My mother died when I was nine years old. I was the eldest of 6 siblings. My father lost his job. I did not know whether it was still possible for us to survive. But my faith in God made me persevere. I would constantly talk to Him and I always believe in my heart that He listens to me. While studying, I had to work part-time. My work in the media opened my eyes to the realities of women and child abuse. I have seen children and women beaten and killed because of domestic squabbles. I have covered stories of children mercilessly raped. I have felt God was preparing for a mission.
After so much difficulty and struggles – I was able to graduate from law school in 1997.
In the Philippine Bar, the passing rate in 1997 was only 16 percent of more than 3,000 takers. I prayed really hard all throughout the review, and when I was waiting for the results, I got invited to the Holy Family Home run by Capuchin Sisters. It housed almost 40 girls who were all victims of rape and other forms of sexual abuse. When I prepared summary for their cases, I was so disgusted to realize more than 80 percent of the children were victims of incestuous rape – sisters abused by brothers, nieces abused by uncles, daughter abused by father and grandfathers. It was terrible. There were nights I cannot sleep thinking of the cases. One day, I entered the Chapel of the Capuchin Sisters and prayed to God – if he blesses me and allows me to pass the bar examinations and become a lawyer – I would devote some of my time to helping cases of raped women and children without fee. I knew in my heart – that it was Him who made me a lawyer. I have never relied on my own human knowledge. At that time – when I made the deal – it was not out of disrespect – it was out of need for Him – my need for Him to help me. It was out of friendship and complete trust – I counted on God to help me because He is my friend and I entrust my fate to Him. Becoming a lawyer was a dream to me – especially because my family and I financially struggled just for us to finish our studies.
When I became a lawyer in 1998, I did not only handle cases of women and child rights abuses, I also handled more complex cases of human trafficking involving children as victim. I also handled cases of wife battering and domestic violence against women and children. Up to today, me and my husband – established the Anti-Trafficking Legal Advocates Society (ATLAS) where we continually train lawyers, police officers, social workers, and other paralegals in handling cases of human trafficking.
In 1999, while I was enjoying my being a young lawyer and a corporate counsel of a big company, I met a tragic car accident. My right arm bone was cut into half and the doctor had to insert a steel pin in my bone marrow to keep the bones together. This lasted for a year. For six months – God taught me a great lesson – I have all my senses intact and I was a live – but I cannot even feed myself or take a bath on my own because I did not have any hands. It was a lesson in humility. He reminded me of our pact.
During the day of the accident, even before my car crushed into the wall – I passed out hearing faint voices of little children and a sight of white. The next thing I knew I was in the hospital. God sent me His Angels. It was not time for me to die. The company car issued to me was a total wreck – the company did not even bother to have it repaired.
After that accident, I tendered my resignation and decided to concentrate on teaching. Since then until today I teach at the University of Saint La Salle-Bacolod – helping mold young minds.
When I joined politics for the first time last 2001, I lost but I gained so much by seeing the stark poverty all around my city. When I thought I was the poorest kid – there were even people in most severe poverty situation. God opened my eyes to these realities. He wanted me to stop reading my books and see the world – and I saw it – kids with nothing to eat, can barely go to school because of too much poverty. Then that was the time I realized – I need to be a leader to help provide opportunities and jobs.
In 2004 and 2007, for two straight terms or six years – I served as city councilor of Bacolod. I was tasked by God to help develop the information and communications Technology (ICT) industry of Bacolod – my city. I believed it was His Mission for me – because I did not choose the committee – it was simply thrown to me after all the majority party finished choosing what they wanted.
I knew now – with the 14,000 jobs that I have helped develop, with Bacolod becoming a Center of Excellence in the Philippines for the ICT Industry – after almost a decade of programs we have set as founder of the Bacolod Negros Occidental Federation for ICT (BNEFIT) – it was all part of God’s plan – and I was merely just an instrument.
After founding BNEFIT in 2008, I helped nine other cities build what we now call as the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines (NICP) – we are a group of more than 30 ICT organizations in different provinces and cities helping each other create the ideal ecosystem to generate more jobs and attract more investments to our cities in the countryside.
I was awarded last year as a finalist in the 2013 International ICT Individual Contributor Award by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines and chosen as the Eisenhower Fellow of the Philippines in 2012 for my contribution to building a “Smarter Countryside for a A Smarter Philippines”
In 2010 – I ran for congress – but I lost. Many people thought it was wrong move for me to have run so early – I have no regrets – I prayed for His Guidance and at that time – I am sure He wanted me to run. When I was chosen as Eisenhower Fellow in 2012 – that was one of the clear reasons – he wanted me to run and to lose. Had I not become president of NICP – I would not have had the chance to see and learn about so many things I need to learn in the US especially for ICT.
Last May 2013, God allowed me again to run for city councilor. He cleansed my heart of pride. He humbled me and told me to run for a lesser position even when I have so many achievements as a private person and as a professional. Every day today, many people would tend to look down on us as politicians – filthy, dirty, corrupt, insincere in our words. I have to pray and keep my faith – I have to swallow all my pride – I have to be a servant. That is God’s message to me now. I look forward to what else God wants me to do.
My simple goal of helping generate jobs for the people of Bacolod ten years ago has evolved into a commitment of helping the country in pursuing more jobs in the information and communications technology (ICT, for brevity) sector, particularly in the countryside today.
With my leadership, stakeholders in Bacolod came together to support my plans as chair of the Sanggunian Committee on Communications in 2004 to promote Bacolod as a destination for ICT-enabled jobs and investments. I organized a group called the Bacolod IT Focus Team, which worked together to develop strategies and programs designed to include Bacolod City and Negros Occidental among the growing centers of innovation in the country, specifically to pursue ICT- readiness and competitiveness as part of the Philippine Cyber Corridor.
Seeing the importance of actively engaging the private sector, I helped develop along with other stakeholders the idea of creating a bigger confederation of government, academe and business and private sector known as the Bacolod-Negros Occidental Federation for ICT (BNEFIT) in 2007. With my fervor for public service, I sought other similar bodies existing in other cities and provinces and eventually helped create a national federation of ICT councils and organizations in 2008.
Today, the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines (NICP serves as the recognized advocate for countrywide ICT industry development. Its creation was actively assisted by the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT). NICP is known as the champion of countrywide digital development and a staunch advocate for developing a smarter countryside.
My faith and relationship in God is unique because I entrust in Him everything that I am today. My work in politics, in government and law offer countless temptations to forget my faith. But God has been faithful to me. He has never abandoned me. He has allowed me to experience so much pain, humiliation and trials – to make me a strong leader. He has emboldened me when I feel I have lost all the courage to speak. He has given me the gift of intellect and speech but has always reminded me to place my feet on the ground.
Honestly, I am humbled by all the blessing that God has given me. I feel I am not worthy because I exist in a world filled with sins – politics, government and law. I have seen how many of us in these fields have oppressed His People. I am angry and always questioning injustice and cruelty especially of the weak and the helpless. My heart is filled with rage against those who trample upon those who cannot fight for themselves. I ask myself if I am the kind of fellow Haggai would want. All I know is that I trust God above all and He will lead me always to where He wants me to be.
I fight and stand for those who have no voice. I speak of justice and truth. I am a prayerful person – but I am not the kind that prays and kneels inside the church every day. I know God is in my heart at every time I speak without fear – and because he has been my Mentor and Strength.
My Mission is My Testimony (Written for Haggai Institute in 2014)