Unleashing Antique’s Golden Age

August 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Deputy Speaker and Representative of the Lone District of Antique Loren Legarda was a three-term Senator, emerging number one twice in the 1998 and 2007 senatorial elections, and ranked second in 2013. She was the only woman to become Senate Majority Leader and Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance. She has also received much recognition and commendation within the country and even in the global arena.

Her ethos, then and now, is to keep surpassing her own achievements. Through this, the country gained an unrelenting champion, especially for the marginalized and the vulnerable among its populace.

Loren is a woman of achievement. She has been a true embodiment of an empowered Filipina, one who burns with drive to serve the grassroots, alleviate poverty and promote sustainable development, while preserving culture and championing climate action and the environment.

After serving three terms in the Senate from 1998 to 2019, Loren received offers to serve in high-ranking positions and visibly prestigious posts in the Philippine government and abroad. Instead, Loren decided to stay close to home and take the path less traveled, especially by those who have reached the proverbial top of the ladder. She chose to follow her passion for public and humanitarian service where it was needed the most. She bowed to the clamor of the people from her grandfather’s home province, Antique. Ariston Gella was the first pharmacist of Antique and the Representative in the Malolos Congress.

“I ran for Congress to bring my two decades of Senate work to the grassroots, and make Antique, my beloved home province, a role model for inclusive and sustainable development for the rest of the country,” Loren said after she was declared as the Representative of the Lone District of Antique in a historic landslide victory last year.

Finally, Antique is given a breath of fresh air and hope as Loren began to apply her brand of well-known leadership. While it was once viewed as the “poor sister” province in Panay Island, Antique has now learned to utilize its natural richness and beauty that was left uncultivated and disregarded for decades.

Loren firmly believes that her province will soon emerge as one of the premier ecotourism destinations, showcasing its vibrant cultural history and giving pride to its identity while providing sustainable livelihood for its people. After many years of waiting on the sidelines, Antique is showing remarkable progress.

“My province is blessed with so many natural resources from the mountains and the seas, yet it has been left behind by neighboring provinces in terms of economic growth and development. I cannot just let my kasimanwa (Kinaray-a, term for fellow citizen) live in poverty all their lives and put their potential to waste. And so, I thought it was time for me to step in and focus on Antique. It is time for me to bring the national government closer to the Antiqueños by providing them programs of the national government that will benefit them,” Loren, former Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance, said.

Loren knows the potential of Antique’s heritage and culture as the driving force of sustainable development and inclusive growth in the province. She has since started investing in invaluable ways to not only preserve the history and traditions of Antique, but also to cultivate traditional knowledge and artistry, generate income and create opportunities for the Antiqueños.

It is worth noting that Loren has been an active supporter of micro enterprises even before she became the Representative of the Lone District of Antique. Among those that benefited from her patronage are the Bagtason Loomweavers Association in Bugasong; the Malabor Abaca-Piña Weavers Association in Tibiao; the Sto. Rosario Multi-purpose Cooperative in Pandan; the Atis of Hamtic and Tobias Fornier, whose livelihood source is nito weaving; and the dying embroidery industry in Brgy. San Pedro in San Jose. Last year, representatives from the Malabor Abaca-Piña Weavers Association were sent to Prague, Czech Republic and Geneva, Switzerland to join the National Museum’s Hibla Traveling Exhibit.

As principal sponsor and author of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Act, Loren also initiated various government programs that provided capital, facilities and equipment, improved product design, and marketing opportunities for the MSMEs in Antique to help sustain their businesses. She opened a gateway for them to be exposed in the local and international market scene through their participation in the National Arts and Crafts Fair of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). She was also instrumental in attracting tourists to visit the province by bringing the spotlight to the various products during the Antique Harvest, and the Philippine Harvest, both done in partnership with the Department of Tourism.

Loren also collaborated with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) on several projects, one of which was for Antique to host the 2019 Pista ng Komedya after she discovered that her home province upholds the important komedya tradition. This, in fact, is made evident by the presence of several komedya troupes in the different municipalities of Antique, such as San Jose, Barbaza, Laua-an, Bugasong and Sibalom.

In partnership with Cultural Center of the Philippines, Loren supported the outreach concerts of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) in Anini-y, San Jose and Tibiao. The PPO, one of the top musical ensembles in the Asia-Pacific region, first performed in the province in 1993 at the San Juan Nepomuceno Church in Anini-y. Another musical outreach performance brought by Loren to her home province was the “Rondalla: Strings of Unity” of the award-winning Kabataang Silay Rondalla Ensembles that has received various recognitions in China, Scotland, Singapore and Taiwan.

Another project being undertaken is culture mapping to document and preserve the tangible and intangible cultural and historical assets found in the 18 towns of the province. She considered this as a significant step in increasing awareness and deepening one’s understanding of Antique’s heritage. For her, this is a legacy that future generations must propagate and preserve.

As an advocate of heritage preservation, Loren promoted the concept of adaptive reuse. This means that old heritage structures are preserved, restored and used for a new purpose. One of her projects is the restoration and retrofitting of the Old Provincial Capitol building, which was originally constructed between 1905-1910, so that it could be repurposed into a museum, cultural venue and a textile gallery. Another heritage project for which Loren should be highly credited is the renovation of the only remaining Balay nga Bato in the province, undertaken by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. This stone house found in the capital town of San Jose de Buenavista will soon be the home of the Institute of Living Traditions, similar to what Loren did in Likhaan in Intramuros.

Excitingly, Loren, with Secretary Roy Cimatu of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), has also initiated the rehabilitation and development of the Malandog River, found on the borders of San Jose and Hamtic, which had been a witness to the historic Malayan Settlement in Panay Island centuries ago. Her vision is to protect this natural resource while preserving the important role it played in the history of Antique and of the country.

Loren’s efforts saw the restoration of Gabaldon heritage buildings in the different schools in the province and of the Parish of St. John of Nepomuceno in Anini-y. She has initiated the upgrade of the coastal road into the San Jose Boulevard Esplanade and supported the allocation of funds for the rehabilitation and development of the 18 municipal plazas in Antique, recognizing their vital role in cultural interaction and social development.

“It is challenging to preserve our age-old culture and heritage in this era of rapid technological advancements, but we have to embrace the culture that is unique to us. It is what defines our identity as Antiqueños. As we move forward towards socio-economic progress, I will make sure to include culture and heritage as an essential dimension of promoting an inclusive society that we envision for the province,” said Loren, who was conferred the Dangal ng Haraya by the NCCA, a recognition given to individuals, institutions or organizations that have rendered lasting contributions to the promotion and preservation of Philippine arts and culture.

Antique is naturally blessed with arable land, rich marine environment, and biodiverse ecosystem. Indeed, the province has so much to protect and to hand over to future generations. Loren, as an environmental champion, espoused legislation and programs to ensure that the environmental richness of the province are well taken care of and that people benefit from them without overexploiting the resources.

As the principal author of the E-NIPAS law, Loren called for the conservation of the Northwest Panay Peninsula Park and the Sibalom Natural Park, both of which have been declared as protected areas. In her hometown of Pandan, she has also supported the establishment of the Pandan Arboretum and Eco-Park and has urged residents and visitors to help protect the Bugang River, which was declared the cleanest river in the Philippines a few years back. In San Jose de Buenavista, Loren supported the Pawikan Center to provide a better facility for the conservation of critically endangered sea turtles in the province.

Loren pushed for the development and improvement of environmental spaces to promote biodiverse and eco-friendly tourism activities and to enable sustainable livelihood enterprises for the Antiqueños. Realistically, good laws are reliant on stringent implementation to be effective. The province will soon boast of beefed-up monitoring with the 10 information centers now under construction in the municipalities of Anini-y, Laua-an, Patnongon, Tobias Fornier, Barbaza, Culasi, Libertad, Pandan, Tibiao and Sebaste. More jobs were also generated through the hiring of Bantay Suba, Forest Protection Officers and Community Development Officers.

In partnership with the Climate Change Commission (CCC), Loren sought to implement the laws she passed on climate adaptation and disaster risk resilience in her home province by enhancing the local climate change action plan of the LGUs, and in helping them develop proposals to access the People’s Survival Fund. The CCC also launched the Northern Panay Climate Change Consortium in Pandan last year.

Infrastructure in the province is being upgraded and improved through Loren’s initiatives. Clearly, Loren has laid out a well-defined roadmap for Antique’s progress.

In the northern part of the province, the construction of the Pandan Ecotourism Road is underway. This access road will shorten travel time from more than one hour to 15 minutes for Antiqueños who are coming from the seven upland barangays of Pandan to the town proper. This will give them a much easier access to the main town for the transport of their produce. Meanwhile, the construction of the Vilvar-Nasuli Bridge in San Remigio, a decades-long dream of the people, is aimed at helping one of the municipalities with the highest poverty incidence in the province. The construction of the new Antique Convention Center is now also ongoing, with no less than the architectural firm of the late national artist Bobby Mañosa doing its design.

Of significance to this roadmap is how Loren’s efforts have led to the reopening and development of the Antique Airport after being non-operational for 12 years, and to Philippine Airlines servicing passengers to and from Antique via Clark International Airport twice a week. FastCat RORO is also now operating trips from Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro to Caluya, Antique and from Caluya to Caticlan Port in Malay, Aklan. Aside from the Antique Airport development project, Loren likewise initiated the rehabilitation of nine ports in the province under the Department of Transportation.

Loren’s leadership gives the Antiqueños the assurance of essential services in health, education, livelihood and agriculture.

Construction and/or upgrade of hospitals, Rural Health Units (RHUs), and Barangay Health Services (BHS), alongside the provision of ambulance, multicabs and firetrucks, were given priority to ensure that the Antiqueños will have access to quality health care services and well-equipped facilities. The Botika ng Bayan program has been embedded in the RHUs to provide free medicines and to assist those who are living in the uplands and the far-flung barangays of Antique. DOH medical assistance for indigent patients (MAIP) has been made available to provide free medical services to the Antiqueños in all the hospitals. Loren also made it a priority mission to eradicate the problem of open defecation in the communities to further improve sanitation and protect the health of her kasimanwa, through the delivery of thousands of much-needed sanitary toilets.

Loren can also be seen continuously encouraging the youth of Antique to place a high regard on the value of education and to seize the opportunity to get a degree for free through the Tulong Dunong program of CHED. Since 2017, there have been over 21,000 scholars who received educational assistance under the program. She believes that an upliftment of the education system and the provision of better educational opportunities is the best way to prepare the future leaders of the province. In this regard, she initiated the establishment of an extension program on fisheries by the University of the Philippines-Visayas in Antique, and the construction of TESDA training centers in each municipality. Under TESDA, over 10,000 trainees have already benefited from the different skills training programs since 2016. To improve basic education facilities, she has initiated the construction of new classrooms in the various elementary schools and high schools of Antique.

To promote inclusive growth, she led the strengthening of convergence between the government and its basic sectors. This ensures that the relegated and depressed communities of the province will be part of the development efforts for Antique.

Continued collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) introduced the Community Empowerment through Science and Technology (CEST) program to Antique with the launch of the Technology and Livelihood Support Hubs in the province, in partnership with the University of Antique (UA). Furthermore, through the CEST program, communities are being provided with product development and marketing support to enable them to compete equally in the market. On the other hand, UA has partnered with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for the establishment of a bamboo development center under the Shared Services Facilities (SSF) program, also one of Loren’s priority projects that provide livelihood opportunities for the Antiqueños. These are her laws at work.

Loren also brought support for the Antiqueños through the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS) program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). With this, Antiqueños who are in need of financial assistance for various purposes such as medicines, burial, transportation and education receive support. To buffer the challenges of unemployment, Antiqueños are able to avail of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) programs which are the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) and Pangkabuhayan, and DSWD’s Sustainable Livelihood Program. These government programs never reached Antique before Loren introduced these to them a few years ago as Senator.

Antiqueños are also looking forward to better government services with the forthcoming opening of a passporting office of the Department of Foreign Affairs in San Jose, and the establishment of a satellite office of the Land Transportation Office in Pandan.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, Loren actively supported the provincial government in the implementation of border restrictions and stringent quarantine measures to avert local transmission of the disease. She provided personal protective equipment (PPE), masks, thermal scanners, vitamins, gallons of alcohol, as well as financial support for the Antiqueños. Front-liners in the province received daily distribution of food provisions at the border checkpoints, hospitals, and municipal police stations. Loren also initiated the Pagkaon Para Sa Tanan, a program that provided food supply and vegetables to Antiqueños directly bought from local farmers whose sources of livelihood were severely affected by the community quarantine.

In partnership with the office of Governor Rhodora Cadiao and the Provincial Tourism Office, Loren launched the Libre Uli Program to facilitate the immediate repatriation of 1,115 Antiqueños from Luzon who lost their jobs and other sources of income due to the ongoing health crisis. Meanwhile, locally stranded individuals (LSIs) who were not able to avail of the Libre Uli Program were able to go back to the province through the resumption of Philippine Airlines flights to Antique via the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.

After only a year of accepting the challenge of being the Representative of the Lone District of Antique, Loren has brought transformation that is already greatly felt and much appreciated. Such is change that can only be brought forth through the unconditional effort poured in by a dedicated Antiqueña leader — effort that goes well beyond legislation to fight poverty, hunger, malnutrition, lack of education, lack of jobs and environmental degradation in her province. For all that she has done and continues to do for the province and her kasimanwa, she truly deserves being conferred the Datu Sumakwel Award, the highest recognition conferred by the province through the Bugal Kang Antique Awards.

Antique is not only favored with rich cultural heritage, fascinating historical background and astonishing environmental landscape. It is also blessed with a leader who listens to the people and is willing to go the extra mile for them. Antique’s way to progress is unstoppable. Its new age has begun as the rising star of Panay, of the country. Because of Loren, the world will soon learn about the beauty and abundance of Antique and its people.

Source: Philippine Star