Five women local government unit (LGU) officials convened for the first series of this year’s Open Government and Participatory Governance Forum, held on March 20, 2024, at Skydome, SM North EDSA, Quezon City. The five officials include Mayor Ma. Josefina G. Belmonte of Quezon City; Mayor Jeannie N. Sandoval of the City of Malabon; Mayor Viandrei Nicole J. Cuevas of the City of Palayan, Nueva Ecija; Mayor Jasmin Angelli Maligaya-Bautista of the Municipality of Magallanes, Cavite; and Sangguniang Panlungsod Member Maria Luisa Angela M. de Leon-Rivera of the City of Pasig. Revolving around the theme, “Building Resilience through Women’s Empowerment,” the local officials, in a panel discussion, shared their experiences and insights on leading climate and disaster resilience actions. Ms. Buena Bernal, Philippine Correspondent of the Channel News Asia, moderated the panel discussion.

Women’s Leadership in Resilience-building

The panel discussion started with a seven-minute opening presentation from the local officials. First to present was Councilor de Leon-Rivera, who represented the legislative branch of the Pasig LGU. In her presentation, the local legislator focused on the LGU’s recently launched City-wide Land Information Management and Automation System, or CLIMA, stressing its pivotal role in ensuring that their land and water use plans and their zoning ordinance are risk-informed. She explained, “Using the geographic information system (GIS), we have integrated disaster data and real property information into the system to effectively enable the city government to be more proactive in managing our land resources and to be more efficient in disaster response at a scale we have never done before.”

Subsequently, Mayor Belmonte, in her presentation titled, “Building an Inclusive and More Resilient Quezon City,” highlighted the city’s Intelligent, Resilient, and Integrated Systems for the Urban Population, or the iRISE-UP Program. By employing digital and traditional tools for early warning systems, Mayor Belmonte explained that the program aided the communities in preparing for climate-related hazards. “Through the program, we now have the capacity to anticipate the impacts of rainfall, heat, and even air quality based on the data generated by our local sensors, allowing us to create localized risk maps that show not just the concentration of populations along hazard areas, but also the weather situation for our barangays and the general public,” she stated. Apart from highlighting their iRISE-UP Program, the mayor also reported the significant milestones under her leadership, which include the adoption of their 2021-2027 Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (LDRRMP), Drainage Master Plan, Contingency Plans for Worst-case Scenarios, as well as their intensified education campaigns and capacity development programs.

Following this, Mayor Cuevas briefly discussed Palayan City’s Cold Storage Project, the first LGU-owned storage facility for marginalized farmers under the Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP). By providing access to low-cost post-harvest facilities, Mayor Cuevas shared how the project helped increase the income of local farmers, enabling them to acquire farmland and machinery, and providing them the opportunity to save for their daily needs. Since 2015, the LGU has been conducting consultations with farmers through the Farmers Congress and has been actively working with them in planning, implementing, and evaluating the project.

Mayor Maligaya-Bautista, on the other hand, provided an overview of the Buhay Forest Rehabilitation Program, a reforestation and eco-tourism initiative led by the Municipality of Magallanes. With over 50,000 trees planted since its declaration as a protected area in 2014, the local chief executive emphasized how the Buhay Forest contributes to the municipality as a tourist attraction, a faith sanctuary, and a source of livelihood for the local communities. The program also serves as a platform for people’s empowerment through the LGU’s collaboration with local groups from various sectors such as the Magallanes Business Owner Credit Cooperative, a women’s cooperative now known as the Taste, Indulge, Know, Magallanes (TIKME) Entrepreneur.

Finally, Mayor Sandoval focused on Malabon City’s Disaster Resilient, Climate Change Adaptive, and Sustainable Socialized Housing Project. In her audio-visual presentation, the mayor highlighted the LGU’s multifaceted approach to socialized housing. This approach encompasses community organizing aimed at establishing the neighborhood association and harnessing the leadership skills of its leaders; disaster risk reduction initiatives, which include the conduct of training programs, adoption of a multi-hazard contingency plan, and establishment of a dedicated emergency command post within the vicinity; and environmental management and sustainability measures such as the construction of a rainwater harvesting facility for water security and flood mitigation, installation of solar panels, establishment of a materials recovery facility, and transition to electric-powered public transport vehicles, among others. “The journey we have embarked upon is not just about building houses; it is about nurturing communities, fostering resilience, and empowering individuals to create a better future for themselves, their families, and the environment,” Mayor Sandoval emphasized in closing.

Unlocking Insights: Panel Discussion on Women’s Leadership in DRR

The first question directed to all the panelists was, “What do you think women’s leadership means in the context of resilience-building, and what difference does it make if it’s the women calling the shots?”

In response to the question, the panelists offered the following insights:

Councilor de Leon-Rivera (City of Pasig): “Women’s resilience is innate; we were built to be resilient. Knowing our strengths and weaknesses, we are in a position to lead by collaborating, not by overpowering our counterparts.”

Mayor Maligaya-Baustista (Municipality of Magallanes, Cavite): “Women’s leadership in the context of resilience-building is strong, flexible, adaptive, responsive, empowering, inclusive, and transformational. Women leaders have the ability to inspire and have deep awareness of the needs of the communities, creating an equitable future for all.”

DRRMO Officer-in-Charge Bianca Perez (Quezon City): “Women leadership is about representation and breaking the stereotypes in the landscape of resilience-building, to find strength in themselves and their skills, despite what others may think.”

Mayor Sandoval (City of Malabon): “Women used to be seen as vulnerable and submissive, but that is no longer true. We are more attuned to the needs of our constituents. We are more sensitive and nurturing to our communities.”

Mayor Cuevas (City of Palayan, Nueva Ecija): “We see a lot more women in the agricultural industry, and we see them more empowered and represented, and they give us insight into the issues that they are facing, so we can respond to their concerns, and help find solutions that consider their circumstances better.”

Moving on to the next set of questions curated for each panelist, Councilor de Leon-Rivera was asked: “Within your sphere of influence, how can we encourage women to participate in all the efforts of the LGU?” She answered that the best way is to lead by action, noting that her active participation in city council meetings sets an example for her fellow women to also actively participate beyond just listening. According to her, women’s active participation is about engagement, encouraging questions, and leading by example.

Mayor Cuevas was then asked: “What advice would you give to young women who would also be interested in pursuing a career in disaster risk reduction and climate action?” Her response stressed the importance of perseverance, quipping, ‘Fake it until you make it,’ underlining the idea that despite feeling intimidated or making mistakes, one must keep on learning and persist.

Fielding the question on how women can help change the Risk Profile of the Philippines, given that the country ranked first in the World Risk Index, Mayor Sandoval said that it helps that local leaders are aware of the problems before finding possible solutions, stressing the need to consult with experts and various stakeholders to make risk-informed decisions. “In Malabon, when typhoon season hits, we are always on the front page. But now, we have a new command and control center and have been putting up pumping stations for flood mitigation, while gathering all the information we can from the state weather bureau. As a result, our flooding is now much less damaging than before. We’re even installing sirens with a three-kilometer reach and utilizing new technologies for our local early warning system, while consulting with experts and finding better solutions with this new knowledge,” Mayor Sandoval narrated.

The next question was directed at Mayor Maligaya-Bautista. She was asked: “How do you intend to sustain women’s involvement in the Buhay Forest program?” The mayor highlighted the active engagement of women in various local councils, cooperatives, and community programs like clean-up drives, noting that women’s leadership and participation are very high in the municipality. Responding to the question as to how this can be sustained, Mayor Maligaya-Baustista stated, “One way to improve and sustain women’s involvement is through the livelihood programs of the municipality. These programs will help them, most especially in times of disaster, for their financial stability. We are proud that our LGU is pushing for an inclusive agriculture industry in our municipality.”

The last question was for Ms. Perez, and she was asked: “How is Quezon City handling gender-sensitive climate action?” She responded that LGU utilizes the iRISE-UP Program to gather gender-specific data for its disaster and climate resilience actions. “We use it in gender-specific interventions. Women are not inherently born as vulnerable. A study by the UN showed that it is the social barriers that make women vulnerable and increase their risk. By hearing their concerns, we gain a better understanding of what women need, enabling us to adjust to them and ensuring that our LGU can sustain this,” Ms. Perez explained.

The panel discussion transitioned to the Open Forum, with a question posed by Ms. Joanna Laddaran from the University of the Philippines-Institute for Small Scale Industries (UP-ISSI). She asked the panelists: “In your respective LGUs, what programs do you provide to support the resilience of women-led or women-owned Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs)?”

Mayor Maligaya-Bautista shared that, as an agricultural municipality, they cluster their commodities, mainly muscovado sugar. Through the LGU’s livelihood programs, she pointed out that women entrepreneurs are encouraged to have one product to feature per barangay. “So now, because we have solar-powered water irrigation systems, and local women farmers, we are growing many more fruits and vegetables. The intervention of the national and local governments have helped in supporting our local farmers,” she expounded.

Mayor Sandoval shared that public awareness is very important. Underscoring economic empowerment as the most important step, the mayor emphasized, “Without information, you decrease involvement. In Malabon, education is still the key for empowerment, so we have alternative learning systems, TESDA training, and encourage people to learn more about how they can better themselves.”

Mayor Cuevas shared that women often do not have access to education and are often the carers at home. “The COVID-19 pandemic made us realize that there are opportunities to reach out to our constituents at home and send information from which they can learn. Because of this, we have found ways to empower them at home. Through cottage industries like bignay wine production, we help our communities, especially women, make these products at home and work with our LGU to support production,” Mayor Cuevas explained.

National Resilience Council Executive Director, Mr. Silvestre Z. Barrameda, Jr., provided the synthesis of the forum by highlighting the two key points presented during the panel discussion, stating, “First, we all agree that local leaders are central to the work of climate and disaster resilience actions, as they have an on-ground understanding of risks, local systems, policies, and culture, which are critical for effective climate and disaster risk reduction and resilience-building. Second, as climate and disaster risks continue to grow more intense and with greater complexity, it has become clear that there is a need for a more transformative kind of leadership at all levels.”

In closing, Philippine Commission on Women Deputy Executive Director for Operations, Ms. Maria Kristine Josefina G. Balmes, expressed her gratitude to the resource speakers, panelists, and organizers. “This afternoon, we were able to emphasize the importance of recognizing that the threats and risks of climate change and disasters are not gender neutral in nature, posing a varying threat depending on gender and the different roles that we have in our households and our respective communities. Collaborative action with all actors and stakeholders, and deliberate action is vital in addressing its impact,” Director Balmes said.

The first series of this year’s OpenGov Forum, in celebration of the 2024 International Women’s Month, is a collaborative effort between the DILG-NCR and the Women’s International Network on Disaster Risk Reduction-Philippine Chapter, together with the Department of Budget and Management-NCR, Philippine Information Agency-NCR, Philippine Commission on Women, SM Prime Holdings, SM Cares, National Resilience Council, ARISE Philippines (Private Sector Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies), Earthquake and Megacities Initiative, Making Cities Resilient 2030, and Galing Pook Foundation.