Asia’s largest and only integrated solar developer, investor, manufacturer, and EPC, solar company. His mission is to accelerate the transition of the Philippines into a solar-powered nation, to lower the cost of solar power generation, and to make the country a first-world nation. With a clear purpose, he built Solar Philippines as a company that would light the way to change, ease the burden of energy prices on consumers, and bring reliable and renewable electricity to every Filipino household.

Today, millions of households across the Philippines enjoy the benefits of the solar farms Solar Philippines develops, constructs and operates. The company unconditionally spends time and resources into bringing down costs to marginalized communities, as demonstrated by its 2 MWh Solar-Battery Micro-Grid project in Paluan, Occidental Mindoro, the first solar micro-grid of that scale in Asia. This has brought 24/7 uninterrupted power to a town of 20,000 people.

By opening the first Filipino solar panel factory in 2017, Solar Philippines has then created 1000 manufacturing jobs, significantly lowered cost, and innovated the local power industry by closing an 85 MW Power Supply Agreement with industry titan, Meralco at Php 2.99/kWh––the lowest cost of any new power plant in Philippine history. And as recognition for his outstanding hard work, Leviste has since added a long list of accolades to his name.

In 2016, Leviste was recognized by Forbes on its inaugural 30 Under 30 Asia, topping its list for Energy and Industry; he has been featured by CNBC, The Guardian, and Channel News Asia, among international media outlets; and has spoken at international forums across the US, Europe, and Asia, as an authority on solar in Southeast Asia, and an advocate for solar and storage technology to replace fossil fuel and serve off-grid areas. Leviste has shown how his vision is paramount to the business itself: consistently making prices affordable, thus, putting consumers needs first, and prioritizing marginalized areas. More and more, this shows that his energy is only fed the passion to give every Filipino home access to cheap, clean, and reliable power.

Assistant Secretary
Department of Trade and Industry

Atty. Allan B. Gepty is the current Assistant Secretary for Industry Development and Trade Policy Group of the Department of Trade and Industry. As of July 2019, he is also the concurrent director of the Bureau of International Trade Relations.

He is a lawyer with diverse experience in the field of litigation, commercial law, international trade, and intellectual property. He joined the Department of Trade and Industry as an Assistant Secretary for Industry Development and International Trade Policy in December 2018. Prior to his appointment, he was a Commissioner of the Philippine Tariff Commission. He also served as Deputy Director General of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) of the Philippines from 2010 to 2017.

Before his stint in government, he was an active law practitioner, and consultants of various companies in business development, investments, and project integration. He also served as the Corporate Counsel and Asst. Corporate Secretary of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), and Technical Assistant for the Private Sector of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) from 2003 to 2009.
He is a graduate of the Advanced Management Program at The Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania, U.S.A. He finished his law degree from the San Beda College, Manila in 1997, and his Master of Laws degree from the University of Santo Tomas, España, Manila, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce major in Economics from the same university, where he graduated Cum Laude in 1992. He is a recipient of the President Manuel L. Quezon Leadership Award and one of the Outstanding Alumni of the University of Santo Tomas, College of Commerce in the field of law in 2017.

He is a member of the academe teaching Public International Law, Intellectual Property Law and Corporate Law.



Confederation of Wearables Exporters of the Philippines (CONWEP)

Executive Vice President
Luen Thai Holdings

Mr. Sunny Tan is the Chairman of the Confederation of Wearables Exporters of the Philippines (CONWEP).

He is the Executive Vice President of the Luen Thai Holdings, responsible for Accessories Division. He holds distinguished positions in the textile industry as well as in other industrial and business communities – he is the Deputy Chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries (“FHKI”) and the Executive Vice Chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Textiles Limited. He is a member of the Textiles Advisory Board on Trade and Industry Department, and Council Member of the Hong Kong Productivity Council.

Prior to joining the Luen Thai in 1999, Mr. Tan worked at the investment banking division of Merrill Lynch (Asia Pacific). Mr. Tan is appointed as Independent Non-executive Director of Hopewell Holdings Limited (0054.HK), Executive Committee Member of the Hong Kong Shippers’ Council.

Equally active in public services, Mr. Tan is currently serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of Shaw College, The Chinese University Hong Kong, Member of the Action Committee Against Narcotics of the Security Bureau. Mr. Tan also served as Member of Hebei Province Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and Vice Chairman/Director of Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (“TWGHs”), the largest social services organization in Hong Kong, from 2013–17 and Chairman/member of the Board of Governors of Tung Wah College, a tertiary education institution in Hong Kong from 2014–17. In 2013, Mr. Tan was awarded “Young Industrialist Award” by FHKI. Mr. Tan obtained a Master of Science degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Managing Partner
McLarty Associates

Ms. Kellie Meiman Hock is Managing Partner at McLarty Associates and is responsible for external matters for the firm. In addition, she has led the trade and Brazil & Southern Cone practices of McLarty Associates since 2000.

During this time, Ms. Meiman has helped major multinational companies globally to take advantage of opportunities, as well as to troubleshoot obstacles to market access and investment. She has worked on various aspects of national industrial policies, ranging from local content requirements to data localization and trade remedies. Over the past three years, Ms. Meiman has been deeply engaged in companies’ efforts to manage increased unilateral US trade actions; national security arguments tied to trade policy; US negotiations with Korea, Japan, and Europe; and US/Mexico/Canada Agreement (USMCA) implementation. She regularly briefs boards and C-Suite executives on probable scenarios regarding Washington’s trade policy posture.

Ms. Meiman previously worked at the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) as Director for Brazil and the Southern Cone, where she had primary responsibility for trade negotiations with Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay and worked on WTO matters and the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Prior to her work at USTR, Ms. Meiman served as a foreign service officer with the US Department of State, where her posts included handling crisis management in the State Operations Center. An Economic Officer in the foreign service, Ms. Meiman previously had served in Porto Alegre, São Paulo, and Recife, Brazil, and in Bogotá, Colombia. She has lived and studied in Central America and Japan.

A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Ms. Meiman is a graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She fluently speaks Spanish and Portuguese and is active in policy and politics at the national level and in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where she resides with her husband Jim and their two sons.


Senator of the Philippines


Associate Director
Ayala Corporation

Mr. Guillermo M. Luz is an associate director at Ayala Corporation, the holding company of one of the oldest and largest business groups in the Philippines, with business activities in property development, banking and financial services, telecommunications, water infrastructure development and management, automotive dealership and distribution, business process outsourcing, electronics manufacturing solutions, and new investments in power and renewable energy, infrastructure, health, and education. Mr. Luz is also a member of the APEC Business Advisory Council. A competitiveness champion, he is currently chairman of the Liveable Cities Challenge Project and formerly co-chair of the National Competitiveness Council (now replaced by the Anti-Red Tape Authority).

He is Chief Resilience Officer and Advisor of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), the country's major private sector coordinator for disaster risk reduction management.

He was the Lead Coordinator for the Private Sector of the APEC National Organizing Council (APEC-NOC), the government agency in charge of preparations for the Philippines’ Chairmanship of APEC in 2015. He also served as the Chief Operating Officer of the APEC 2015 CEO Summit Host Committee.

Prior to his current posts, he also was Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Ayala Foundation, Executive Director of the Makati Business Club, Managing Director of Knowledge Institute Inc., and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the APEC Foundation of the Philippines.


Executive Director
International Secretariat of the APEC Business Advisory Council

Executive Director
Philippine National Committee of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council

A career foreign service officer, Mr. Antonio I. Basilio served in London, Beijing, Jeddah and Washington, D.C. Other postings include his service as the Deputy Chairman of the APEC Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) in 1996; APEC Senior Official for the Philippines in 1997; Special Trade Representative to the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations (GATT/WTO) from 1989-1990; and Chairman of the Committee on Trade and Investments of ASEAN (COTT) in 1989. From 2001 to 2016, he was Resident Representative/Managing Director Chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, a semi-official entity which represents Philippine interest in Taiwan.

Mr. Basilio left government to join the private sector in 1998 as President of the Philippine Foundation for Global Concerns Inc., a non-profit organization involved in regional economic issues. In this same capacity he served as Executive Director of the Philippine National Committee of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC); Executive Director of the International Secretariat of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC); and Secretary General of the Philippine chapter of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Mr. Basilio was also senior adviser at the Asian Development Bank from 2001-2002 working on a project on sub-regional economic integration in South Asia. He was an independent Director of the Board of Equitable Banking Corporation in 2006-2007 then the Philippines’ 3rd largest bank. He is currently a Director of the Board of Stratbase Consulting.

Mr. Basilio is a graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University and Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

zero to hero logo

Zero to Hero is the product of the Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) efforts to promote and help entrepreneurship in our country. It articulates how one can arise from either little capital or inexperience ("Zero") and going into a full-fledged enterprise that in turn, touches other lives for the better ("Hero).

It shares stories of ordinary people who made their lives extraordinary by becoming full-fledged entrepreneurs. In the quest to do so, they faced adversaries, hardships, and challenges that tested their will to succeed. Nevertheless, they buckled the odds with perseverance and hard work, and with the help of the DTI, they were able to attain prosperity -- a great reward for all of the time and effort they put into growing their business.

This is a collection of stories, with every region in the country proudly represented by micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that are enjoying success, but not without their share of struggles. Through it all, they kept their spirit alive, and pursued their passion relentlessly. DTI, with its thrust of recognizing MSMEs as the backbone of the country's economy, naturally came to their aid and made the ladder to success easier through various programs and initiatives, from mentoring activities (Kapatid Mentor Me series, SME Roving Academy, Negosyo Center) to trade fairs and shops (Go Lokal!, One Town One Product or OTOP).

Just like these inspirational entrepreneurs, DTI has also become a hero itself, helping many Filipino MSMEs over the years, and continue to help more. We invite you to  come and read these remarkable stories which are a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Filipinos. Against all odds, they have made the journey -- from Zero to Hero.

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For more information, please contact:

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Tondo: Sambayanan ng Muling Pagkabuhay MPC

The rebirth of a community

The Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila once became a symbol of poverty as most of the residents lived below poverty line and worked as scavengers. Today, Smokey Mountain serves as a symbol of hope as former scavengers have now found safer and more stable sources of income.

Smokey Mountain opened in 1950s as an unplanned dumpsite and attracted those living in the slums to reside in the area to earn a living through scavenging. The dumpsite had put thousands of lives at risks and had pushed people into poverty. It officially closed down in mid-1990s through the efforts of the government and its partners.

Through the Sambayanan ng Muling Pagkabuhay Multipurpose Cooperative (SMP-MPC), residents of the former dumpsite in Tondo, Manila have found opportunities to earn a living without having to put their lives as risk.

One of the cooperative’s main projects is craft business where members are tapped to make placemats, coasters, boxes, and other crafts using old newspapers. The cooperative runs a water refilling station and a laundry shop on the side.

The cooperative officially started in 1989, but faced financial and management challenges in mid-1990s. There were many lessons learned along the way, and the cooperative managed to get back on its feet after a few years.

Starting again

Joyet Castor, Chairperson of SMP–MPC, recalled that during the cooperative’s first few years, most of its leaders and members did not have the skills to run a sustainable enterprise. Joyet was working for a non-government organization (NGO) and was eventually invited to become part of the cooperative.

“Many of them did not have any background on finances and accounting, so we thought of empowering them by educating them,” Joyet said.

The SMP-MPC received an Asian Development Bank (ADB) financial grant from 2005 to 2007. “We made sure to prioritize our people. We enrolled them in short courses to help them brush up their skills that is crucial in running the cooperative effectively and sustainably,” she said.

Through the grant, the cooperative was able to set up a materials recovery facility (MRF). Residents and members were also given certification on skills related to recycling. The MRF eventually gave the residents decent income without having to subject themselves to the hazards surrounding the dumpsite.

The cooperative, which maintains its own handicraft shop, was able to gather raw materials for their products. Old magazines and newspapers, kept at the MRF, were also used by the cooperative’s women weavers. These products helped the cooperative earn which they later used to expand further.

SMP-MPC enrolled two of the cooperative members on bookkeeping courses, and both of them later on became certified bookkeepers. “The cooperative will grow if we will invest on its people,” said Joyet.

In 2013, the cooperative took a leap of faith and decided to join Manila FAME exhibition, a premiere design and lifestyle event organized by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), the export promotion arm of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). They needed a label for their products, and the cooperative decided to call their line as PAPEL (paper). Today, PAPEL is now seen in various bazaars and stores.

Through the support of various organizations and government agencies, particularly DTI, the cooperative started to recover and improve after some years of struggling with financial and management problems.

The cooperative has grown since its establishment. From 25 members, it now has 150 members. SMP-MPC continues to grow as more and more people realize the importance of joining the group.

The cooperative helps its members live a more decent life, and have someone to turn to in cases of financial emergencies. SMP-MPC has also become an effective platform to acquire new skills and knowledge on various aspects of business management.

Aside from the handicraft business, the cooperative also maintains a water refilling station and a laundromat, providing additional sources of income to its members.

Standing on their own

Before the cooperative was established, the residents were used to receiving dole outs. Since Smokey Mountain was often used as a symbol of poverty in urban areas, many groups and individuals would come to the area and ended up giving dole outs to residents. This served as one of the main challenges since the behavior of these residents had to be changed. But this setback was eventually resolved after the residents were given access to opportunities.

The cooperative urges members to be self-sufficient by encouraging them to put up their own small businesses or be part of in the cooperative’s crafts production.

“The ultimate goal really is to help them to stand up on their own,” said Joyet. She explained that organizations and individuals helping the residents will not stay forever.

On the average, each weaver would get Php 180 per basket weave produced. The best part of working for the cooperative is that they could just get the materials from the office, and create the crafts at home. This way, the mothers are able to work in their homes and at the same time do household chores or look after their children since they are paid on a per output basis.

She added that the cooperative wants to promote their handicrafts for its quality. “We don’t want that people would buy our products out of pity. We want them to buy because of the quality,” said Joyet who shared that designers have been extending their help on how the women weavers of the cooperative could improve further.

Joyet also expressed gratitude to DTI for extending help in product development and marketing, which were crucial in the handicraft venture’s success.

SMP-MPC has been encouraging more residents to be part of the cooperative, especially the youth. According to Joyet, the cooperative is a good opportunity for the members to improve their living conditions and themselves as individuals.

“For us to grow, we need to learn from others,” said Joyet who encourages the members of the cooperative to constantly educate themselves in whatever means possible.

Gone are the days when the residents of this area in Tondo, Manila were seen as faces of despair and poverty. Today, the residents serve as a symbol of hope and resilience.

Quezon City: Balai Kamay

Balai hammers a living

Fueled by her passion for entrepreneurship and interest in sustainability, Reynalyn Tugade set up a business that would bring not only profit but purpose as well.

Balai Kamay, Reynalyn’s brainchild, started in 2016 when she noticed the high demand for unique hand-made souvenirs items during her sister’s wedding.

Afterwhich, she shelled out about Php 2,000 to kick off the business. Balai Kamay actually started with just one product: wall clock. Since Reynalyn had a fulltime work back then, she tested the waters by starting small.

Challenges at the start

There were missteps while putting up the business.

The biggest challenge to Reynalyn was finding the partners-carpenters who would help create the products. When the business was starting, she did not have a single in-house carpenter working for Balai Kamay.

“The idea was to treat them [carpenters] as partners in this business. I searched all throughout Manila to find the best partners that we could work with,” she said.

“Some of them were highly skilled, but did not have the heart for our products and our clients,” Reynalyn shared. She ended up working with some irate carpenters who did not want to deliver the expected quality of work. She incurred losses, but was able to catch up after lessons learned during the start-up.

After selling the first few wall clocks produced, Reynalyn and her team tried to add a few more items. Eventually, they shifted to making gift boxes, which now serves as one of their main products. From individual clients, Balai Kamay has presently several corporate clients who need souvenir items and customized boxes.

On the same year, Tugade went to the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Negosyo Center in Quezon City, and applied for a permit to set up her business.

Thereafter, she decided to quit her full-time corporate job to focus on the business.

Learning by doing

Reynalyn finished a degree related to business management, but she felt this was not enough to make the venture successful.

Determined to continue in this line of business, Reynalyn went the extra mile by taking a course on carpentry offered by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). This helped her understand the process of crafts productions. This also gave her a chance to understand the perspective of the workers as well.

“I learned several technical skills, which were necessary in understanding how things work in this kind of business,” said Reynalyn. Without these technical skills, it could have been more difficult for Reynalyn to compute the actual costs and resources needed for each product item.

From zero workers, Balai Kamay now has four in-house carpenters. These were referred by designers she met at the start of her business.

Aside from following the requested designs of the clients, Reynalyn does her own research to improve product designs. They also seek help from DTI, which has assisted them with their designs and creations since day one.

Sustainable enterprise

Reynalyn expressed concern on the environmental impact of furniture and handicraft businesses. “In Balai Kamay, we make sure that our materials are sustainably sourced. We make sure that we maximize each resource,” she said.

Balai Kamay would get wood scraps from various sources that could be turned into souvenirs and home items. “We have an eye for sustainability. We create new products from old sources,” Reynalyn added.

One of the most common sources that they recycle are wooden crates, which are often used in protecting and shipping goods. Reynalyn and her team would recycle these by buying from sources at nearby piers. These wooden crates are then converted into boxes or souvenirs.

“We are not just helping the local economy, we are also helping the environment by repurposing or recycling these kinds of materials,” said Reynalyn.

Aside from the theoretical learnings, however, Reynalyn stressed the importance of showing concern to workers, products, and clients.

“No business would succeed without showing concern to your workers, products, and clients. These three should always be considered for a business to thrive in the market,” she said.

She emphasized the importance of treating workers as partners as they are crucial in delivering the products expected by the clients.

Until today, Reynalyn continues to search for partners. “We prefer to work with those who are skilled but do not have access to market,” she said. She added that Balai Kamay is a great platform to collaborate with carpenters who are skilled and passionate about their work.

Reynalyn also work with persons with disability (PWDs) in creating their items. She hopes to be able to help more PWDs once they have the chance to expand the business.

Through the Shared Service Facility (SSF) program of DTI, Balai Kamay has enabled its carpenters to produce 100 pieces of quality souvenir boxes, which is almost impossible to meet if they would work manually.

Reynalyn shared that the SSF program significantly helped her business catch up with the increasing demand.

No physical stores yet, she said, but her enterprise is able to sell through consignment agreements with stores.

DTI has been constantly assisting her through seminars and trainings. She was also part of the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program, where she learned a lot in terms of marketing and business management in general.

“It also gave us a chance to improve since our products were critiqued by experts,” Reynalyn shared. DTI also helped Balai Kamay in widening its network and getting more clients, she added.

“Starting a business is really difficult. From a scale of 1 to 10, it would probably be 11,” Reynalyn said.

She added, “But then, anything is possible and the hardships would all be worth it.”

Reynalyn also wants to advocate local craftsmanship by providing a venue for learning among local carpenters.

“I envision our business to be a home for learning, too,” she said, hoping to provide a platform to showcase local artistry.

Sagada: Ola Farms

Brewing hope for the future


Jennifer Rimando’s love for coffee farming started when she was just 12 years old.  Jennifer’s grandfather, whom everyone called ‘Ola’, would bring her to their small coffee farm.

At that tender age, Jennifer was already assisting her grandfather in running a small

coffee farm. “Coffee is not something new here. People would grow coffee at their own

backyards,” Jennifer shared.

“We were surprised that people were drinking 3-in-1 coffee instead of the healthy brewed coffee,” said Jennifer who related her grandfather’s observation which served as a trigger for them to set up a coffee farm, so the locals would have enough for their personal consumption.

Jennifer, now 36 years of age, continued her love for coffee farming and established Ola Farms in 2009.


Sowing seeds

“Coffee farming is like taking care of a child. It takes time. But if you take care of your coffee farm well, you will certainly reap the rewards,” said Jennifer who waited for three years to harvest her first set of coffee beans from Ola Farms.

On the average, growing coffee might take three to five years before one can reap the initial set of coffee beans.

Even before setting up Ola Farms, Jennifer had been attending trainings and seminars relevant to coffee growing and business management.

It was her grandfather that would always ask Jennifer to attend seminars, including those sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). She made sure to remember all of the lessons taught, so they would be able to apply it in their own farm.

From the first harvest that only reaped a half sack of coffee parchment, Ola Farms has gone a long way not just in terms of production but also in empowering coffee farmers within and outside the province.

Jennifer registered Ola Farms as an agricultural training institute and works closely with relevant government agencies such as DTI and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

“We cater to those who prefer to learn by doing. These student farmers are often intimidated with the classroom setting, so we need to adjust our means of teaching them---no big screen, no projector,” Jennifer noted.


Reaching out to young people

Jennifer spends most of her time sharing the wealth of knowledge she has accumulated through the years.

“We are now trying to reach out to young people and encourage them to try coffee farming,” said Jennifer.

She takes pride on how their students are taught at Ola Farms. Those who want to know about coffee farming learn it in 29 days. Those who already have prior knowledge may finish the course at a shorter period, said Jennifer.

"Our farm school does not follow a formal structure. Some of our trainees even bring their children since there’s no one to take care of them at home. And this set up makes them more comfortable to learn,” she shared.

Ola Farms also works closely with TESDA, which offers scholarships to those who want to pursue a career in coffee farming and production, and offers to pay the fee for 46 students at Ola Farms per year.

Many are actually willing to pay in exchange of learning about coffee farming, according to Jennifer.


Hurdles along the way

Like any other business, coffee farming has its risks, too.

"Natural disasters is something that we do not have control of. But we can always mitigate the risks,” said Jennifer.

She added that this could be among the reasons, too, why others are not interested in farming in general. “If we will plant more trees, then we can help reduce the risks of natural calamities,” she noted.

Aside from typhoons, forest fires also serve as threat to farmers. But for Jennifer, this problem has a corresponding solution, too. “We built firebreakers to protect us from forest fires,” she shared.

There was a time, however, when the fire break was not able to protect the farm because of the wind. But this did not dampen Jennifer’s passion for coffee farming and production and managed to go back to normal operations again.


Assistance from DTI

Jennifer has been been grateful to DTI for the opportunities that opened because

of the trainings and seminars that she attended.

Jennifer attended the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program, which taught her the business management aspect of running the farm. She noted that this is important as knowing how to grow coffee is not enough. Through the KMME Program, she also learned the basics of people management, which is important in running the business.

Jennifer also attended DTI’s Seed to Cup training, which helped her a lot in acquiring the technical know-how of coffee growing.

Ola Farms also benefited from the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) program of DTI.

Aside from trainings and seminars, Jennifer gladly shared that Ola Farms has also been

invited to several trade fairs, where they would often get bulk orders from buyers.

There was a time when Jennifer was even sent to Italy to represent the Philippines in the International Food Exhibition which was organized by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions, an attached agency of DTI for . It was an opportunity for Jennifer to promote not just her business, but the high-quality coffee of the Philippines as well.


Moving Forward

At its current scale, Ola Farms can only accommodate 20 students per class. Jennifer wishes to expand and accommodate more to be able to promote the benefits of coffee growing.

To solve the challenge of manpower, Jennifer hopes to offer Ola Farms as an agri tourism site as well. “Tourists can have free accommodation in exchange of their services in the farm,” said Jennifer. She added this is also a way of promoting the beauty of coffee farming among tourists.

Jennifer also highlighted the importance of maintaining a good relationship with customers. If there are complaints, the business owner should always be there to listen and take action.

If you want to succeed, you need to pursue your passion. Do not give up easily. Every problem has a solution,” she ended.

Tabuk: Shaquil Food Products

Reaping the fruits of labor

A winemaker in Tabuk City, Kalinga is now enjoying the fruits of their labor—quite literally.

Brienda Gup-ad had always wanted to establish her own fruit wine business. She used to spend time observing how her mother would make bugnay wine at home. Eventually, she tried making her own, but an improved version.

Brienda noticed that her mother would only estimate the quantity of ingredients used, she knew this needs improvement. Brienda made sure to have exact measurements of the ingredients so the wine would not turn into vinegar.

Her initial plan was to produce fruit wines for special occasions like Christmas, New Year, and fiestas. This meant, however, that there will be period of lean months and the possibility of no income. Knowing that setting up this kind of business would require money, time, and effort, she decided to work in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s to save enough capital.

In 2012, she went back to the Philippines to make her dream a reality. She put up her fruit wine business under the label Shaquil Food Products.

Brienda’s home had bugnay at the backyard, so she used this as the main ingredient for the fruit wine business. “I spent time trying to come up with the best recipe, which could pass as a commercially viable fruit wine,” she said.

Brienda conducted several tests to get the quality of wine that she would be confident to sell in the market.

“I started small since I knew I still had a lot of things to learn before I could introduce my product to big groceries and to other areas,” she said, adding that she needed to establish the brand first in her hometown before penetrating the market of nearby areas.

She managed to raise Php 45,000 as capital, which allowed her to produce hundreds of bottles of bugnay and guyabano wines per month. She sold the fruit wines at Php 120 per bottle to individuals and some sari-sari stores in Tabuk City. She did not have her own client base back then yet.

Knowledge as capital

More than the monetary capital, she knew that the greatest capital needed was her knowledge of the business. She invested time, effort, and money in improving her skills and knowledge in running a fruit wine business. She signed up for various trainings and seminars, especially those provided by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

In between these trainings and seminars, she would attend food bazaars and trade fairs.

After a few years in the business, she was able to apply the theoretical learnings into her enterprise. Among the important lessons she learned was the process of handling the fruits, which was crucial in producing high-quality fruit wines. During the phase of attending seminars and trainings, she realized that the production process is done improperly.

“I really am glad that I invested my time and effort in attending such seminars. It turned out that we’ve been doing things the wrong way, which could affect the quality of products we sell in the market,” said Brienda who claimed that they introduced significant changes that helped boost the production and sales.

These years of failing, trying, and learning all paid off when Shaquil Food Products started getting a seemingly never-ending orders of fruit wines. Today, Shaquil Food Products is a household name not just in Kalinga, but in nearby areas as well.

Doing this kind of business is quite a challenge since guyabano and bugnay are seasonal. To respond to this challenge and to expand its market further, the management decided to introduce additional fruit wine variants including pineapple, rambutan, passion fuit, guava, mango, pineapple, and guava. This has helped them ensure a year-round production, benefitting not just the business but its workers as well.


When Shaquil Food Products was just starting, Brienda admitted that she faced a lot of challenges. “I was all alone at the start. I had to pick the fruits myself and process them to produce wine,” she shared. She added that her husband did not support her idea at the start.

Brienda would go to her mother’s house to process the fruits she has picked. Her mother allowed her to use one of the rooms in their house to serve as her production area. But since Brienda is determined to succeed and was aware that reaping the rewards would take time, she faced this phase of starting her venture wholeheartedly.

Another challenge which she turned into a lesson is the actual process of making wine. Brienda was doing it wrong at the start when she mixed the fruits that came from different trees all together. “The quality suffered, so I decided to redo it over and over again,” she said.

Brienda studied the process very well, and prepared for any possible sales pitch. To build her brand in the industry, she would spend time approaching individual buyers.

At that time, Brienda did not know that there were several types of programs offered by government offices such as the DTI. She felt intimidated at the start, and was so shy to approach DTI for assistance.

Determined to succeed, she visited a DTI office to register her business and inquire about assistance it offers.

Brienda enrolled in Kapatid Mentor ME program Kapatid Mentor ME program, where as a mentee, she learned best practices from established entrepreneurs. Brienda recalled that she would periodically travel to Baguio City to attend the sessions.

At the start, Brienda was clueless on how to market new products but DTI helped by equipping her with the necessary skills and knowledge through some trainings and seminars.

Aside from DTI, Brienda also received assistance from different government agencies such as the Department of Science of Technology (DOST). Both DTI and DOST significantly helped Brienda process her certification from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Reaping the rewards

Today, Brienda has been reaping the rewards of her hard work and dedication. From a small room in her mother’s house, she now has a warehouse and processing area.

“There has been great improvement in my business. Now, I am no longer worried that we would run out of stocks,” she said.

Brienda was able to widen her network and set up a client base not just in Kalinga but in different areas in the Cordillera region and Metro Manila as well. From sari-sari stores and individual buyers, her clients now include groceries, restaurants, and hotels.

She would always be grateful. Looking back, she recalled that there were times when they did not have enough money for family emergencies or even for eat outs during holidays.

Brienda is grateful for all the grace that she and her family have been receiving by taking care of clients and workers.

Success has enabled Brienda to be a mentor, sharing her learnings to budding entrepreneurs at seminars and trainings organized by DTI.

Brienda was able to acquire a farm lot for fruit production. This is also important to ensure that they would have enough supply for the production of their fruit wine.

Other aspiring entrepreneurs can learn a thing or two from Brienda. “If you want to start a business, it should be on something that you love. Otherwise, you would easily give up whenever there are challenges,” she said. Instead of focusing on problems, Brienda said entrepreneurs should focus on finding solutions.

She also stressed the importance of skills improvement in any kind of business. “You should always be open to learning. Even if you have the capital to put up your own business, if you do not have the knowledge and willingness to learn, everything will be useless,” according to Brienda.

To give back, Brienda makes sure to take care of workers who have been instrumental in the success of her venture. “They would appreciate even the smallest rewards we would give to them—even as simple as treating them dinner,” she said. She added that it is also important to pay them fairly.

Brienda has a lot of plans for her business, to provide better products to clients and care for workers.

La Union: Halo-Halo de Iloko Balay

A local favorite with a northern twist

From a hole-in-the-wall, Halo Halo de Iloko is now a well-known restaurant offering comfort food to both locals and tourists in San Fernando, La Union.

When the restaurant-museum was just starting in 2004, Xavier Balangue Mercado used a portion of their garage to offer halo-halo.

Xavier shared that the name of the restaurant came from ‘Museo de Iloko’, a popular museum in Agoo, La Union. Little did he know that the small restaurant tucked in a garage would make it big.

From a single menu, Halo Halo de Iloko slowly expanded to offer more to its growing customer base. Today, both locals and tourists rave about the unique and tasty local dishes that the restaurant offers.

Starting small

Initially, Xavier set up a dining area in the garage where the public could dine in. He recalled that he was literally crawling in the dark as the space is limited and he did not have enough resources yet. The refrigerator was only lent by his parents.

With only Php 25,000 as capital, Xavier used this amount to start his dream of owning his own restaurant.

Just like any other business, Xavier had to face financial, manpower, and supply challenges before Halo Halo de Iloko became successful.

“I wanted to hire additional employees to help me with the operations, but I did not have enough money that time,” he recalled. He then decided to tap his close friends and relatives in running the restaurant.

“Friends would come here to help me serve customers,” said Xavier who has always been grateful to friends and relatives who extended their support.

After a few months, Xavier’s recipe of halo-halo lured many customers—even during rainy season.

Xavier has always loved halo-halo as a dessert, and tried creating his own version, which is offered at Halo-Halo de Iloko.

When Xavier noticed the increasing customers, he decided to expand the menu by offering various Ilocano cuisines, thereby standing out among existing restaurants in the province of La Union.

Boosting local tourism

Xavier shared that they get supplies from local farmers and fisherfolks. “Around 98% of our supplies all come from La Union,” he said, adding that they would look for other suppliers only after they have exhausted the possible sources in their province. In times when the supplies within the province are not enough, Xavier would try to get in touch with farmers in other provinces such as Pangasinan, Cagayan, and Ilocos Sur.

Xavier also tries to promote local tourism and local products by selling souvenir items in the restaurant.

A testament to the success of Halo Halo de Iloko is the demand for a bigger space to accommodate the increasing number of customers, which is also a challenge for Xavier. The need for a bigger parking space pushed Xavier to consider to move to a better location.

The ladder to success, however, does not come easy. As an excellent cook, he is aware that this alone is not enough to have a successful food business. He went out of his way to learn how to run a business.

He shared that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) helped him through the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) program. “KMME taught me innovation and creativity,” he said. He added that the program made him realize the importance of having a good attitude to become successful.

Asked on how budding entrepreneurs could succeed, he said: “One should have perseverance, determination, passion, and a vision for the business to become successful.” He said entrepreneurs should learn the different aspects of running a business and be willing to mentor employees as well.

More than the profit, Xavier underscored the importance of finding ways on how a business could help the community.

Laoag: Mango King

Fortune under the mango tree

He started with little knowledge of running a business, but Ricardo Tolentino capitalized on his determination to earn the name ‘Mango King’ of Ilocos Norte.

Ricardo recalled that his interest in putting up a business started when he met a Chinese businessman in Metro Manila. The businessman asked him if he knew someone who could deliver mangoes for export. Ricardo felt excited and made a commitment to the businessman as his uncle was running a huge mango plantation in Laoag.

While he almost had no knowledge of operating a business, Ricardo made a business proposal to the Chinese businessman. He made an agreement with the businessman after realizing the opportunity to venture into something profitable. He then informed his uncle who owns a truck and worked on the arrangements for the transport. He and his uncles was already looking forward to the big profit earnings.

Ricardo’s perseverance was put into test when they did not make it on time of the agreed delivery time—the truck had an engine trouble and one of its tires ran flat. The truckload of mangoes was rejected for failure to deliver on the agreed time. He felt hopeless, and he did not know how to pay his uncle and the truck driver.

"My first try was a failure, I thought it was the last, but I realized it was indeed the beginning of entrepreneurship," said Ricardo.

Rising up again

Despite the bad experience, Ricardo decided to still venture into a mango business. He observed that there was an oversupply of mangoes and influx of tourists in Laoag City, so he thought of producing dried and wine mango products. He formally set up his own business and called it Mango King Food Products.

He sought the assistance of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). He acquired the technical know-how of processing mangoes from DOST, while he got the business management skills from the programs of DTI.

Ricardo attended the trainings and seminars organized by DTI, which included the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program that exposed him to the good practices of running a successful enterprise. He was also among the grantees of the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) program of DTI, which provided the needed equipment to process mangoes. Ricardo was also invited to several trade fairs as well to introduce his products to potential buyers.

Ricardo sources mangoes from his own plantations, but since the demand is high, he gets supplies from nearby provinces such as Kalinga, Apayao, Cagayan, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, La Union, and Pangasinan. This is also Ricardo’s means of extending help to small-holder farmers.

Ricardo shared that they use native (Carabao) mangoes in producing dried mangoes.
The long dry season in their province produces quality mangoes, it maintains the freshness of the mango and its distinct aroma.

Moreover, the dried mango and wine products also boast of vitamins and nutrients. Both are rich in A and B-complex vitamin, fiber, and antioxidants.

The growth of Mango King seems unstoppable as it has already reached the Visayas and Mindanao regions. Mango King does not just cater to individual buyers and small business owners, they have also collaborations with big companies in Metro Manila which order dried mangoes in bulk.

Always open for improvements

Mango King is committed to maintaining the quality of its products. Ricardo shared that they also make sure that orders are delivered on time and cleanliness is observed at the production area. He added that they are always open to comments and suggestions from their clients.

The enterprise managed to introduce a remarkable brand in the local market because of its commitment to high quality and good relationship with clients. Ricardo shared that studies and research are now underway to venture in exporting products in the future.

Given their current status, Ricardo is positive that his business will be bigger. He is also confident that supply will never be a problem, and that with their expansion plans they will be able to keep up with the increasing demand.

Asked on his message to budding entrepreneurs, he said: “It’s just in the beginning that the hardship is hard to overcome.”

Cagayan: Alcala Women's Rural Improvement Club MPC

From Nuts to Riches

Peanut is empowering the rural women and farmers in Alcala, Cagayan and enabling them to bring about positive change in their community.

Alcala, a third-class municipality in the province of Cagayan, considers peanut as one of its most abundant cash crops. Because of this, the local government unit (LGU) has chosen peanut as its flagship item for the One Town, One Product (OTOP) program, a government initiative to promote local goods and products of towns, cities, and provinces and assist community-based enterprises.

It was in 2007 when the municipal government of Alcala collaborated with Alcala Women’s Rural Improvement Club to promote peanut as its flagship product.

Alcala Women’s Rural Improvement Club (AWRIC) Manager Emma Batung was still working for the LGU then. She discussed this with their members and mobilized them in the process.

In exchange of monetary and technical support, AWRIC gladly accepted LGUs offer knowing that the project will benefit its members including farmers and the rest of Alcala as well.


Established in 2003, the Alcala Women’s Rural Improvement Club was initially involved in lending money to its members.

“Our members borrow money from our cooperative since we have lower interest rates than the usual banks,” said Emma. The group would also offer food catering services on the side to augment their income.

After discussion with the town mayor, AWRIC switched to selling peanut products.

“We were asked to work with the LGU to lead the production of our goods for OTOP. Instead of plain peanuts, we were encouraged to sell a wide array of products to get more clients and have more income,” Emma shared.

The group got interested because peanuts would be sourced within the municipality and the job opportunities it could bring to members of its organization.

“We knew this would be beneficial to the locals of Alcala by providing employment and promoting our town,” said Emma.

AWRIC later on received Php 20,000 from the LGU to kick off the business.

Emma admitted that on the onset, they had no idea how to attract more buyers. The group started with just one product: adobong mani (fried peanut with garlic). This was the only product that they were familiar with. Emma said they were still learning then, and were clueless on the best product that would make it big in the market.

She mentioned that fried peanuts were too oily because of the process they used. After some time and several trainings from DTI and other government agencies, they decided to change the process and offered something better for their buyers. The group started offering baked peanuts, instead of the oily peanuts they used to prepare.

Twelve years on, their peanut products have become popular among tourists visiting the town. They have also become staple items in many groceries and stores in the province of Cagayan.

Today, the group offers various products such as peanut butter, caramel coated peanut, baked peanut, and polvoron peanut.

Helping themselves while helping others

Putting up a community-based business stimulates the economic activities in the town of Alcala. Since the raw materials are locally sourced, it also means lower carbon footprint and reduced costs on the part of the cooperative.

“We are not just helping ourselves. We are also helping our farmers because we buy their peanuts at a reasonable price, while we provide employment to our members,” said Emma.

After the initial support from the LGU, the enterprise also received assistance from DTI, Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Agriculture (DA), and Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). “We learned that we need to improve the packaging of our products, too. The packaging is the first thing buyers will see,” said Emma.

They attended a series of marketing training, mainly sponsored by DTI.

AWRIC was also a beneficiary of DTI’s Shared Service Facilities (SSF) Project, which offers assistance to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) through the provision of machinery, systems, skills, and knowledge---all under a shared system.

The SSF Project, according to Emma, has helped their group increase productivity and efficiency.

After they have managed to improve the lineup of products and packaging, they started joining trade fairs organized by DTI. Regional and national trade fairs, according to Emma, are the perfect venues to get institutional clients. After a few years of joining trade fairs, AWRIC was also able to tap individual resellers as well who buy peanut products in bulk. Recently, online sellers have also been helping increase the visibility of their products.

“We would just send it through a delivery service, and they remit the payment through our bank account. It’s very convenient for us and the buyers,” Emma shared proving that distance is not an issue anymore in selling their products.

“We are proud of how our products have improved. We also value the health and welfare of our buyers, so we make sure that we buy quality raw materials only,” said Emma who mentioned that the peanuts they use undergo a safe and thorough process to avoid the presence of aflatoxin, a natural toxin often found in nuts that are not handled well.

On top of the marketing and product development training, Emma’s team also learned the managerial side of running a business. They were also taught the basics of bookkeeping.

AWRIC aims to expand further, banking on enough resources and increased demand for their products. But for now, it wants to uphold the integrity and quality of their products while maintaining a good relationship with the farmers in Alcala and their regular buyers.

“Our main goal is to maintain the quality and safety of our products, while looking for ways on how to improve further,” said Emma adding that exporting to other countries is one of their ultimate goals.


Isabela: Indigenous Enabel Craft

Enabel enables a community

Andre Asqigue of Quezon, Isabela has always been interested in indigenous crafts. She was part of a weaving association for a few years, which gave her an idea to establish a profitable venture.

In March 2016, with only three loom weaving machines, she started her own weaving enterprise and called it Indigenous Enabel Craft.

With no formal training in weaving and only knowledge from experience and some secondary sources, she went out of her way to learn the techniques of weaving.

“Everything was self-taught. I had no formal training, but I learned from various sources such as tutorial videos,” said Andre who also spent a significant amount of time learning how to read weaving patterns.

Equipped with the basics, Andre continues to acquire the needed skills and techniques to meet the demands of her clients. Upgrading her knowledge is significant to offer clients new products, she said.

“There are times when the patterns from clients are too complicated. But I make sure to study them thoroughly to meet their expectations. And I think we have not failed them so far as orders keep on coming,” Andre said.

The first order she received was from a contract in Tabuk, Kalinga. Then Andre reached out to other potential clients she had met during her weaving association days. She got several orders after, and was able to get a steady stream of income. The clients she had since day one continue to place orders from her until today.

Helping hands

Andre said she will always be grateful for the support from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Provincial Government of Isabela. Both institutions, she said, have been supportive since day one.

“If not for them, I will not be able to offer our products to a wider market,” said Andre who added that the trade fairs organized by DTI have helped her significantly in meeting not just direct clients but fellow business owners as well. Some of these business owners own pasalubong centers and eventually offered her to display products in their stores.

Andre shared that the local government in her area also regularly orders from Indigenous Enable Craft for souvenir needs. There was even a time when she was commissioned to provide the fabric during the street dance competition and fashion show organized by the local government.

“People were not aware that there is a weaving business here in our area. After two days, the Mayor even paid a visit to see our products,” she shared. This opened more opportunities and after she became known to more clients after.

Andre is also grateful for meeting Manila-based entrepreneurs who have been sourcing fabrics from her, including Akaba, WVN Home Textiles, and Manila Collectibles.

Her fabrics have also penetrated the online market as one of her clients started selling products through Zalora, a popular online shopping platform.

Because of the high demand, Andre was able to purchase additional looms and hired additional weavers. From the three looms she had when she was still starting, her business now owns 11 looms. This helped her meet the increasing market demand.

She was able to put up a working area for her weavers. They used to work in a balcony, now, they have their own weaving centers where weavers can work better with ease.

Taking care of the workers

“Without our workers, we are nothing,” said Andre acknowledge the contribution of her weavers in the success of the business.

She stressed the importance of treating the workers fair, which should apply in any kind of business. At present, Indigenous Enabel Craft provides livelihood to 11 weavers.

“If there are problems with the quality of their work, I talk with them privately. We discuss how the output could be improved,” said Andre who added that she never had any serious problem in dealing with her workers. They do what is expected of them and improve whenever they are given constructive criticisms, shared Andre.

“I would always tell them to help me deliver the orders on time, so we could have a stable livelihood,” shared Andre. “Meeting the deadlines is crucial, and I need the help of the weavers to comply with the needs of the clients.”

The weavers earn Php 60 per yard of completed fabric. Most of the time, weavers had to render overtime, which means additional take home money for them. On the average, a weaver completes 10 yards of fabric per day. Weavers also produce shawl, table runners, and scarves, and they were also paid on per yard basis.

“We pay them per output, so their monthly income actually depends on how hard they work,” said Andre. “If you work hard, you can earn more,” she added.

In a way, Andre is helping improve the living conditions of her weavers as they do not need to leave their town and work somewhere far. Many of their neighbors actually expressed interest to work for her, but the available looms cannot accommodate all of them.

Currently, Andre employs female weavers but she however clarified she is willing to hire men who can to learn the craft.

Asked on her business plans, Andre shared that they are eyeing to explore and tap foreign markets. But for now, she wants to focus on delivering quality products to her growing clients base, most of whom have been there when the business was starting.

“I want to focus on making quality products for my clients. If I take care of them and my workers, expansion will happen naturally,” she stressed.

Bataan: Amanda's Marine Products

Bottle of Bataan

It was a tough and brave decision to make, but Amanda Battad quit her fulltime job because she wanted to run her own business.

Amanda resides in the province of Bataan where fish is one of the main sources of income, so she wanted to try her luck in the marine business industry. There were already several competitors in the market, but Amanda remained unfazed and stood up to the challenge.

Right at her own backyard, Amanda established Amanda’s Marine Products—a food processing industry in Bataan selling a wide range of processed marine products such as dried fish (tuyo), smoked fish (tinapa), sautéed shrimp paste (ginisang bagoong alamang), and bottled products such as milkfish (bangus) in corn oil and smoked fish flakes, among others.

Swimming to Success

Amanda was already familiar with this retail business as her mother was also into selling fish. She grew up observing how her mother did well in selling fish in the market.
While she already had the basic knowledge, the road to success was not easy.

Amanda started in 1984, and she was just selling fish in the town’s wet market. She also asked other sellers to become her re-sellers. This enabled her to have a good source of income while helping others earn extra income as well.

She then realized that competition was really stiff, and she had to step up for her business to survive. She tried selling smoked fish outside the market and reached out to buyers directly. Amanda did not mind the extra legwork since she really wanted to succeed in this business.

After some time, she decided to try selling tinapa and shrimp paste in the market. “I only had Php3,000 then, but it was enough to introduce additional products,” she said.
“The competition was tough, so I had to strategize. I decided to sell the big kinds of tinapa I bought from the local fisherfolk to make my products different. I sold it per kilo unlike the other vendors who sell it per piece,” she shared.

Customers easily noticed her products, and everything she would sell each day was sold. Amanda knew that despite the good sales, she still needed to gear up since competition is becoming stiff each day. It was then when she raised additional capital and venture into drying and processing fish to officially set up Amanda’s Marine Products.

Learning to grow

For decades, the business kept on growing. But Amanda knew that her enterprise could still improve and expand.

As a backyard industry operator, she did not realize that registering her enterprise could open great business opportunities.

In 2002, Amanda was invited by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to attend their seminars and trainings. “I was hesitant at first, but they told me my business had a potential to grow. It was then I became willing to learn everything for my business to grow.”

Apart from learning events organized by DTI, Amanda also attended training sessions conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

After seeing the great potential of her own enterprise, Amanda was convinced to officially register her business. It was the start of more opportunities for her enterprise. She registered her business with DTI and became part of its trade fairs like Likha ng Central Luzon Trade Fair and International Food Exhibition (IFEX). Her label, packaging, and logo significantly improved, and eventually her products became known even outside the province of Bataan.

“All the trainings and seminars I had to attend every day back then for almost a month all paid off and gave the business a lot of opportunities. I remember during the first time I participated in Likha, I gave out more calling cards instead of selling my products,” Amanda recalled. She added that word-of-mouth really helped a lot and enabled her to have a solid base of loyal customers.

As the business grew, Amanda widened her network. She also had a clearer understanding of the industry.

Despite these, she knew that there’s still a lot of things to improve on.

Amanda’s Marine Products have also been consigned in various supermarkets. She also supplies bagoong for fast food chains and restaurants all over the Philippines such as Chowking, Goldilocks, Cabalen and Serye.

These achievements were not Amanda’s alone but includes the local fisherfolk that supply the fish and her employees who work all day to ensure that products are of high quality.

Amanda knows how to take care of her people, too. She makes sure that her employees have work-life balance, which is necessary for all of them to be more productive at work.

Stronger and bigger

The business that only started at her own backyard is now stronger and bigger, according to Amanda.
“I’m lucky because the companies I’m supplying for are also growing bigger. When it comes to customers, I always give them the satisfaction by providing them with quality products at an affordable price,” she said.

Amanda shared that they strictly follow Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and the Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOP), which give her clients an assurance that their products are safe and of high quality. She recently upgraded her bagoong and got accredited for the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP).

Amanda works hard each day to fulfill her big dream of further expanding the business and providing quality products to customers.

“When it comes to business, profit is just secondary. What’s important is you’re enjoying what you do. And never stop learning and don’t follow everything in the book--study it first--and be practical on your decisions,” she stressed.

Zambales: Green Thumb Agri Products

Green thumb of hope

Evelyn Grace has always been interested in healthy food products. There was a time she was looking for dried mangoes supposedly free of artificial preservatives and chemicals. She was not fully convinced, however, that those sold in the market were indeed safe for her kids.

To make sure that her family would eat chemical-free dried mangoes, she tried preparing it.

“That time, one of our helpers approached me and asked if I wanted to try making dried mangoes and shared to me the process that she knew,” she said. It took Evelyn five long years of trial and error before she managed to perfect the recipe.

In 2004, she decided to set up her own business and called it Green Thumb Agri Products.

Natural process

Evelyn’s dried mango products undergo a chemical-free process. She ensures that no chemical preservatives are used. To her fulfillment, this enterprise benefits not only her family, but the entire community as well. The economic impact has reached other municipalities, too.

Notably, Evelyn prioritizes local sources of her raw materials as well. Her production requirements are sourced from local farmers from December to June. She would only purchase from other sources whenever supplies within Zambales are not enough. At times, she gets mangoes from as far as Davao.

Similarly, Evelyn also buys the needed sugar from local sources.

Aside from being mindful of her raw materials, Evelyn makes sure that the enterprise is inclusive and benefits those who are in need.

“Most of my workers come from Malatapi Community Livelihood Center Incorporated. We also employ indigenous people and persons with disability (PWDs). We also provide jobs to less privileged families. I consider all of them as my extended families,” Evelyn shared.

Improvement and expansion

Today, Evelyn’s enterprise has expanded, offering more varieties of products. Aside from dried mangoes, Evelyn has diversified into producing wine, nectar, pickles, cookies, jam, and pies.

“The wine was discovered by accident,” said Evelyn. During the process of preparing dried mangoes, Evelyn recalled that they noticed that the mango nectar became very sweet after a few months of fermentation. This encouraged her to try introducing other products that could be appealing to consumers.

In addition, Evelyn and her team are now in the process of trying tamarind and kamias as raw materials for other food products.

Since it started, Green Thumb Agri Products has managed to establish a name in the market. Most of the buyers are Overseas Filipinos (OFs) from Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, London, Netherlands, Singapore, and the United States who buy her products in bulk.

Evelyn also supplies Pasalubong Centers in various towns of Zambales such as Iba, San Felipe, San Marcelino, and in Harbor Point, Ayala Mall in Olongapo. Green Thumb Agri Products are also shipped to other provinces including Batangas, Baguio, and Aklan.

Helping hands

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has significantly helped Evelyn’s business through various assistance such as funding, training, and marketing. Also, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) complemented DTI’s support, and provided Evelyn a mechanical dryer, which is necessary for the mass production of her products. Even the provincial government of Zambales also threw its support by offering a startup fund.

“DTI helped me to enhance my product labeling to make it even more attractive to buyers. They provided trainings on how to display our products, how to win buyers, and how to compute for pricing. DTI’s trade fairs also became a great venue for promoting our products,” said Evelyn.

Starting from a small kitchen, Green Thumb Agri-Products has expanded its facilities to include a drying area in Candelaria, Zambales to process dried mangoes and other products - a success that Evelyn strived for.

“We maintained the quality of our products and our good relationship with customers—those are the keys for a business to grow. We also tried applying socialized pricing here. Right now, I’m still trying new processes to make it grow,” she says.

Like other entrepreneurs, Evelyn also experienced rejections and financial problems, but she did not let those hurdles stop her from pursuing her business. Instead she looked for solutions to overcome challenges.

“I had a lot of rejections, especially when I studied about the processing. But those were challenges, so I had to think of ways to improve my product. I looked for solutions and classified the result of my production to Class A, Class, B, Class, C, and Reject. Most of the rejects were overripe or overmature mangoes that already had discoloration. Since I don’t add preservatives, those things can really happen. We were also challenged financially because I started the business at the time when my children were starting college,” she says.

These trials encouraged Evelyn to help other entrepreneurs in whatever means possible—providing mangoes to budding businesses, allowing them to consign their food items, and sharing her knowledge on the process of making dried mangoes and other food items.

Now with all the achievements she is enjoying, she dreams of exporting her products to other countries.

“Before, I really didn’t want to get into export. Some Chinese businessmen approached me for a joint venture but for a very low price, so I settled with what I have. But one day, someone offered me a reasonable price so probably in two to three years, we would be exporting our products,” she said.

With all the good things happening to Evelyn right now, the next step for her is to share it.

“I never dreamed of a luxurious life, just enough for my family. Now that we have all these blessings, we want to share it to others,” she said.

Batangas: Mira's Turmeric Products

Cultivating nature’s goodness

As a wife of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), Almira Silva wanted to help her husband earn additional income for their family. She tried piggery and organic farming business in 2014.

Soon after, without any formal plan to venture into an additional business, she tried planting turmeric and ginger just to use a small portion of their farm and their organic compost. She did not think that this would lead to a successful venture.

Planting Success

After merely a year of planting ginger and turmeric in San Salvador, Lipa City, Batangas, Almira ended up reaping up to 1,400 kilos—a far cry from 67 kilos of turmeric and ginger when they started. She did not know what to do with the supplies. “There were buyers, but they were offering to purchase at a very low price,” Almira recalled.

It was during that time when Almira thought of processing the organic produce, and turn these into salabat tea powder. Using Php 1,000 as capital, Almira only used the available equipment in their house---most were actually for meat processing.

In 2015, Almira officially established Mira’s Turmeric Products. The name of the business came from the word myrrh, one of the gifts offered to Jesus mentioned in the Bible. “Every time Mira’s produces something, it means I am offering a gift to God. Every action I do, I offer it to the Lord,” Almira explained.

“When we were just starting, I had to do the entire process on my own,” Almira shared. She added that she has always been passionate in cooking and this helped her find the perfect formulation for their turmeric and ginger brew. Almira also got ideas from cooking videos posted online.

She sold the initial batch of salabat to her friends and relatives, who all gave positive feedback.

The orders kept on coming, and Almira needed extra hands to cope with the demand. Today, Almira has 14 workers in the production side, while 10 more workers are assigned in the farm.

Challenges and Hiccups

Almira also had her share in experiencing challenges and hiccups on the way to success.

“There were times when the orders were too overwhelming, and my husband and I had to work 24 hours,” Almira shared.

She mentioned that there was an instance when their one-month worth of production was sold out in just two days. “This meant working almost 24/7 to deliver the orders of our buyers,” she said.

In 2015, Almira would just need 10 kilos per day. But with the current demand for their products, they need to process 300 kilos of turmeric per day or a 2,900% increase.

While the work could be tedious, Almira emphasized that she is glad that the business has grown this big and that it does not help just her family but the entire community as well.

Ripple Effect

Almira is fulfilled that the business allows her to help other people as well. Aside from her direct employees, she also gets others who are part of the value chain.

Since the demand for Mira’s Turmeric Products has grown exponentially, Almira admitted that their supply is often not enough. This pushed her to get ginger and turmeric from other farmers even if they have their own farm. She also gets the other raw materials from farmers in Batangas.

“We get our raw materials from cooperatives, whose members are local farmers. We get our coco sugar and honey from them,” she shared.

Aside from cooperatives and farmers, Almira also has several distributors—many of whom are housewives. This means they are given the chance to earn extra money to help provide for their families.

Today, Mira’s Turmeric Products are not just sold in small retail stores. Their salabat tea powder can also be bought in pasalubong outlets, and stores overseas and big supermarkets such as Robinsons, All Day, Fisher Mall and SM. At least five big companies get their turmeric products from Mira’s.

“We tried our luck then, and sent these companies some samples. Eventually, it got approved and we worked on the required documents,” Almira mentioned.

Assistance from DTI

In 2017, Mira’s Turmeric Products started exporting to other countries. Their products have reached Singapore, India, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.

Almira said this could be attributed to the international trade fairs they attended. They were able to participate through the assistance of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Almira shared that she also attended the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program organized by the DTI and Go Negosyo, which equipped her with additional knowledge in running a business.

“The KMME Program helped me a lot in improving the business plan I had in mind. I also gained important insights on how to do proper branding in this business,” she added.

Almira applied the things she learned from the program in her own business. It was from this where she learned how to plan the expansion of the business.

Almira has received the Outstanding Agricultural Entrepreneur Award from the provincial government of Batangas, a validation of her hard work in making the venture succeed.

Future Plans

The success of Mira’s Turmeric Products, according to Mira, did not happen overnight. It required effort, time, and knowledge to reach the place where it is now.

“We make sure that we innovate and offer something new to our clients,” Almira said. “We always listen to our customers.”

“We have various variants now because our buyers were looking for more,” Almira shared. She said her previous customers were looking for kapeng barako and other flavors of tea. Hence, they decided to introduce additional products, which also became a hit among their buyers.

Moving forward, Almira aims to gain process certifications of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) to be able to reach more segments of the market, particularly the United States and Europe.

For others who want to venture into a business, Almira has this tip: “Do not be afraid to learn. Do not be afraid to fail. That’s how we learn.”

Cavite: Kilusang Kabalikat ng may Kapansanan para sa Kinabukasan (4K)

Giving opportunities to persons with disabilities

They may be challenged, but they are capable.

An enterprise in Carmona, Cavite is empowering persons with disability (PWDs) by giving them an opportunity to earn decent income.

The Kilusang Kabalikat ng mga may Kapansanan para sa Kinabukasan (4K) was formed to help PWDs and give them a fair chance to participate in the society.

“4K was established for parents with children of special needs,” explained May Camili, current president of the group, which started in 2009.

“After studying SPED (Special Education), our children can work here since it’s been a struggle for people like them to find jobs outside,” May explained.

The Persons with Disabilities Coordinating Office (PWDCO), now known as Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO) of the municipality of Carmona, established 4K to ensure that its alumni would have a suitable and inclusive work placement after they graduate at the SPED center. Through their livelihood programs and activities, children and adults with autism or other impairments create handmade products from recycled materials and sell it to local and international buyers.

“We make bags, papier-mâché, coin banks, ref magnets, key chains, and decors of all sorts,” May said adding that these are all handmade by PWDs.

May mentioned that their PWD members are generally easy to work with as long as they are given guidance in each step.

4K has also been receiving warm support from different sectors with some even giving financial assistance. Donors also give the group raw materials such as shredded papers, magazines, old denims, telephone directories and others that can be used for their production.

While their workers were doing well in the production side, marketing each item was not easy. May shared that the materials were made from recycled materials, many had an impression that the products were just pieces of trash. But she admitted that when the group was still starting, they were uncertain of the target market for such products.

Helping Hands

Since marketing was a big challenge, the 4K team then decided to reach out to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Representatives of 4K underwent the Kapatid Mentor Me (KMME) Program which helped them understand the basics of running a business. Since marketing the products was the biggest challenge, 4K members took special attention to the seminars and workshops on marketing. On the side, they also learned how to communicate with clients effectively, which was a great challenge for almost everyone in the group.

DTI’s Shared Service Facilities (SSF), meanwhile, provided 4K with sewing machines that helped them improve their production. DTI also introduced 4K to various product innovations.

“If it weren’t for DTI’s programs and invitations to trade fairs, we would never realize the potential of our products and to whom we could sell those,” May said.

Next Steps

4K currently has more than 100 members, and they continue to work together to reach a wider market and improve themselves.

“Whenever, I see the sparks in their eyes, you can really feel how dedicated they are in their work,” May said, “Our products aren’t just made by hands; these are all from the heart,” she added.

Moving forward, May hopes to give their workers a comprehensive employee benefit package.

Aside from helping one another discover their respective abilities, 4K members are also going out of their way to empower other marginalized members of the society. They have been providing livelihood trainings for prison inmates, giving them a chance to earn income. In a way, this opportunity gives them the chance to become productive while behind bars.

As for the expansion plans, May shared that they have been spending time and effort in studying and assessing the international market. She said tapping the international market could bring in additional income for their members and would allow them to help more PWDs as well.

Oriental Mindoro: Iraya Life Enterprises

Turning honey into money


What started as a hobby is now giving a former overseas Filipino (OF) a steady stream of income.

Ma. Socorro Mendoza, Iraya Life Enterprises Operations Manager, shared that her interest in beekeeping began when she was still working in Papua New Guinea. Soccorro’s former employer owned a honeybee farm in Malaysia, and this piqued her interest. Beekeeping then became one of her hobbies.

Learning the basics

Socorro attended a training on beekeeping at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) to learn the technical side of her new-found hobby.

In 2016, she resigned from her work and went back to the Philippines to start her own business in Calapan City.

Highly interested in beekeeping, she decided to put up a business that offers bottled honey and its by-products, which are mainly personal care products. In early 2017, Iraya Life Enterprises was officially born.

The businesses started with just 20 bee colonies. Now, it maintains more than 200 bee colonies to keep up with the demand of their by-products.

Iraya Life Enterprises offer stingless honey, its first product sold in the market. Socorro takes pride of their stingless bee honey. She described it as “sweet and sour” type which is more potent or nutritional compared to the other types of honey. She shared that this product is even tagged as “mother medicine” in some countries because of its anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties.

Iraya Life Enterprises products includes stingless bee honey, wild honey and European bee honey.
Stingless bee honey, according to some researchers, is twice as nutritious as ordinary honey.
Wild honey on the other hand has antibacterial properties, hence, acts as a good healing agents for wounds from abrasions, surgery, bed sores, infections and ulcers.
European bee honey are produced by bees that originated in Europe which has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Iraya has also become well-known for selling various personal care products such as lotion, moisturizer, and soap, with honey as the main ingredient.
Socorro also makes sure to collect propolis, a resinous substance that is accumulated by bees from plants. This is a popular raw material used in making beauty products. Given its benefits and uses, propolis has a very high market value, according to Socorro.

“I am glad that we help in making safe, organic, and natural products more accessible to the public,” she said.

Unfazed by challenges

“All businesses would have to go through some challenges—you just have to focus on the solutions,” said Socorro who experienced a couple of setbacks, especially when she was just starting.

Socorro recalled that the changing climate in Mindoro was actually the first and main challenge she had to overcome. Many of the colonies did not survive the amount of rain in the area.

However, every problem has a corresponding solution, so she looked for a possible workaround: have the colonies covered.

Socorro admitted that she had no idea how to market her products. While she had already equipped herself with the technical side of beekeeping, but was still not adept in introducing or selling the products in the market.

Immediately after registering her business with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), she was invited to a number of seminars.

“Year by year, I learned how to combat the challenges of the business,” said Socorro.

DTI gave Socorro a string of opportunities, particularly a great avenue to market and develop her products. She joined several trade fairs, specifically the DTI MIMAROPA regional trade fairs that helped her introduce Iraya Life Enterprises’ organic products to the public. She recalled how DTI’s help led the way to the success of her business.

Aside from the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program, which enabled micro and small enterprises to learn from big businesses, Socorro shared that her business also benefitted from DTI’s One Town, One Product (OTOP) NextGen, a program that seeks to capacitate micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in terms of branding and marketing.

The KMME, she said, gave her opportunities to learn much on product development. She also decided to study skin care formulation to be able to diversify and thus offer more products.

Aside from learning the rudiments of marketing and beekeeping, Socorro then invested in product development and grabbed the opportunity to attend a training on skin care product manufacturing.

DTI assisted Socorro in completing the necessary laboratory tests to prove that her products are made from pure honey.

“Marketing is crucial, so I have to keep up,” said Socorro who now depends on various channels in selling honey and personal care products.

Aside from the traditional physical distribution stores and pasalubong centers in Oriental Mindoro, Iraya Life Enterprises has expanded its reach and tapped individual sellers in other areas as far as Metro Manila and Cavite.

Socorro now sells online to reach more buyers and interested resellers. Products of Iraya Life Enterprises are now being sold through online selling platforms such as Facebook, Lazada, and Shopee.

Slowly but surely

Socorro dreams of building a physical store for her business, which she said, is already in the pipeline. If Socorro and her team would be able to raise the needed amount of money, a physical store might also be built in the last quarter of 2020.

By 2019, Iraya Life Enterprises plans to offer more products that include balms and ointments.

“We have set a time frame, and we want to make the expansion gradual,” said Socorro, noting that someone had actually offered to invest as a partner for the expansion.

“Maybe after four to five years, we will be ready to expand. We have to make sure that we are indeed ready,” Socorro stressed as she did not want to compromise the quality of each product.

“We value integrity more than anything,” added Socorro, with the conviction that quality is always more important than quantity. She would also remind her team to stay customer-focused, deliver commitments, and promote passion for excellence.

As a former OF who had to endure being away from family for a decade, she said the greatest reward of her venture is being at home to spend more time with loved ones and providing employment to workers and partner sellers.

Occidental Mindoro: RichBlitz Sweets

Success so sweet

It all started with cravings for a pastry she loved and the determination to provide for the needs of her son.

Armed with grit and a small oven that she borrowed, Baby Grace Dingsalan braved the path of entrepreneurship to put up RichBlitz Sweets.

Grace wanted to have a source of income that would enable her to spend time with her baby boy. She used to have a fulltime job, but felt putting up a business would enable her to fulfill the duties of a single parent.

Humble beginnings

In 2015, while thinking of a possible business, Grace recalled the pastry she tasted and loved. She did her homework by searching for recipes.

There were no online video tutorials then, so she had to depend on traditional cook books.

It took several attempts before deciding on the ideal recipe, which she thought would entice buyers to try her products. Despite having not much amount of capital on hand, she was still determined to try her luck in baking and selling baked goods.

Her resourcefulness made this possible when she asked her relative to lend the basic ingredients for baking—cheese, eggs, flour, and sugar. Grace started with only 32 pieces of cheesy cake bars, which she offered in a restaurant owned by a relative.

“I started small as I just wanted to try if I would have buyers,” said Grace whose loss would be minimal in case the cake bars did not click to customers.

To her surprise, all of the cheesy cake bars were sold out within the day.

While she reaped only a small amount of profit then, the response of the buyers inspired her to bake another batch of cake bars. For the next batch, she spent Php700 to buy the needed ingredients. This batch was again sold out.

She officially called the product “Cheezy Cake Bar” and considered the idea of expanding her market.

Grace noticed that the cake bars were always sold out at her relative’s restaurant, then she tried offering it to other stores and supermarkets. Unfortunately, she was rejected a couple of times. She felt bad, but this did not stop her from trying and approaching more potential clients. This inspired her instead to try harder and look for other opportunities.

“I never even thought of quitting. I was sure opportunities would come despite the rejections I encountered,” said Grace whose spirit was not dampened at all.

She was willing to take small steps toward her big goal of running a successful business and earning enough for her family.

True enough, her little business encountered great opportunities that would later enable her to expand.

Unboxing opportunities

While she was pleased that her business was growing, a staff from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) approached and invited her to join the trade fair in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.

During the trade fair, another staff from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) approached her and offered DOST’s services in improving her business. Grace was determined to grow her business, so she grabbed this opportunity.

Grace shared that DTI was instrumental in the success of her business as the trade fair opened more opportunities. She was also given a chance to attend a training for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) sponsored by DOST. This exposed her to more learnings, which she later applied to her business.

When Grace was still learning the ropes of running a business, she was humble enough to identify the weak points and take action to improve on those areas. She admitted that her product’s packaging was not attractive enough. She was only using a simple packaging made of lantern paper, bond paper, and ribbon.

After attending workshops sponsored by DTI, she realized that her packaging is a crucial factor in increasing sales. Using lessons learned she got from those seminars, Grace made sure to improve the packaging and make it attractive enough for potential buyers.

Eventually, the demand for her products dramatically increased to the point that Grace’s small oven at home could no longer cope with the demand. “Everything was falling into place. My prayer was heard right away,” said Grace whose friend offered a second-hand oven which she used to meet the increasing demand for her pastries.

The seminars and trainings provided by DTI not only improved her marketing skills, according to Grace. She also learned the different aspects of business management such as product quality and production volume. Her business also became more efficient to keep up with the increasing demand. In return, this enabled Grace to provide more employment opportunities to more workers.

After some time, Grace decided to expand and offer additional products including baked cassava, buko pie, cookies, pastillas, macaroons, brownies, and more.

Expanded reach

The current status of Rich Blitz Sweets is already a far cry from its beginning when Grace even had no money to buy eggs, flour, and sugar.

Currently, Grace employs 10 workers and would hire additional people from time to time, depending on the demand.

The products of RichBlitz Sweets have become a staple pasalubong of those who are visiting San Jose, Occidental Mindoro—some would even bring the pastries overseas. She has also been getting orders from other areas such as Bacolod and Metro Manila.

Asked on the advice that she could give to aspiring entrepreneurs, Grace said, “We have to work hard to achieve our goal—nothing worth having comes easy.” She also stressed the importance of giving the consumers the quality they deserve.

Grace has proven that one’s perseverance, grit, and humility would pave the way towards success.

Albay: RLM Native Products

Nurturing nature’s gifts

When super Typhoon Reming hit Albay province in 2007, thousands were left homeless and stripped of their livelihood.

Renato Madrideo, a resident of Daraga, Albay, was among those affected whose house was destroyed by the super typhoon. He lost everything except his hope. So instead of wallowing in despair, he looked for opportunities on how to pick up the pieces and build back a better house.

He was among the attendees of the business training conducted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for the affected residents. The business training targeted residents who wanted to venture into a business to be able to get back on their feet after the disaster.

Renato, who was selling homemade fans before the typhoon’s onslaught, formed a business idea after DTI’s training. Renato and his family decided to establish RLM Native Products, an enterprise that sells home furnishing and houseware items such as fans, lamps, and Christmas decors. RLM Products creates products made of nito (a climbing fern) buri, abaca, and anahaw.

“These came from the forests here in Albay and DTI helped us to take advantage of these local resources. They gave us product development seminars and helped us until we could get back on our feet,” Renato said.

He focused on the business and made sure all the lessons and insights gained from the trainings and seminars attended were applied in his business—and doing so paid off well.

Quality Craft

Each product of RLM spells craftmanship and creativity. Their bestseller, RLM lamps, require several steps to finish---from fabricating the wire frame, forming the design, varnishing, placing the china cloth, and adding the wiring. One worker needs to spend a whole day to finish a single lamp. Crafting was carefully to avoid compromising the quality of each product. Each lamp is checked well before it goes out to the market.

The good feedback about RLM Native Products spread fast like fire, and the business has also reached several areas not just in Metro Manila, but in Davao and General Santos as well. Their products have become a staple display in many pasalubong centers and terminals in Albay, allowing it to gain attention among tourists and locals alike.

“We never received any negative feedback from our customers. Though there are other entrepreneurs who have the same product as ours, our customers still come back to us because of our quality. And we don’t just make ordinary lamps, we want our products to stand out in every household, so we create different designs,” said Renato.

While RLM Products has almost become synonymous with “native products” in the province of Albay, there are still lean months when sales are low. Renato and his family use those lean months to check the quality of their products and prepare for the high demand which starts in September.

“Our weakest months were from May to August. When ‘ber’ months come in, bulk orders of baskets and lamps come in. We also receive big orders during the Holy Week. During the dull months, we just keep on making our products to prepare for the peak season, so that when orders come in, we’re not in a rush to finish orders,” he says.

Renato is glad that they keep on receiving bulk orders that could cover the low number of orders during lean months. “More orders mean we can help more people here in Albay. It means we can provide them jobs,” he added.

Even supermarkets are now ordering baskets from RLM Native Products. “We have become their preferred supplier because they like how affordable our products are and how we commit to deliver on time.”

This kind of trust from customers is one of the crucial things that made their family business successful, according to Renato. He makes sure that communication lines between RLM Native Products and its customers are open to ensure that expectations are met. Since they started, their customers keep coming back—and many of them referred them to other potential clients.

Renato shared that he has also learned a lot of lessons in running his business, and one of these is taking care of trusted clients.

People Over Profit

More than the profit that the business reaps, Renato emphasized the importance of taking care of the workers and how this, in return, could ensure the success of any business.
“Aside from maintaining the quality of our products, we should also uphold the welfare of our people. We should always take into consideration their needs and their salaries should not be delayed because they are providing for their families. As long as we maintain this and the quality of our products, I know we have a bright future ahead of us,” he added.

Renato noted that putting workers’ welfare at the heart of the business could bring in more benefits. If workers are treated well and paid fairly, he believed, they will be more productive and assure quality work. Renato and his family treat their workers as partners in success.

The positive economic impact of RLM Native Products does not stop on Renato’s family as they have been able to employ several workers to produce their native products. RLM Native Products has also become an opportunity to showcase the creativity of the locals of Albay and gain new skills for their workers.

Gone are the days when Renato and his family would still need to borrow money from various sources to maintain their business. The loyal customers and bulk orders have ensured Renato and his family stability.

There is indeed sunshine after the rain, and Renato and his business are a testament to this.

Asked on the piece of advice that he could give to others who want to establish their own business, Renato said, “Take each step slowly but surely as success will not come instantly.”

Sorsogon: Vicky's Pili and Food Products

Treasure from ‘Tree of Hope’

Often dubbed as the “Tree of Hope”, pili has brought not just hope but also fortune to a family and their workers in Irosin, Sorsogon.

Myra Zandra Gestiada, a former overseas Filipino worker (OFW), now continues to run the legacy of her parents in selling pili nut products through Vicky’s Pili and Food Products.

Today, their business provides employment to local workers while promoting Sorsogon as one of the major producers of pili products.

It all started 38 years ago, when Myra’s mother, Victoria ‘Vicky’ Navarro, decided to sell pili nut candies using the pili nuts harvested from their farm. Myra’s father used to be a farmer and would plant and harvest a huge amount of pili nuts.

Pili is known to be grown extensively in Sorsogon province—not just in farms and plantations, but in backyards as well.

Myra shared that her mom, who hailed from Zamboanga City, grew up with relatives who ran restaurants. This is where her mother learned to love cooking, including those that used pili nuts as main ingredient.

Decades after the business was established, Vicky’s Pili and Food Products continued to grow and became a household name in the Bicol area. It was at its peak when the business experienced some challenges that the entire Navarro family had to face.

Rising from challenges

In 2009, the family behind the successful business faced a major setback when Vicky was diagnosed with a serious illness.

Myra, who was working in Dubai then, decided to go home to the Philippines to take care of her mother who was diagnosed with amyitrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Myra also took over of the business since her mother became too weak to handle the business.

While the business was already established when Myra took over, there were some challenges that her family had to face.

“New products means you need additional capital to cover packaging and labels on top of the costs for the ingredients,” Myra recalled. It was hard at first but Myra, with support from her family, managed to scale up the business.

Myra shared that it was only in 2015 when she actively promoted their products since the top priority then was taking care of her mother.

Back then, the products of Vicky’s Pili and Food Products were buding de pili, giniling, preserva, pili nut conserva, and the all-time favorite honey crispy pili. When her family took over, they decided to add new products and product lines. These are the Vicky’s Pili Kernel Lines which contains six variants of pili such as the roasted pili nuts, honeyed crispy pili, pili nuts with Himalayan salt, sweet and spicy pili nuts, pili nuts with chili pepper, and the mazapan de pili.

Myra recalled that some customers then were looking for non-pili products. It was then they introduced The Pulp, a spreadable paste used as a condiment. “We thought it would be a waste if we don’t create something out of it. Usually, it’s just the nut that is made into a candy,” Myra explained.

Recently, she established a new product line called Hin-ay Tradition which contains dried culinary herbs and spices, dried agar seaweed, powdered moringa, powdered teas, tablea de cacao, atchara, and coco sap vinegar.

Learning Never Stops

While Vicky’s Pili and Food Products already made a name in the market, Myra knew that there will always be competition. Hence, they also need to step up and innovate in order to stay afloat in the market.

Myra made sure to attend trainings and seminars to help her upscale and grow their family business. Some of the seminars and events she attended were organized by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which included Go Lokal! Buyers Day, Go Lokal! Encounter PAFT R&D Application Seminar Regarding Health and Functionality from fats and oils, Shared Service Facilities (SSF) Bicol Summit 2016, Greening Sorsogon MSMEs, and BOI Investment Roadshow: Industry Development for Inclusive Growth Industry Roadmaps, and AEC Gameplan Roadmap Localization for Competitiveness, among others.

Vicky’s Pili and Food Products was also part of several DTI-sponsored trade fairs including ProPak Asia, Sikat Pinoy National Food Fair, OKB Gayon Bikol Regional Trade & Travel Fair, International Food Exhibition, Orgullo Kan Bikol. All of these trade fairs were instrumental in increasing the sales of Vicky’s Pili and Food Products.

In 2017, the enterprise was awarded as DTI Go Lokal! Top Seller. Myra was also a nominee in Go Negosyo’s 2018 Filipina Entrepreneurship Summit.

Myra recalled that the business was at its peak when her mother was the one running it. But they faced major challenges when her mother, Vicky, got sick. “Right now, we are still in the process of reviving it, but in a bigger scale. We introduced a lot of changes, such as the label of our products—but we are maintaining its quality,” she said.

“As much as possible, we try to establish a good relationship with all of our customers, even online. We don’t settle for less. We always attend the trainings provided by DTI and share it with our employees. As business owners, we should never get tired of learning and trying something new. We should always make time to learn,” Myra added.

Myra shared that they also decided to establish another business, which is mainly managed by her husband.

“We wanted to sustain everything so we created a new business managed by my husband, the Angkie Agri Enterprises which grows pili. Before, we get our supply from other pili farms. With us having our own plants, we hope that will help our business improve,” Myra said.

Some products of Vicky’s Pili and Food is sourced from other suppliers like the imported Himalayan salt and chili peppers from other entrepreneurs. Later on, Myra realized that the supplier is not consistent with their flavor, so she opted to just plant their own chili peppers.

Myra also shared that from every stage, sorting the products is very important in order to achieve the premium pili kernel.

“We are a vertically integrated company. Before the Ankie Agri-business, we buy the pili fruit and then we process them. So there’s not a lot of traders in between from the shell to the kernel. We own the whole value chain for the production of pili unlike others where they start the processing from the pili nuts … we start from the fruit,” said Myra.

“In our company, we have different processes from pulping, drying, cracking, peeling, and so on. That is actually to our advantage because we were able to create our new product The Pulp. If we started in between, we will not have the idea of creating another product from the by-product of pili,” she added.

Sowing the seeds of success

To give back to the community, Myra and her family donate pili seeds to other farmers that could help them in their livelihood. Myra shared that they have been doing this for the last three years. They have also been initiating tree planting activities in some towns of Sorsogon.

“We also supply other enterprises. There are many more coming but we don’t want to commit until we’re sure that we have enough raw materials,” Myra said.

The enterprise has penetrated the market well and has reached stores in Metro Manila and some nearby cities as well as the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Quezon, Ilocos Sur, and Laguna, among others.

“At present, my husband and I manage it so we are teaching our staff and encourage them to be part of the company’s shareholders. After that and when we develop our new brand and new products we can now go into franchising,” Myra mentioned.

Aling Vicky’s Pili and Food Products is officially registered as a single proprietorship, but Myra shared that they are thinking of turning the business into a corporation as part of their sustainability plans. It also means providing opportunities for others to be a part of their success.



Bacolod City: Babylan's Cococraft

Decorating lives with the tree of life

Starting with a loan worth Php10,000 couple, Maxima and Rolando Madera did not think that their home décor business would eventually make it big.

It started in 1988 when Rolando’s employer was on the verge of closing down their export business. The couple decided to file a loan from a local cooperative to try their luck in starting their home décor business and called it Babylan’s Cococrafts.

Thirty-one years on, the couple is still amazed at how their products were able to penetrate high-end stores in the Philippines and countries such like Maldives and the United States.

Starting small

Maxima recalled their situation when they were just starting. They lived in a depressed area in Bacolod City. She had to resign from her job to focus on rearing their children, who became sickly then because of the surroundings. “It’s like our version of Smokey Mountain. We had no money, so it was not easy to move out,” said Maxima.

This was in the same place where they put up a small workshop in their home. They only had two workers who were engaged on a per order basis.

“We were only using plain, laminated coconut shells then in creating home decors. We did not know yet how to inject creativity into our products,” said Maxima.

After seven years, a group of designers from the Advocate of Philippines Fair Trade Inc. (APFTI) encouraged Maxima and Rolando to introduce more products and use more indigenous materials such as capiz shells.

“They gave us some design ideas for our home decors, but it was my husband who executed those ideas,” shared Maxima who added that Rolando already had a wealth of experience in the same business because of his former employers who were exporting handicrafts.

To be able to join trade fairs, Maxima obtained loans to finance their production and logistics. On the average, the couple would borrow around Php 20, 000 per trade fair event, but would pay this off after each event.

“We were able to increase our profit—slowly, but surely,” said Maxima.

The couple faced a great challenge in 1995 when they were duped to pay P100,000 for a P20,000 loan to participate in a trade fair. The problem was eventually resolved, but brought stress to the couple who was then still trying to grow their business.

Fortunately, breakthrough happened that same year as the firm got more orders from institutional buyers with the application of creative and innovative designs, making their products stand out during trade fairs.

From plain, laminated coconut home decors, Babylan’s now produces placemats, jewelry boxes, wall frames, lamp shades, wall decors, and table tops, among others. Many of these products have reached posh malls and high-end resorts.

Boosting the local economy

Maxima is proud that they are helping source raw materials from the community. They made sure to get from local sources to increase the income of the locals. This also means less cost for the couple since all raw materials do not need to be brought in from a far place. In return, this also pumps Bacolod’s local economy.

They also hire workers who live nearby. Presently, Babylan has eight workers but would hire more if there is an increase in product demand. These workers are provided with social security and basic health insurance benefit.

“We also maintain a good working relationship with them because they are a crucial factor in making this business successful,” said Rolando.

He stressed the importance of taking care of the human resource aspect of any business.

Rolando handles the production side, which involves dealing with workers. Maxima, meanwhile, focused on the marketing side. One of their children would help in the financial aspect of the business.

DTI as an enabler

Maxima said they are grateful to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for its continued support since the start of their business, especially during struggling periods to sustain the enterprise.

Babylan’s has always been invited to trade fairs organized by DTI that opened endless opportunities to the enterprise, according to the couple.

“I don't think we will be successful if we did not learn many things from DTI,” said Maxima who also took part in the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program. She herself is now often tapped as a mentor to encourage and empower those who want to scale up their businesses.

Maxima is amazed on how their small business was able to provide them a steady source of income. Through Babylan, they were able to send their children to reputable schools and buy properties such as real estate and a car.

One of their children is now an accountant, and serves a regular speaker at DTI trainings for business owners.

Gone are the days of getting a loan to be able attend trade fairs.

“Through the years, we also have learned how to be careful with our finances,” said Rolando who said this is also a crucial factor for any enterprises to be sustainable. It could make or break any business—regardless of how small it is, Rolando added.

While they are already on their prime years, Maxima and Rolando’s love for their craft remains.

“We’re already in our retirement age, but we still want to serve our clients. And we love what we do,” said Maxima.

To succeed, Maxima shared the greatest lesson they learned in more than three decades of enterprise work, “Combine your love for your business with hard work and determination,” said Maxima.

Aklan: Button's 'N Things Crafts & Design

Button of Success

A love for the arts and home province inspired an entrepreneur in Kalibo, Aklan to put up her own business.

Sheree Reynaldo, founder and designer of Buttons ‘n Things Crafts & Designs, said it all started with her arts and crafts hobby and almost zero knowledge on the business management aspect.

“I started my business as a hobby. I put it up using a little capital and knowledge,” she said.

“Passion and creativity were among my greatest ‘capital’. I am also determined to promote the world-class products of Aklan. I want to make our products known,” Sheree added who exudes enthusiasm in promoting and helping the local brands and artists of her province.

Aklan province is abundant with indigenous materials and a known tourist destination, making it an ideal place for hand and crafts businesses. The province is a known producer of abaca, a type of leaf fiber, that is often used to produce cloth, bags, wall decors, and other hand-crafted products. In addition, Kalibo is a prime producer of piña cloth, a soft type of fiber cloth made out of pineapple plant. This cloth is also used for barongs.

Sheree admitted that during the first three years she was not very serious in the business and only showcased the designs of local artists.

“I was more of an artist than an entrepreneur,” said Sheree who mentioned that her business management skills only improved after a few years in the business.

Today, Buttons ‘n Things Crafts & Designs sells different products including bags, hats, fashion accessories, souvenirs, and indigenous arts and crafts materials. They manufacture and design hand-crafted products, mostly made of organic materials. The enterprise believes in the importance of continuous innovation and self-expression.

Buttons ‘n Things has also been a partner of various local brands and startups in Aklan that need a place to promote their products and materials. Most of the materials used are sourced from suppliers within the province, and each product was intricately woven or made by the locals.

Through Buttons ‘n Things, Sheree does not only offer jobs to the local artists and marginalized sectors of Aklan but also promotes environmental awareness through the use of indigenous materials.

DTI assistance

After three years in the business, Sheree realized that her creativity and passion to help others alone would never be enough to make her enterprise sustainable. This is when she decided to invest in improving her skills on managing a business.

Sheree looked back on how the programs of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) have helped her improve her business further.

“DTI provided various seminars and trainings, which included product development and technical skills training,” said Sheree, pointing to the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program as the main platform that gave her the biggest boost. “That’s when I realized that creativity is not just the only thing that matters---you also need to look into the business side,” she added.

The KMME program promotes coaching and mentoring approach among large corporations to help micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) scale up. MSMEs were equipped with skills and knowledge on various aspects of business operations.

“The regional and national trade fairs were also of big help for the exposure that my business needs,” said Sheree who met a number of buyers during these events and eventually became her institutional buyers. This enabled her to consign with popular department stores across the country.

As a means of giving back, Sheree decided to impart her own skills and knowledge as well.

“To share my blessings, I provide free trainings in many communities. I participate in various skills training programs for women and indigenous peoples,” said Sheree.

“One of our advocacies is to help local artists showcase their work,” said Sheree who takes pride in the creativity of their partners.

Today, Buttons ‘n Things has teamed up with 50 partners who needed a venue to showcase their local products and indigenous supplies and materials. These partners included organizations that support or employ women, senior citizens, persons with disability (PWDs), and out of school youth.

Slow fashion

For Sheree, her business follows the slow fashion approach since her products were not mass produced.

“Our artists and workers put much effort in weaving and in creating the products we offer,” said Sheree, noting that this approach serves as a challenge in sustaining the production. This process ensures the quality and uniqueness of each item.

This arrangement also assures that artists and workers are given fair payment for the items they produce.

One of the greatest challenges in managing Button N’ Things, according to Sheree, is educating their partner communities. “It takes much effort to train and provide them skills so they can have jobs. We also need to equip them with the needed business skills for them to eventually stand on their own,” she said, stressing that this has been one of the most important lessons she got from KMME.

Sheree constantly thinks of ways to innovate their products, which she also imparts to partner startups and artists.

“Competition is very stiff, and we need to stand out,” said Shree who would always remind her partner enterprises and artists to look beyond the usual designs and products.

Sheree shared that she is guided by her personal principle: “Success is not about fame, money, or awards. It is about becoming the best of yourself and finding your passion.”

True enough, Sheree successfully found her niche and made sure to give back by taking time to share her passion, talent, and skills to her fellow business owners and artists in the province of Aklan.

Asked on how other can be successful in this business, she said: “Share your blessings. Share your skills. Create jobs.”

Bohol: Tubigon Loomweavers Multi-purpose Cooperative (TLMPC)

Looming strands of success

Aside from sweet dips and swells of the postcard-perfect Chocolate Hills, the irresistible charm of pocket-sized tarsiers, and white sand beaches, the island province of Bohol carries something else that Filipinos can undoubtedly be proud of⁠—raffia, a natural fiber from the buri palms, and how the steadfast hands of Tubigon womenfolk crafted them from buds into a globally important fabric.

Learning yarn by yarn

The story of Tubigon Loomweavers Multi-Purpose Cooperative (TLMPC) started with meager numbers: 15 women and an initial capital of Php 5,000. Consisting mostly of housewives of farmers and fishermen, the group was organized by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) as one of its Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

No new beginning was ever easy. Having lived most of their lives at home waiting for the return of their husbands, the members had no inkling how to operate a loom, even if the practice of producing fabrics with one has been present in the province for over a century already. All these years, their hands are familiar only with stacking lambay crabs on their containers for selling and picking husks off a tray of rice grains. They did not know yet the touch of a raffia fabric, nor were they aware that they can spin them out into articles that would be a hit to buyers overseas.

While the women weavers lacked the necessary knowledge and skills at the start of the business, their determination and perseverance kept them afloat.

DTI introduced them to the art of loom weaving through various seminars and trainings, beginning with basic skills up to product development and enterprise management. Their commitment to make the enterprise a successful endeavor coupled with DTI’s unwavering support, TLMPC thrived. In no time, the cooperative was churning out sheets after sheets of loom-woven textiles.

In 2014, the Department also turned over to the cooperative a Php 1.26-M handloom equipment through the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) program. This helped the group produce wider sheets of fabric—from 24-inch to 72-inch wide rolls—with much better quality. With this facility, they can now spin rolls of raffia for furniture as well as finer fabrics for trench coats, gown, and curtains. Eager as ever, the weavers were more than willing to master handling the machines.

Labor of Love

It was in 2006 when TLMPC faced a major challenge on its cash flow since no one was an expert in managing finances. Maria Trina V. Sumayang, General Manager of TLMPC, joined the cooperative then as a Marketing Consultant and helped the group in solving the major setback.

“When I first came in, the biggest problem was about the working capital,” Trina shared, who was referred to the group by the Ayala Foundation and the Philippine-Australian Community Assistance Program (PACAP) that also offer assistance to TLMPC. “When that was sorted out and I became a project coordinator, I realized that we have a bigger problem at hand: our weavers are sometimes resistant to change.”

Trina, who was armed with years of experience in managing the businesses of her family, knew she had to help the weavers understand the importance of keeping up with the times.

“I have to let them understand that, and at the same time instill in their minds that they must never forget what they learned in traditional weaving,” she added. Every new idea, she says, is a prospect for progress.

Trina stayed with the group as its General Manager. After a series of workshops and trainings from DTI, the weavers were able to imbibe the importance of embracing change, making the enterprise flourish.

At present, the TLMPC family has grown from having a little more than a dozen to 170 employees—of these, 70 are fulltime, while the others are sub-contracted, home-based workers. Today, husbands and sons have also joined the women weavers of TLMPC to help earn income for their respective households.

This workforce complement, along with the aid that poured in incessantly from the government, non-government organizations (NGOs), and the private sector, boosted up their link to the value chain. TLMPC members were already glad seeing their raffia yarns and sheets being converted into various merchandise and sold in various cities and countries.

Today, Trina’s vision was realized: they continue to supply raffia fabrics, but they are capable enough to venture into creating their own finished products. Displayed in their showroom in Barangay Pinayagan Norte (approximately 50 kilometers away from the Tagbilaran provincial capital) are whimsically designed bags, wallets, table runners, placemats, coasters, accessories, home decor, and even apparel. With the intricate design patterns in them and the sturdiness of the woven material, a customer could easily say all these creations were handcrafted with the labor of love.

Pedaling it up a notch

Trina considers the new concepts she sees in trade fairs and events as a yardstick for the quality and trendiness of their next lines of products.

“Attending and participating in trade fairs proved to be a big help to us, not only because it guides us in developing products, but because it encourages us to be globally competitive as well,” she said. “When you’re in the industry you will be asked, ‘Trina, what’s new?’ You have to be updated about what’s in and what’s not, what’s hot and what’s not. We have to innovate.”

For TLMPC, product diversification is probably the best step they took. They earned the trust of elite clients; droves of tourists drop by their showroom to purchase souvenirs; their handcrafted fabrics are sourced to be sewn into gowns and to be modeled by beauty queens; and luxury hotels are buying their loom-woven textiles for architectural embellishments. In fact, their goods are a regular to prestigious trade fairs like Manila FAME, Sikat Pinoy National Trade Fair, and Sandugo Trade Fair.

“I am happy to say that we are in a good place right now,” Trina mentioned. “Before, we had to wait for a 30% to 50% down payment from our buyers so we could purchase the necessary materials. Today, we can start working right away, as funding is not that much of an issue anymore.”

There is an increasing demand for indigenous and eco-friendly materials like raffia in the international market, which spurred TLMPC’s vision to be able to directly export their merchandise. Fueled by this, they are currently moving to develop younger second-line weavers to assist their middle-aged main workers beyond Tubigon, specifically in the municipalities of Inabanga, Buenavista, and Danao.

“We are forever grateful to DTI for what they have done for the family, and I’m certain they will continue to lend their hand to us as we embark on our new journey to our next goal,” Trina said.

Looking over the hardworking craftspeople, it was easy to feel proud about how they managed to pedal, pull, and spin away in their handlooms towards their rightful place in the global value chain. With the same amount of grit and ingenuity, and with agencies and groups on their side who are ready to help them step up a notch in the business ladder, these micro-entrepreneurs’ dream would be within their grasp in no time.

Cebu: A.T.E. (Alter to Enhance) Clothier

The perfect fit

After spending 25 years in the sales and marketing field, Ma. Aleta “Tatah” dela Calzado decided to go back to her first love: sewing and fashion.

When Tatah had retired from her fulltime job, she tried working as an insurance agent. Despite her wealth of experience in sales and marketing, Tatah found it ironic that she was having a hard time selling insurance policies.

Tatah’s post-retirement career as an insurance agent changed while waiting for a client at a tailoring shop to present the insurance policy. During the wait, her loved for sewing was rekindled. She also realized that maybe selling insurance was not for her. “I was in sales and marketing for 25 years, but I wasn’t doing well in selling insurance policies so I decided to shift into the clothing business,” she said.

Tatah loved sewing in her youth, and she decided that this is the passion to pursue in the coming years after retirement.

In 2014, she formally established ATE (Alter-to-Enhance) by Tatah in Cebu City. The rest is history, she said. ATE now has two branches in Cebu and one in Katipunan, Quezon City to cater to clients based in Metro Manila. ATE will soon open its fourth branch in Robinsons Galleria, also in Cebu.

Initially, the idea was to have a tailoring shop wherein clients could choose their preferred fabrics and design. In-house dressmakers would create and sew clothes for waiting customers.

Tatah shared that they were doing a very simple type of sewing then. “We had to do everything simple and fast—that was the concept,” Tatah said who admitted that she had no formal training in tailoring and fashion design at that time.

Series of learnings

The increase in customers after a few months in the business compelled Tatah to take a short course on Fashion Business at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City; afterwards, a short styling course in London.

“I make it a point to always invest in myself,” said Tatah.

After taking a couple of short courses abroad, she then decided to apply for the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program.

According to Tatah, the business was actually doing well. But she felt the need to learn on how to run a successful business.

“With KMME, I learned a lot about managing the business. We were taught how to handle human resource problems, managing employees, and coming up with a company policy. I tend to be friendly with everybody, so I also learned how to separate personal from business,” Tatah shared.

Change in Concept

As ATE continued to evolve, Tatah realized that the original business concept was no longer sustainable in terms of price point. She noted that creating clothes from scratch and producing them instantly requires much time and effort, which means more costs on the part of the business. It came to a point where there were too many rejects from clients, which was affecting their profit margin.

Tatah stressed that there were several lessons learned along the way.

“We learned to choose our battles and focused on our forte. That’s why we also came up with a concept of zipper-less, buckle-less, and no buttons apparel,” she mentioned.

It was then she thought of introducing tweaks into her venture and try ready-to-wear (RTW). While ATE started offering RTWs, it still stands out from its competitors as clients are still given the option to alter the clothes almost instantly—there is no need for them to wait for days before they could get their clothes back.

Luring Tourists

In Cebu, interestingly, ATE has become a part of many tourists’ itinerary.

“When we started, we already had a lot of clients and most of them are from Class A in Cebu and they were the ones who were also promoting us and bringing their friends in from Manila. It’s one of the reasons why we decided to open in Manila because of the demand. We always give them the sincere service and we make sure they have fun in the shop. So, these clients spread the word when we opened here in Manila,” Tatah said.

This has enabled Tatah to collaborate with other entrepreneurs from her sewers to designers, and even clients. She shared that she has met a lot of DTI mentees who sell shoes and accessories, which opened opportunities for collaboration. She shared that one of the mentors during the finance session of KMME is now ATE’s bookkeeper.

Four years into the business, Tata still believes that ATE is still a startup, with lots of opportunities and improvements in store for it.

“If you’re getting bigger, control is another challenge. I think we need a good inventory management system to make sure that we control everything. Until we’re there, we will continue to be a startup. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to franchise or even try out other business models,” says Tatah.

Moving Forward

Until now, Tata continues to be involved in different programs of the government or agencies with DTI like the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) program and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

“We’re working with the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards of DOLE. I’ve also been active in promoting the Kapatid Mentor ME program and telling startups like myself that there are a lot of offerings from the government that they don’t know about,” said Tatah.

Under KMME, Tatah has graduated from being a mentee to a mentor, advising budding entrepreneurs in becoming successful in business.

As for future plans, she is open to try franchising once they are able to standardize every aspect of their operations.

For her, getting into the business industry means being open to learning all the time.

“You have to be teachable. When you get the chance, attend seminars and trainings. Check out the programs that the government is offering. You will be amazed and it’s really very helpful. As long as you’re guided, you can move fast and focus on business and product development. But you have to be teachable, you have to open your heart and mind to learn every day from your clients,” said Tatah.

Eastern Samar: Mother Ignacia’s Women Association (MIWA)

Tea perks up a community

A tea production enterprise is empowering the women of Llorente, Eastern Samar by giving them a decent source of income.

Dubbed as Mother Ignacia Women’s Association (MIWA), the group has been instrumental in improving the lives of its members since the initial set of teas were produced in 2006.

Planting the Roots

It all started when Narcisa ‘Nars’ Sayson shared her knowledge on herbal tea processing with the mothers of the weekly Family Enrichment Workshop conducted by the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM) sisters at Mother Ignacia Village.

Mother Ignacia Village is a refuge for families who do not have their own homes and stable source of livelihood--some due to extreme poverty while the others were victims of natural calamities. It is managed by the Mother Ignacia National Apostolic Center (MINSAC), a non-government, faith-based organization aiming to build communities and social structures that foster harmony in diversity, through the RVM sisters.

The training on herbal tea processing was in line with the aim of RVM sisters to help build stronger communities. After seeing the potential of the herbal tea processing enterprise as a source of income for housewives in the village, RVM sisters decided to form the
Mother Ignacia Women’s Organization (MIWO). The group started with 16 mothers, including Nars, and worked on their first produce of salabat. Each of the members pitched in Php20 as initial capital. They tried the tea themselves before introducing it to the market.

Eventually, they started selling powdered herbal teas in small plastic bags (the ones commonly used for ice candy) and sold it for Php5 and Php10 around their barangay. After gaining enough interest among their neighbors, they decided to produce more in empty peanut butter canisters.

Their first products included herbal teas from ginger (salabat), sambong, banaba, and malunggay, among others. They manually processed the raw materials using cloth sacks for squeezing and mortar and pestle for grinding. They used to bring these products to nearby communities, especially during events, even without any sure buyers.

During that time, the mothers were already content with what they are earning. But the RVM sisters supporting them knew that MIWO can do a lot better.

Growing the plant

After more than five years of merely selling their products to nearby communities, MIWO decided to register their group as a livelihood association in the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and as a business in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). They changed their name to Mother Ignacia Women’s Association (MIWA), which seemed to be the starting point of their exponential success.

“We were actually content that we were earning unlike before. They (RVM sisters) encouraged us to register our business, which is necessary if we want to develop it further,” shared MIWA President Ester Cuntado.

Through DTI, they were encouraged to add turmeric tea in their line of products. That is when people started to know about their organization. And as more people get to taste their teas, they had to scale up their production.

MIWA initially received two units of pulverizer, one four-burner gas stove, and five stainless tables from DTI through the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) program. Recently, a spray dryer was also granted to them. According to MIWA members, the facility helped them increase their production and decrease working time. Before, each member had to work eight hours a day to process 30 kilograms of turmeric to produce 20 canisters of herbal tea. When they got the additional equipment, MIWA members are now able to process 130 kilograms of turmeric daily to come up with 130 canisters of tea. Each member is required to work for only four hours a day.

They also received product development assistance from the Negosyo Center, helping them improve their packaging and labeling. Through DTI trainings and seminars, MIWA members also learned the fundamentals of managing a business. Meanwhile, by participating in trade fairs organized by the Department, they were able to widen their market access.

“Without DTI’s help, we may not have prospered. DTI has been helping us improve and expand our business up until now,” Nars said. She added, “We really are grateful to DTI for their support through these years. If not for DTI, we would not develop into a stable enterprise,” Ester shared.

At present, their product line already includes banaba, sambong, malunggay, lemongrass, salabat, lagundi, and turmeric herbal teas, as well as combination variants such as the seven-in-one and five-in-one teas.

They no longer have to bring their products to different areas, without any certainty that they would go home with profits. Now, they are already supplying in various outlets like supermarkets, pasalubong centers, and airports.

Using their association’s own earnings, they were also able to have the former day care center of the village renovated to be their own production facility, which houses the set of equipment provided by DTI.

Furthermore, the now 32 members of the association are earning at least P240 daily, working only three hours per day, giving them enough time to still take care of their families.

“These herbal products really helped us a lot. We were plain housewives who did not have any source of income help our husbands who work as farmers, fishermen, and pedicab drivers. Now, we are able to augment our household income and provide for the needs of our children,” Nars shared.

After over a decade, the mothers also recognize that the impact of this livelihood to their lives is not just economic. Above everything, they said, it uplifted their dignities.

“Some of our members had low self-esteem before the business started. But they can now speak confidently during trade fairs and seminars. This venture has indeed empowered our women members,” Nars said.

MIWA was actually awarded as the Outstanding SSF for Region 8 in 2017 - a proof that its members have significantly improved since they started.

Secrets for growth

Aside from the assistance MIWA received from government agencies like DTI and non-government organizations such as MINSAC, they also attribute the success of the association to the values they uphold.

Members believe that their faith and camaraderie help them survive any kind of hurdle.

“In any organization, disagreements are normal. But we always make sure we solve each problem since we’re a family,” Ester said.

Members of the association also exhibit unrelenting perseverance to enhance their status in life.

“We always remind each other to continue to persevere. We should not just rely on the government. We need to help ourselves,” Nars stressed.

Lastly, their commitment to high quality is surely one of the secret ingredients to success. From the delivery of the raw materials up to packaging, they adhere to quality thereby ensuring continuous patronage of products. They value feedback from the customers and use it to further develop their products.

Empowering others

The mothers believe that they have not reached their peak yet. They know in their hearts that in time, association will reach its full potential. They are still striving to complete the renovation of their production facility with dreams of having a bigger one. They are likewise preparing for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accreditation to increase credibility and reliability of their products with the aim of expanding their product reach to the overseas market.

But as their continuously strive for those goals, they are committed to share learnings to others, particularly to smallholder farmers in Llorente and nearby towns.

Aside from some materials that they grow by themselves, MIWA buys the majority of its raw materials from various farmer organizations from nearby municipalities. Since they require almost six sacks of each plant daily, they are helping several farmers—both individuals and groups.

MIWA actually has enough space and manpower to grow their raw materials, yet they prefer to source it from these farmers. When asked why, Ester said, “It’s our way of helping them. If our lives would improve, theirs should improve as well.”

These mothers are persevering to uplift the lives, not only of their respective families, but also of the members of the other sectors in their area. There is indeed a brighter future ahead not only for MIWA, but for Llorente as a municipality.

MIWA’s story is not just a picture of empowered mothers; it is the story of empowered women, spreading empowerment across their community as well.

Southern Leyte: Nat’s Bukorillo and Bakery Products

Nat’s about business

It took a number of hurdles and hiccups before Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Sansan and his wife Jacinta, owners of Nat’s Delicacies and Bakery Products, found their way to success.

Nat was working in an abaca processing plant in Maasin City, Southern Leyte when he decided to give his family a better life. He recalled of working so hard at the plant but still ended up living on a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle with no savings at all.

“I have dreams for my children, so I told myself that I need to do something,” Nat recalled.

String of lessons

Bearing in mind the dream for the family, Nat convinced his wife to venture into their own business.

In 1993, Nat and his wife decided to enter into buying and selling abaca products using their savings. Coming from the same industry, Nat thought it would just be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, the couple failed and ended up incurring losses.

This did not dampen Nat’s determination, he tried manufacturing bags made of abaca. However, this too, did not succeed given the high production costs of goods and low demand in the market.

Nat decided to give it another try by making a business out of scrap abaca. He sold scrap abaca, but was not able to sustain it and even incurred losses.

But resilience is apparently Nat’s middle name. Despite several failed attempts in the abaca business, Nat and his wife tried selling vegetables. The couple, however, was not able to sustain it either.

After years of trial and error, the couple in 1997 tried cooking and selling bukorillo, a famous Filipino delicacy made of grated young coconut, coated with milk and caramelized sugar and formed into balls.

With only Php150 as initial capital, they tried several recipes of bukorillo to find the ‘perfect one’--- a little sweet, and a bit crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside.

The couple had no expectations given the failures that they had encountered in the recent years.

“There is nothing wrong with trial and error. We decided to just try and try until we got what we wanted,” Nat said.

A Sweet Find

The couple tried several recipes before they decided to sell the first set of bukorillo to nearby elementary school canteens. They helped each other in baking the produce, and Nat was assigned to deliver their produce.

A few months after, Nat received feedback that the students loved their bukorillo. The demand also increased, so they decided to hire one staff to help them with the production. It was then when they also started offering Nat’s Bukorillo to pasalubong centers in nearby municipalities. They also targeted the bus terminals and airports. Eventually, they stopped supplying to elementary schools and began focusing on these pasalubong outlets.

Over the years, as their bukorillo attracted more customers, not only within Maasin City but also in other areas, Nat decided to expand their product line. They added some sweet dough breads, and cookies such as rosquillos, sortidos, galletas, salvaro, and patatas. They also produce banana, ube, and camote chips, and macapuno tart.

As the couple added more products, the numbers of orders increased significantly. Before, they would only cook two to three sets of bukorillo daily since the delicacy cannot be cooked in bulk. But now, they can process 15 sets a day just to cover the orders.

In terms of market, their products are not confined in Southern Leyte. It reaches major cities in the region such as Tacloban, Palo, and Ormoc, as well as other municipalities in Eastern Visayas. They are also supplying various outlets in Luzon, Mindanao, and Metro Manila.

From a household enterprise where Nat and his wife were the only ones in charge of the production, their enterprise now has 26 people working on the production side.

This thriving business enabled Nat and Jacinta to send their children to school. Some of them have already acquired their college degrees and some are living comfortably with their own families.

Finding solutions

It would be easier to think that after four failed attempts of building an enterprise, the journey would be smooth for Nat and his family after they finally found the right business for them. But that is not how real life works.

Nat and Jacinta went through a lot of hardships before making a name for their business. One of the biggest problems they encountered is the loss of capital due to customers who were not able to pay their debts. When they were starting and still trying to establish their relationships with potential partners, they were lenient and trusting. But some of their first customers refused to pay for the products that were already consumed, which significantly hurt the business.

Instead of feeling disheartened, Nat looked for solutions to solve this particular problem. It served as an opportunity to improve their systems in business operations and setting standards in choosing partners.

Furthermore, the competition in bukorillo production is also tough in Maasin City. Since they were not the first ones to make these products, it became a bit difficult to establish a market and to make their brand stand out.

“Our products are of high quality. We make sure that the ingredients are complete. In this kind of business, the taste and quality are crucial. If you offer both, buyers will keep on coming back,” Nat shared.

He is also hands-on in supervising the processing of their products. He and his wife always make sure that there is at least one of them present in the production to guide their workers.

Sticking together

Nat’s Delicacies and Bakery Products is being run not by one man but by the entire family. At present, it is not only Nat and Jacinta who are involved in the business. All five of their children are engaged in the enterprise, with the eldest serving as the marketing officer. If weren’t for his family, who serves as his inspiration and partners in the business, Nat knows it will be impossible for him to reach this point.

Government agencies have also helped Nat and his family survive the failures and expand the business. Notable is the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which has been providing support since the couple was just starting in 1997.

DTI regularly invites them to trainings and seminars on how to further grow their business and manage it properly. For one, Nat’s eldest daughter was a mentee under the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program, where they got the opportunity to be mentored by successful entrepreneurs.

DTI also provided them with product development assistance through the One Town, One Product (OTOP) Next Gen program, which resulted in improved branding and packaging of their goods.

Through its regional and national trade fairs, DTI likewise helped the family widen their market access. The enterprise is a regular exhibitor for Region 8’s Bahandi Trade Fair, held annually in Metro Manila. They also participated in the National Food Fair.

“If not for DTI, I’m sure we will not reach this far,” said Nat.

Nat likewise received assistance from other government institutions such as the Department of Agriculture, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and the Visayas State University through their Department of Food Science and Technology (VSU-DFST).

Just like how the pieces of grated young coconut need to stick together to make a good and delicious bukorillo, Nat knows that he will not succeed if his family and their institutional partners did not stick with him.

Sharing the sweetness

After more than two decades in the business, Nat’s family makes sure to bring back the blessings to their community.

Aside from the mandatory benefits that regular employees receive, workers are also given meals for free.

“Before, some people would even tell me that I’m incurring more costs because of what we offer to our workers. But I told them that I’m happy that we’re able to feed them,” Nat said.

Their family also conducts regular feeding programs in nearby communities to pay it forward. They also serve as resource persons to various livelihood seminars and workshops.

Passing on the spatula

When asked about his future plans for the business, Nat believes that it is about time for him and his wife to retire and enjoy the fruits of their labor and finally let their children stir the bukorillo business.

“It’s my children’s turn to run the business,” Nat said.

At present, though still involved in the business, Nat is starting to delegate major tasks like marketing and management to some of his children. Besides, they are the reason Nat has been a tough cookie ever since. The intense desire to provide a good life to his children pushed him to succeed. And now, he is not just able to give that kind of life to his children and grandchildren. He is handing over a company that can provide a continuous source of livelihood for the succeeding generations of his family.


Zamboanga del Norte: Casava Growers and Processors Association

Uprooting poverty through community empowerment

Long regarded as a poor man’s crop, cassava now brings pride and stable livelihood in Dapitan City, a third class city on the northeastern coast of Zamboanga del Norte.

These starchy tubers growing in tropical climates are made into crunchy, mouth-watering snacks that are sold in parts of Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, and some areas overseas.

Susan Empeynado, plant manager of Dapitan Cassava Growers and Processors Association (CAGAPA), said divine providence, support from key line government agencies and local government unit (LGU) officials, and the hard work and perseverance of the cassava growers and processors of Dapitan City are the key ingredients to the business’ success.

Root of success

The firm was already processing cassava chips in another city when a certain businessman, who tasted the chips, persuaded Susan to relocate to Dapitan City and bring all her knowledge to help establish CAGAPA.

Convinced of the project’s objective, she agreed to work for the Dapitan City government, at first as a consultant and eventually as a plant manager.

In June 2014, CAGAPA started its operations in a temporary processing center at the Agri Compound in Dapitan City, making the association’s first batches of chips.

Back then, the association was processing 600 kilos of raw tubers and 300 to 500 kilograms of chips per week. Today, they now process up to 1,200 kilos of cassava daily due to their new center and farm inputs from the government. The support of their partners have significantly increased their overall productivity.

The path to success, however, is not that easy.

Susan recalled the birth pains of the business. Selling cassava products turned difficult because of the scare brought about by a food poisoning incident in Bohol that involved the crop. Susan, who is an agriculturist by profession, said some people even believed the false claims that planting cassava would only degrade the quality of soil.

“People looked down on cassava, and some regarded it as ‘poor man’s food’,” she said.

When the association was in its infancy, the workers were having difficulty because of the changing climate and of the small dryer available to them. They coordinated with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for a dryer that could meet the increasing requirements of their cassava production.

Despite the negative perceptions on cassava and the limitations on available equipment, Susan nonetheless decided to push through. There is money in planting cassava—something that she believed in.

True enough, CAGAPA was able to surpass these challenges and more.

“Every hardship that we pass through will be an opportunity for us to grow and improve,” said Susan.

When there are problems in the operations or other aspects of the business, she would give a call to DTI representatives in the area for assistance.

Marketing is key

The DTI-9 Regional Office played a crucial role in the group’s expansion. “DTI is an angel. Through them, we were able to make a difference,” Susan said.

She noted that the strategies-- from growing cassava to marketing-- taught by DTI in coaching sessions under the Kapatid Mentor ME aided the business’ success.

“These strategies came handy in coping with challenges confronting us. The learnings were imparted to us by our mentors or those entrepreneurs who were ahead of us,” she added.

In a year’s time, the association was able to expand outside Dapitan City through trade fairs and exhibits organized by DTI.

“As we reach more and more people, we were able to boost our marketing efforts in 2015. Thanks to these trade fairs,” Susan said.

The enterprise reached another milestone after the Dapitan City government constructed a Php 5.5-million processing center in Aseniero, Dapitan.

In 2014, CAGAPA emerged as the winner of the Department of Agriculture’s Cornucopia Awards, which recognized LGUs and organizations that help promote value addition of corn and cassava. The association received Php 4 million as prize, which enabled them pay for their expansion needs.

Multiplier effect

An LGU-supported initiative, CAGAPA started in 2014 with a Php 20,000 capital and 14 members. It has grown into a P10-million business today, supporting around 160 workers and farmers.

More than the pride that the business brings to Dapitan, the greatest reward that they got in putting up the enterprise is helping people across the value chain.

“It is a blessing to Dapitan City as it creates a multiplier effect. Apart from the farmers and processors, the business also helps the habal habal drivers and drivers of cargo trucks transporting the tubers to the processing center,” Susan said.

She shared that in 2016, their owners were also given accident insurance coverage and annual medical check-up benefits as part of the social protection offer of the association.

The group also commits to cultivate a culture of compassion and promote social inclusion. Some of the members and workers are members of indigenous groups and persons with disability (PWDs).

Future plans

“We hope to expand further and promote more products of Zamboanga. We want to sell our products in the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] market,” Susan stressed.

She added that the ultimate plan is to help more people, specifically workers, to live a good life.

Susan expressed gratitude to their partners, especially the DTI, that have enabled the association members to help themselves and help others.

Zamboanga City: Baker's Field Enterprises

Baking the recipe of success

Instead of taking a rest upon retirement, Ester Perez, ventured into a business to sustain herself and remain productive.

Upon her retirement, she put up a small bakery in her hometown Guisao, Zamboanga City in 2009. The bakery, initially employing just one baker, only offered pandesal. As the bakery grew, it added sliced bread and other bread products like any other town bakery would normally offer.

Although her husband is a good provider, she wanted to remain financially independent and be productive.

Ester’s previous work in a bank somehow exposed her on handling financial transactions. However, she has no background in managing a food business. Nevertheless, she took a leap of faith.

Borrowed capital

There was not enough money to put up the bakery at the start but Ester was determined to establish this business. She borrowed Php 150,000 from her father since her retirement funds were not yet released at that time.

The bakery did well, and Ester was able to get a fair return on investment. After a few years in the business, she felt the need to expand operations to reach other segments of the market.

Expanding, however, means introducing additional products and spending more on the logistics. She was determined to penetrate supermarkets and sell products to nearby towns. Thus, she had to come up with a pastry or bread with a longer shelf life. Top of mind, she thought of selling biscocho, a type of twice-baked Filipino bread usually coated with butter and sugar.

“We wanted to offer something that would appeal to both kids and adults,” shared Ester.

Ester’s grit fueled her dream of expanding the business. Soon after, she decided to offer several flavors of biscocho. Aside from the usual butter flavor, she also offered peanut, ginger, and cinnamon. Today, they offer 20 flavors and are in the process of introducing more. These were based on thorough research and development to help ensure product marketability.

Given the increased demand of Baker’s Field Enterprises products, Ester also had to expand her logistics support. Her first delivery vehicle, borrowed from her father, was insufficient to bring supplies to various supermarkets in her hometown and nearby areas. So she acquired a new vehicle.

From a small, simple town bakery, Baker’s Field has now found its niche in the market.

Aside from biscocho, Baker’s Field also produces butter cookies, cream bread, sesame cookie sticks, and whole wheat loaf bread, among others.

A chance to give back

The business, which is turning 10 years old this 2019, has gone far and repaid its debts. More than the profit, Baker’s Field takes pride in its commitment to help other people through direct employment and socio-civic work.

Through the business, Ester is now able to help her employees and the community. Baker’s Field consistently supports activities that benefit the community such as youth camp, health center services, and others. The bakery has also been employing self-supporting students during summer vacation.

To help the community, Ester and her team sell used gallons and sacks, containers of their ingredients; earnings of which are used to buy school supplies for indigent kids. Ester is coordinating with local government officials on how they can help their barangay. She has also asked their assistance in profiling their beneficiaries.

Today, Ester has 26 employees which include self-supporting students. She takes pride in providing employment opportunities to former housewives who need to augment their family income.

Staying afloat

Ester stressed the importance of innovation for a business to stay afloat in the market. “Continuous innovation is necessary given the stiff competition in the market,” she said. The enterprise plans to introduce more products including two more flavors of biscocho which are now in the research and development stage.

Staying in the business for almost a decade has not been easy. Ester also experienced hiccups along the way. The first challenge she recalled is the lack of formal training on baking, which was immediately resolved by taking a basic baking lesson to understand the process.

In 2014, Ester was invited to an event organized by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). She attended a four-day event to introduce her products with the intention of 400 packs of biscocho, but ended up selling 1,400 packs.

After which, Ester attended a couple of seminars and trainings organized by DTI. “Continuous trainings and support [from DTI] helped us succeed,” she said.

Baker’s Field Enterprises was also part of the Kapatid Mentor Me (KMME) Program, which used a coaching and mentoring approach for micro and small enterprises (MSEs) to learn from large corporations.

“It taught me how to build a sustainable, resilient business,” said Ester who added that the program inspired her to improve the bakery operations.

The Departments of Agriculture (DA) and Tourism (DOT), and the local government unit of Guisao, Zamboanga City also extended help in marketing the products of Baker’s Field Enterprises, according to Ester.

Reaping awards

As a testament to Baker’s Field’s commitment to improvement and innovation, the business has garnered several awards. Some of the most notable recognitions it received include the 2018 Katha Awards - International Food Exhibition (IFEX) Philippines; 2017 Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year (DTI Negosyo Life); and SME Rising Star Award 2015 (Micro Enterprise Category – Zamboanga Peninsula MSME Conference).

Despite the several awards that her business can boast of, Ester believes there is still a lot of things that she needs to improve on. She has high hopes for Baker’s Field and looks forward to employing and helping more people in the community.

Asked on how others can run a successful business, she said, “Be focused. Surround yourself with people who are willing to share their knowledge.”

Cagayan de Oro: Handmade Paper Crafts

Hand made makes entrep well made

Not everyone is given the chance to turn his or her passion into profit. Lolita “Luchi” Cabanlet is one of those who have successfully turned something she loves into something profitable.

Luchi has always been interested in handicrafts. She started from scratch—quite literally. Scratch papers were the main raw materials that Luchi used for her business.

While Luchi decided to turn her hobby into a business, the road to success in her chosen enterprise, however, was not easy. She experienced pains and difficulties along the way.

Serving Papers

Blending papers for creative cards and albums has been a typical hobby of Luchi even after she became a mother of four. Eventually, this craft skill was recognized by friends as she makes creative cards for their special occasions. Back then, Luchi was only using materials and equipment readily available in her house.

“I was only using a fruit blender before. I made cards and albums for friends who were getting married or having a birthday. I was really happy because they find it unique and they really liked it so much,” she recalled.

After getting encouraging words from her friends and relatives, Luchi finally decided to turn her hobby into business and established Cagayan De Oro Handmade Paper Craft in 1993. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) noticed Luchi’s humble beginnings and helped her through the courses they offer. DOST also offered assistance for Luchi to acquire the necessary machines, enabling her to increase and improve the crafts production.

With a fiery spirit to expand creative skills, she enrolled in the Design for Export Program offered by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), the attached agency of the Department of Trade and Industry in charge of organizing local and international trade fairs showcasing the Philippines' finest products and services. Through this training, Luchi hoped to gain more insights to products that appeal to a wide range of buyers.

“I first started with stationeries, journals, photo albums, and cards until that first set of products progressed to packaging, like gift bags and boxes of different sizes,” she fondly reckoned. “Now, we make lamps and home accessories,” Luchi added.

In this phase of entrepreneurial journey, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) stepped in and showed the way to expand her market through joining trade fairs. She then delved into a whole new kind of market experience - considering it a great challenge and opportunity that led her to where she is now.

Crafts into the Spotlight

Nature plays a big role in Luchi’s work. Her crafts is in harmony with the natural, organic, and sustainable as she uses raw materials like abaca and cogon.

In 2000, she first started participating in trade exhibitions, however, her typical paper products had low sales. Despite this, she continued to develop and strategize more products until eventually, buyers from Western countries started to source from them.

“DTI gave us the opportunity to introduce our products to international buyers,” she shared.

However, the challenges did not stop there. In 2008, the global economic crisis hit Luchi’s business due to the significant decline in demand for export products.

Some businesses were shutting down, but Luchi remained determined to continue what she started. The crisis did not dishearten Luchi, but instead moved her to devote time into product development. She started creating home accents such as lamps, baskets, and accessories.

“While everyone else was closing their stores due to the economic crises, I was busy conceptualizing new products for our buyers,” Luchi said.

Luchi’s venture continued to grow over the years. Her customer base widened, which translated to higher product demand. This also meant increased requirements for the supply of raw materials, a new challenge that Luchi had to face.

“You can have beautiful designs. But in export, you’re supposed to come up with volumes. You need to have a critical mass of raw materials,” Luchi said.

She approached DTI for assistance in sourcing raw materials. The visit to DTI proved providential as the Department helped Luchi to meet quality suppliers of rattan, bamboo sticks, abaca, and other raw materials.

It takes a village to run a successful business. Luchi also collaborated with the indigenous people (IPs) and persons with disability (PWDs) groups to help her out. She also availed machines from the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) Project of DTI for faster and more efficient production.

Looking Ahead

What was once a hobby eventually turned into a family business for the Cabanlets. Luchi’s family has always been there in every step of the way. Her four children now play major roles in the operations, design, production, and marketing aspects of the enterprise.
One of Luchi’s daughters is assisting in coming up with new designs and improving marketing channels through the distribution of brochures and maintenance of a website.

Luchi revealed plans to expand their work area and conduct more training programs to different groups who are now inspiring her to develop new indigenous products.

CDO Handmade Paper Products continues to participate in both local and international trade fairs organized by DTI. At present, they serve clients from various countries including those from the United States, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Netherlands, among others.

As her advice to budding entrepreneurs, Luchi said: “Find your passion or what exactly makes you happy.”

Lanao del Norte: Pater Al-Kuwait Foods Manufacturing

Leveling up the spice of life

Rexaniel Saburmido, the man behind the bottled palapa in Iligan City, always wanted to set up a business, despite having limited capital and resources on hand. He took this as a challenge and decided to test the waters by putting up his own restaurant, which he called Pater Al-Kuwait.

Palapa is a sweet and spicy condiment made of thinly chopped sibujing (native shallots), chili peppers, and ginger. It is also used as a garnish that has a boatload of secret spices and has been an inseparable addition to cooked food by the locals. Such great relish can never remain hidden as it is, that is why Rexaniel of Lanao del Norte strives to make it known to the world.

In the provinces of Lanao, palapa serves as a staple of every meal, often served with rice and viand and could sometimes serve as an appetizer itself. This condiment, which makes each meal tastier, is usually found in many restaurants and eateries in the region.

Addressing the demand

Pater Al-Kuwait started with four staff, including Rexaniel himself who also served as the cashier. The restaurant serves pater, a Maranao staple food made of rice topping wrapped in banana leaves with palapa on the side.

The restaurant business was doing well, with side dish palapa as its main attraction.

“It was 2013 when I saw the potential of the business. The customers grew and most of them started asking if there’s palapa that they could take home,” he recalled.

He saw this as a perfect opportunity to venture into a new business. Capitalizing on the high demand for palapa, Rexeniel tried offering palapa as a take away for his customers who would often eat at the restaurant. He went out of his way to assess how he could succeed if he would opt to offer palapa among his customers.

Success in a bottle

While the idea to produce palapa seemed promising, there were also roadblocks that Rexeniel had to overcome.

The first challenge was learning the techniques to package palapa for a longer shelf life. His customers wanted to bring home bottles of palapa, but he could only offer disposable cups as containers for them, which could only last for a week.

This prompted Rexeniel to immediately look for possible solutions. He began to study food preservation processes using bottle jars which is ideal for this kind of product. After getting enough knowledge on this product, he then established Pater Al-Kuwait Manufacturing that produces palapa, which complements the meals they offer at his restaurant. But introducing the new product to the market required additional resources, and Rexeniel had to look for partners.

Rexaniel, an engineering graduate, admitted that he had limited knowledge on how to run a business. Rexaniel was driven by his grit to have a successful business, but he knew that technical and practical knowledge are crucial for this venture to be sustainable.

“It was really hard for me. I was an engineering graduate and had no idea about business. I thought it was easy but when it went big, I realized that I still have so much to learn. I had no system back then,” he said.

This was when the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Kapatid Mentor ME program came in the picture. Through trainings and seminars, Rexeniel learned the other aspects of business management, including logistics, basic accounting, process manuals, trademarks, and human resource management.

“After attending trainings, my sales increased by 300%,” shared Rexaniel, adding that “Everything is now systematic and DTI keeps on pushing us to manufacture products that are of export quality.”

Through the lessons and insights from workshops and seminars, he managed to meet and even exceed the expectations of his customers. He learned ways on how to market products, which greatly increased his sales. Aside from his regular Muslim customers, Rexeniel also managed to market bottled palapa to Christian buyers who were never used to eating palapa. Learnings from KMME also helped him handle his employees better.

In addition, he was able to promote his products through the trade fairs organized by DTI, particularly reaching a wider audience that included those who were not from Mindanao. Rexeniel shared that DTI has been very supportive and would often push them to constantly produce export-quality products, which continues to inspire him each day.

“We always make sure that we offer our buyers with high-quality products,” he said.

For Rexeniel, it is indeed the quality of their palapa that enabled him to expand in a short period of time and build a solid base of loyal customers. Today, he manages three branches of his restaurants, a pasalubong center, and a production facility with over 65 employees. Pater Al-Kuwait now has around 60 distributors in Lanao del Norte with plans of expanding beyond the province, this will allow the business reach more buyers and enable its people to earn more income.

Rexeniel knows that there is much to improve on, optimistic that things would fall into place. He expressed his excitement on the next steps to take, which include franchising, exporting, and developing new line of products.

Davao Del Sur: Balutakay Coffee Farmers' Association (BACOFA)

Coffee roast to boast

In the southern reach of Mindanao lies the hinterland Purok Pluto, where coffee farms are found essential to the livelihood of over 150 farmers who reside in Sitio Balutakay, Bansalan, Davao del Sur.

Located at the peak of the mountains in Davao Del Sur, Purok Pluto serves as a haven to small coffee farmers who banded together to form the Balutakay Coffee Farmers Association (BACOFA). The farms, reached after a two-kilometer hike from the town proper, take pride in a fertile ground for Arabica coffee.

Different coffee varieties thrive in these areas. Its cool climate and special volcanic soil give coffee beans a prominent flavor and aroma. This gives Purok Pluto, with an elevation of 1,200 meters above sea level, an ideal location for processing specialty Arabica coffee.

At this elevation, the coffee plant produces dense beans that more sought after than beans grown at lower elevations. Dense beans have a higher concentration of sugar which provides a more pronounced taste.

Aroma of Hope

Even though growing coffees in the high altitudes was already a prominent business, never had it occurred to Marivic Dubria, Marketing Manager of BACOFA, that coffee has a great potential in their community when she, together with 19 other farmers, started their association in May 2013.

With high hopes of uplifting their farming livelihood and finding better opportunities for their community, the group had a rough start having obscure knowledge about coffee. Marivic admitted that incorrect practices and improper handling affected the quality and taste of their coffee.

“During those times, we really had no idea how to sell, plant, or even process it. The only market we knew were local traders, and technicians at the onset of our production,” she stressed.

This major challenge lasted until the group made a huge step in gaining coffee quality awareness by attending training sessions and availing themselves of various technical interventions from different organizations including services from the Departments of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Agriculture (DA) and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Kapwa Upliftment Foundation. Through the help of these organizations, their attitude towards coffee farming significantly improved.

On 4 October 2017, Marivic Dubria finished DTI’s Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) Program. This program helped her to properly run the business.

DTI also provided BACOFA with coffee roasting machines under the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) Project, helping them be more efficient in their production.

With the knowledge they gained from trainings and experience, the BACOFA farmers are also planning to help out other groups to produce better quality coffees.

Onto the Top

Upon realizing that coffee processing is a sensitive commodity, they decided that an ideal area is not enough to produce quality coffees.

Proper handling is also essential for the process.

Their farmers underwent training on coffee growing to post-harvest processes with the assistance of the Kapwa Upliftment Foundation, DTI and Coffee for Peace which they finally appropriately applied over the years.

“Our production’s current state is very promising. It has become a huge help to all the farmers, and our customers are always looking for it,” Marivic said.

BACOFA currently supplies big traders globally and is now renowned as specialty coffee by authorities like the Coffee Quality Institute and Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). The industry recognitions the group has earned to date speaks of the quality of the BACOFA brand, including being ranked top during the 2nd National Coffee Conference in Baguio City on 23-25 November 2016.

“It is a trend in the coffee market that we should cup the coffees before giving it to the buyers. So, whenever customers ask anything about the process, we need to be honest with it. Being true to your customers is the most important thing,” said Marivic.

While BACOFA is considered successful, Marivic admitted that there is a need to increase productivity to cope with the increasing demand for the product.

“We need to plant more beans to accommodate our buyers and improve all processing with the help of other agencies and the government,” she said.

Bacofa started with 19 farmers and grew to 150 farmers.

Their industry continues to grow as BACOFA farmers continuously adhere to the international standards they have developed through the years. At present, the association has 16 regular buyers in both local and international markets, including popular coffee shops in Manila, Iloilo, Bacolod, and Davao City.

Davao City: Khit's Homemade Products

Eats happening with Khits

Kristine Mae Flores knew that she was not meant for a full-time job. Her burning interest ever since is to put up a business. The only question then was finding the business that would realize her dreams.

“Filipinos love to eat, so a food business might be the best venture to enter into,” said Kristine.

Shortly after completing a course in Culinary Arts, Kristine spent time in creating a recipe for a marketable longganisa, hopeful that this recipe would be accepted by her target customers.

Passion for Cooking

“I learned making longganisa during my on-the-job training in Palawan. When I got back here in Davao I started making one on my own using basic ingredients until I finally achieved the taste I wanted,” Kristine narrated.

Kristine loves cooking, and putting up her own food business is a dream come true.

While venturing and exploring her venture, she came across an online application form to register herself into something unexpected but help in her entrepreneurial journey. This was when she got accepted in a reality show called “Final Pitch,” a business reality show by CNN Philippines where participating entrepreneurs pitch to a panel of investors who are searching to own a piece of the next big business idea.

“It actually started there. The Final Pitch show gave me a huge opportunity to introduce my product,” she narrated. She added that the biggest challenge was actually how to sell her product. “I am not into sales, and I am not comfortable offering my product. But then, I still tried since this is important in this kind of business,” she recalled.

Kristine noted that she had to deal with rejections before finally making a successful pitch.

“One of the many challenges I dealt with was how to sell my brand, especially to those who find it unfamiliar and new compared to those who’ve already established their own credibility in the food market,” she explained.

Kristine pitched her business idea, and earned the trust of an investor who is also a well-known businessman. It was the start of many opportunities for Khit’s Homemade Products. The capital she received from a new business partner enabled her to pay for the equipment and other resources needed.

Brushing Up Her Skills

Already armed with the needed initial capital, Kristine further went out of her way to check out the programs and services offered by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Although Kristine is skilled in cooking, she was aware of the need to brush up her skills in terms of running a business, something that could make or break an enterprise.

She joined DTI’s Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) program in Davao City, a program which aims to help micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) scale up their business through weekly coaching and mentoring by business owners and practitioners on different aspects of entrepreneurship.

“Mentor ME program really helped me widen my knowledge and grow as an entrepreneur. I gained many network and the mentors are really helping us even after we graduated,” she recounted.

With KMME’s help through the trainings and seminars, she then ventured into bigger production to meet the increasing demand for her food item. This greatly boosted Kristine’s confidence as an entrepreneur. Her network of potential customers has also increased since then.

With this confidence and increasing client base, she decided to expand and offer more product options. Khit’s Homemade Products now serves a variety of processed meat including tapa, embutido, longganisa and tocino.

Kristine also established her own restaurant with three branches in Davao City, featuring all of her products in the menu. Her enterprise continues to grow among local customers and has been a consistent supplier of meat products for hotels in Davao City.

She is thankful that her clients are satisfied with her products, as demonstrated by the positive feedback she continues to receive. Pumped up by encouraging client response, her team is working hard to offer the best for their buyers.

As a way of luring clients to patronize her restaurants, Kristine introduced the loyalty card program for her customers. “On their 12th visit, they will get something for free,” she shared.

Kristine plans to introduce additional products in the coming years and aims to expand further by offering franchising as an opportunity for other entrepreneurs. Kristine helps fellow entrepreneurs by allowing some of them to showcase their products in her store.

Kristine shares that the process that she has gone through helped her develop herself and boost confidence as well. “I can now speak in front of an audience to share my story and inspire others,” she mentioned referring to her speaking engagements at KMME, which features successful entrepreneurs to help those who are still starting.

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Agusan del Norte: JIDA Aqua Resources

Bottling bounty of the sea


In Butuan City, small-scale fisherfolks are no stranger to days when they would go home with almost empty nets.

On slow days, they would typically often bring home bangus or milkfish fingerlings which are sold on a low price in the market. Despite their hard work, there are times when yields are not enough to pay even for their basic needs. But life goes on, and they would still sell whatever was caught from the sea.

This was the problem that JIDA Aqua Resources wanted to help solve.

Retrospect on success

JIDA Aqua Resources General Manager Jilna P. Hiponia shared that JIDA has been involved in the buy-and-sell of fresh aquamarine products since 1991, right after she resigned from an eight-year job in a similar company owned by Chinese and Japanese traders. Adeptly steering her business to adapt to the changing demands of customers, she ventured into selling frozen seafood to local and export markets in 2010. All these years, her main suppliers were resident fishpond and hatchery operators in Caraga.

“I want to help our local fisherfolks,” Jilna expressed. She would source organically grown resources from fishpond farmers in Butuan and the nearby municipality of Magallanes.

Jilna recalled some of the challenges that she faced at the start of the business.

“One of the most common problems we encounter is our farmers’ tendency to cultivate too many milkfish in their ponds all at once, mainly due to the high demand both in the local and international markets,” Jilna shared. “Because of this, most of the harvests after three or four months turn out to be as tiny as or barely bigger than regular fingerlings. Those are the hardest to sell.”

Since she already knew the areas for improvement, Jilna looked for solutions to remain afloat in this business. She remained optimistic and continued to source from small-time suppliers. She knew in her heart that there is something that could be done. The fully-grown milkfish are usually sold frozen or deboned, while the others in less merchantable sizes are manufactured into balls, spring rolls or lumpia, and nuggets.

With her desire to grow the business, Jilna herself reached out to various government agencies, including the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and its export promotions arm, the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM).

With DTI’s help, she emerged as one of the industry champions that got to showcase their goods at the International Food Exhibition (IFEX) Philippines.

It was during this event where she met a tiny mishap that would eventually propel her forward.

“The fridge holding all of our merchandise broke down,” reminisced Jilna, now smiling at the distant memory. “I wasn’t able to sell anything because everything went stale. Fortunately, the organizers paid me in full since they were the ones who provided me the malfunctioning fridge. I was lucky then because they were kind, but I realized I won’t be that fortunate all the time. That’s when it dawned on me. I have to do something to prolong the shelf life of my products.”

In 2013, Jilna decided to try bottling some of the harvested milkfish. Bottling and preserving means longer shelf life, less wastes, and more income for her and the fisherfolks.

The step was a definite game-changer for Jilna. Although JIDA is still known for frozen seafood, their newly preserved goods were pushed in the forefront of multi-day regional trade fairs organized by DTI. Fishpond operators, on the other hand, were no longer worried that their back-breaking labor would be in vain, as JIDA started sourcing more of their smaller harvests to be processed into its now famous ready-to-eat milkfish in corn oil.

The bottled milkfish comes in four variants - hot and spicy, salted black beans (tausi), tomato sauce, and chunky classic - and became an instant a hit to regular customers.

Casting the nets wider

JIDA started to expand when the bottled milkfish was introduced. Jilna also tried her hands on preserved tuna, Norwegian salmon and cream dory fillet, as well as tubes and rings made from crabs, blue marlins, shrimps, prawns, tilapia, and squids. Since then, buyers started to flock to her store in Doongan, Butuan City.

Jilna may not keep a secret recipe for success, but she has gone this far because of her more than two decades worth of expertise in the field and the staunch support of her partners and workers. That, and the wholehearted recognition due to exposure and education provided by the DTI are a boon to her business.

“Being a recipient of DTI’s assistance is such a blessing,” she shared. “All of us members of the Caraga Regional Association of Traders and Entrepreneurs (CReATE Food, Inc.) are glad that we are given several chances to be part of reputable trade fairs, which allowed us to gain wider customer reach. DTI also offered us seminars so that we can keep our loyal clients by improving the quality of our goods.”

Just when Jilna thought DTI has given enough, the Department reached out to her again upon seeing the continuous expansion of JIDA’s product line. Tasty, bottled treats are a good, but tasty, bottled treats that look good are definitely much better—hence, DTI is helping her push JIDA’s packaging and labeling up a notch.

JIDA has since attracted a fairly strong patronage through the One Town, One Product (OTOP) Tindahang Pinoy program, even during the time when her products were still not Food and Drugs Administration- (FDA) and halal-certified.

Aside from IFEX, Jilna has also been invited by the DTI to showcase JIDA’s products at several editions of Sikat Pinoy National Trade Fairs and the Chinese ASEAN Exposition 2018 (CAEXPO) held in Nanning, China. Through these events, JIDA opened its doors not only to local buyers and online sellers, but also to international clients.

Moving forward and looking back

“Right now, what we are gearing for is more export sales,” revealed Jilna, citing the potentially huge clientele in China after CAEXPO. “We are eyeing expansion to sardines processing next, because that way we will also be able to lend a hand to our fisherfolks again.”

This is one constant, distinctive thing about Jilna: she pushes to lift her enterprise one rung after another, and still reaches her hand out back to aid the local workers.

“Sardines does not have a stable market,” she explained. “When sardines harvests are hauled, there is no guarantee that everything will be sold, not even when prices drop. The fish could be priced as low as P5.00 per kilo and there would still be a whole lot left. Sometimes, our fishermen have no other choice but to bury the remainders to be used as fertilizers. I want to help them resolve this problem.”

One does not need to look far to see Jilna’s big-heartedness. JIDA’s regular employees in store, processing plant, and buying stations are given free meals, accommodation, and extra incentives depending on their sales. Even recorder- and camera-toting strangers, whose purpose was to hear the tale of her zero-to-hero success and share it to the world, were treated to a cornucopia of seafood and colorful stories.

From being an employee earning only P2,800 a month to an entrepreneur who managed to give her family—and families of her employees and of fishermen—a chance at a brighter future, one can attest that Jilna’s journey is no mean feat.

“I’m very thankful,” Jilna stated reiterating her gratitude to her workers, partners, and government agencies like DTI.

There is no recipe for success, indeed, but if there was, it must involve a lot of giving back.

Agusan del Sur: Jannicah Food Products

Mangosteen Healthy Blend

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” goes the old adage about hope in the face of adversity. Former Trento, Agusan del Sur Mayor Irenea ‘Emelyn’ Hitgano has embodied this phrase for positivity in both the metaphorical and literal sense--except that she trades lemons for mangosteen, and makes mangosteen tea instead of lemonade.

Blooming from the rubble—or rather, from 60 uprooted mangosteen trees in a farm ravaged by Typhoon Pablo in 2012—Emelyn’s Janicahh Food Products has helped people not only through what is seemingly a “miracle beverage,” but also through various livelihood opportunities for the locals of Agusan del Sur.

Steeping a new beginning

It all began in the wake of a disaster.

“We were tending falcata trees in our farm as far back as 2006 or 2007,” narrated Emelyn, referring to a pulp-and-paper species thriving in the timber-rich province. “A friend suggested we farm mangosteen instead, saying it will yield us Php 1M per hectare in eight to ten years. I thought, why not? Let’s try and see if it will work after a decade.”

Tree farming has been a known practice in the upland villages of Agusan del Sur. The region’s teeming wood and paper industry has made falcata trees a staple in the practice. While not exactly a risk, choosing to plant mangosteen trees had required lots of patience from Emelyn before she could reap the promised rewards. Farm-to-table, Hitgano mused, it did sound a lot better than just farm-to-paper mill.

However, it turned out that the odds were not in her favor: disaster struck two years before potential harvest season.

Emelyn was initially disheartened to find felled trees in the 20-hectare farm behind the Hillsview Trento restaurant and inn that she runs. The ever-optimistic owner, remembering tips from a friend about the mangosteen trees’ medicinal properties from leaves to roots, decided to retrieve the remaining parts and concocted something they can offer to their customers.

“We chopped the roots, barks, and branches into tiny pieces, boiled them, and served the tea for free in our restaurant,” shared Emelyn. People were quick to patronize the drink; up to this day, travelers stopping by at Hillsview can be seen helping themselves to mugs of the now famed mangosteen tea as they snack on other homegrown delicacies being sold in the place.

Billed as the “Queen of Tropical Fruits,” mangosteen contains antioxidant-rich organic compounds called xanthones. Studies show that high concentrations of xanthones in the hull or the fruit’s outer skin are replete with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-fungal properties, among others.

It was not long before anecdotal accounts of what seemed to be medicinal miracles of the mangosteen tea found their way back to Emelyn.

“Someone approached me and said he found traces of blood in his urine two days after drinking the tea. He was told that it could be our mangosteen tea flushing out toxins from his body,” said Emelyn of a customer who purchased a pack of Php 50.00 worth of chopped twigs from her.

She said several customers also shared their own positive experience after sipping cups of mangosteen tea.

These testimonials and many patrons’ clamor for a ready-made concoction inspired Emelyn to push for the improvement of her product. Aware that her knowledge in the production and manufacturing of such products is limited, she sought the assistance of various government agencies, particularly of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

From a tiny casserole to a booming enterprise

“We started brewing our tea in a small casserole,” reminisced Emelyn. “The casserole kept getting bigger when we get more and more customers, thanks to the guidance provided by the DTI. Giving us a chance to showcase our products in trade fairs has proved to be a big help.”

Janicahh Food Products earned about Php 6,000 to Php 8,000 in the first trade fair they became a part of, but Emelyn stressed it was more than enough to spread the word about their health drink. The product’s medicinal qualities traveled by mouth, bearing sterling reviews and narratives about the product’s myriad of healing benefits.

After some time, they could no longer keep up with the demand. Hand-stirring and tiny cook wares could no longer produce the required volume.

Emelyn then applied for a Php 4.4M loan at DOST. The amount helped her build a factory and acquire the needed machinery that would later streamline the process of mangosteen tea production.

Although properly equipped, she confessed that their endeavor’s progress was not exactly smooth sailing. Commendations can do only so far when the drink comes in bottles fit only for condiments. The owner knew she could sell more by “dressing it well.”

This is where DTI stepped in again.

“Apart from the slots we’re given in trade shows, DTI’s labeling and packaging services have played a significant role in our growth as a business,” Emelyn shared. “They let a personal consultant guide us. We would go on ‘Lakbay Aral’ tours to learn about appropriate containers for the tea. They also offered the labels for free.”

While pure tea remains Janicahh Food Products’ star beverage, they have begun expanding their offerings with the implementation of their branding and marketing strategies Their mangosteen’s curative goodness now comes in coffee, powder, juice, and concentrate forms.

Branching out

Janicahh Food Products’ mangosteen tea is more than just a wonder drink. Little miracles, in the form of livelihood and chances of alternative education, were also bestowed to people who happened to work directly and indirectly for the enterprise.

For instance, the enterprise sources calamansi from small farmers in the province for their mangosteen-calamansi concentrate variant.

“Calamansi abounds [in Trento] to a point that one full sack costs only Php 50 to Php 100,” shared Emelyn. “Oversupply seems to be a norm. I thought it’s a big waste if the farmers will just throw the fruits away, so I buy from them to make the concentrate. We ventured into making calamansi marmalade, too, to make sure we get to use even the peel.”

A few companies briefly established collaborations with Emelyn’s stores as well. One in particular manufactures a mangosteen-turmeric product, and it is the Hillsview Trento farms that sourced the fruits.

Emelyn also takes good care of her own employees. Aside from making sure they are well-compensated, she gives them chances to open new opportunities through education. Farmers and factory workers, specifically those who are “no read, no write” or did not finish high school, are encouraged to attend seminars monthly as part of their alternative learning. Employees pursuing masteral studies are allowed to take flexible work schedule.

“My employees are not just here to work. I also want them improve their lives,” said Emelyn.

Tracing the next steps

At present, Janicahh Food Products has established stores and kiosks in various malls nationwide. People flock at their booths in trade fairs, both here or abroad. Emelyn revealed plans to expand the area of the mangosteen farms to increase their exports. In fact, they recently sent a representative to South Korea to provide samples to prospective exporters. The future, indeed, looks bright for the business.

“We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the government,” Emelyn concluded. “We couldn’t have done this all on our own. That’s why we are grateful for all the help of DTI.”




Registered Bulk Sales as of 31 January 2020




Registered General Bonded Warehouses as of 31 January 2020



For more information, please contact:

Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau (FTEB)
UPRC Building
315 Sen. Gil J. Puyat Ave., Makati City
Tel. No.: (+632) 8811.8231
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