To champion sustainability is to make the future possible

Why the next generation has much to be thankful for from the work of Loren Legarda, Maria Lourdes Locsin, Berna Romulo-Puyat, Mons Romulo, Emi Calixto Rubiano, and Elizabeth Sy

SUSTAINABILITY QUEENS Clockwise from top left: Katutubo Ph founder Mons Romulo, SM Hotels and Conventions Corporation president
Elizabeth Sy, DOT Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, DFA Ladies’ Foundation chairperson Ma. Lourdes Barcelon Locsin,
House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, and Pasay City Mayor Emi Calixto-Rubiano, (Cover design by Jules Vivas)

This year’s commemoration of Araw ng mga Bayani or National Heroes Day at the end of August went beyond Filipino heroes who fought for liberation. After all, not all heroes are on bills or in history books. These days they are in scrubs, pouring blood, sweat, and tears into keeping COVID-19 under control.

But there are more modern-day heroes we should celebrate and many of them are even more important because they are the heroes of our future. Not often talked about in the Philippines is the subject of sustainability. Few Filipinos are aware of sustainability and its necessity, and even fewer are acting upon them. These changemakers deserve to be acknowledged, and Conrad Manila has done so.

These influential Filipinas were conferred with the title “Women Champions of Sustainability” for their contributions to the social, ecological, and economic wellbeing of communities. The awarding ceremony coincides with the hotel’s celebration of the mid-autumn festival.

The luxury hotel gives a toast to deputy speaker of the House of Representatives Loren Legarda, secretary of the Department of Tourism (DOT) Berna Romulo-Puyat, Pasay City mayor Imelda “Emi” Calixti-Rubiano, chairperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Ladies’ Foundation Maria Lourdes Locsin, and founder of Katutubo Philippines Mons Romulo, as well as president of SM hotels and Conventions Corporation Elizabeth Sy (who did not make it to the awarding ceremonies) for their respective initiatives toward sustainability in the fields in which they wield influence.

Linda Pecoraro, general manager of Conrad Manila, opened the ceremonies as a countdown to the mid-autumn festival, a popular Chinese tradition that ends the mid-autumn harvest as the full moon rises, auguring in a period of abundance, harmony, and luck.

“It’s been a good harvest for Conrad Manila. We did it with the strength of our corporate vision to spread the warmth and light of hospitality, and with our passion to make a difference in the market we serve,” says Linda. “This good harvest could not have been achieved without the inspiration of industry and community leaders, particularly the five women champions of sustainability.”

Here are the women champions of sustainability and heritage preservation, with their messages to the Filipinos.

I would like to correct the misimpression that sustainability is expensive. —Loren Legarda

Noted Filipino political leader, environmentalist, cultural worker, and currently the congresswoman of Antique, Loren Legarda is a renaissance woman. She was the youngest female senator in the Philippines in 1998, and the only Filipina to have become senate majority leader.

Among the foremost proponents of sustainability and climate change awareness in the country, she has pioneered laws on environment and projects on climate change adaptation, climate justice, and disaster risk reduction and management, many of which have been recognized globally.

Of these laws that Loren has authored, the Philippine Tropical Fabrics Law (R.A. 9242) and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (R.A. 9003), which she wrote when she was only 38 years old, are among those directly linked to our need to preserve our culture and heritage, as well as our environment, while also supporting many sectors, such as the agricultural sector, the micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in these sectors in particular.

But a lot more work needs to be done, especially in this pandemic, as a result of which many livelihoods are in danger, if they have not already been lost. “The recovery from the pandemic is not only in terms of protecting ourselves from COVID-19 and its variants but it is also the health of our nation,” she says.

Through the ongoing health crisis, Loren has been deep at work figuring out how the government can help tourism and hospitality play a more crucial role in restarting the economy.

“The MSMEs will gain from the tourism industry and the reopening of the hospitality industry,” she explains. “We must support our culture-based livelihoods more and Philippine indigenous materials as well, so that our local and indigenous people and artisans can benefit.”

And yet, despite the overwhelming challenges, Loren does not hold back on her vision for sustainability. She remains steadfast in leading the way for the Philippines to adopt policies that safeguard the environment and therefore the future. “I would like to correct the misimpression that sustainability is expensive. In fact, sustainability and zero-waste will give us an easier, cheaper, and more affordable lifestyle,” she said.

Our goal is to keep the interest in local artisans. —Mons Romulo

Lifestyle writer and the author of the book Baro: Philippine Fabric and Fashion, Mons Romulo came across a group of indigenous workers from Mindanao in 2016, which sparked the idea of championing local artisans and entrepreneurs.

Today, Katutubo Philippines, which that idea brought about, gives indigenous artists the venue to do business, showcase the beauty of Filipino-made products, and achieve economic independence.

Through Katutubo Philippines, Mons aims to increase cultural awareness for the next generation to appreciate and wear with pride everything that is local. Mons is also a board member of both the Child Protection Network (CPN) and Pink for Life Foundation. “We are thankful that Katutubo and our local artisans are given the chance to be known worldwide again, calling the attention of everyone that we have beautiful local products we can be proud of,” said Mons. “Our goal is to keep the interest in local artisans.”

All of the things we are doing for sustainability is so that the future generations can also enjoy our tourist destinations. —Berna Romulo-Puyat

Berna Romulo-Puyat, secretary of the Department of Tourism (DOT), is known for her stand against corruption in her government agency, and for her extensive experience in politics. She was the former deputy cabinet secretary and economic consultant of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and the undersecretary for special concerns at the Department of Agriculture (DA) under former Secretary Arthur Yap. Throughout her career, she has been focused on development areas in aid of sustainable tourism, increasing investments in the sector, and enhancing programs for tourism infrastructure.

“The past year and a half tested our abilities to manage and capitalize on available resources to adapt to sudden changes in our environment. The tourism sector was adversely affected by the pandemic. But it was also the tourism stakeholders that lent a helping hand during the start of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in 2020. DOT made good use of the quarantine time in recalibrating tourism products and developing new tourism circuits to adapt to the changing preferences of travelers,” says Berna.

Sustainability has always been at the core of the DOT strategies. “When we talk about sustainability, we also talk about responsible tourism,” says the tourism chief. “All of the things we are doing for sustainability is so that the future generations can also enjoy our tourist destinations.”

Berna has faith that soon the tourism industry will be back in full swing. “Together we will ensure that our recovery is anchored on resilience and sustainability. Working toward sustainability requires cooperation and teamwork. We still have a long way to go but with everybody’s help, we will get there,” she says.

Protect our ecosystem and preserve it for our future generation. —Emi Calixto-Rubiano

Once a legislator, now the top executive of the city government of Pasay, Imelda “Emi” Calixto-Rubiano champions health, infrastructure, diversity, inclusion, empowering persons with disability, and endeavors that complement sustainability as a major focus in her tenure. Because of these, she was recognized for her “Outstanding and Significant Achievement in Public Service” by the Golden Globe Annual Awards for Outstanding Filipino Achievers in 2016.

“The past two years have strengthened our participation not only in the household but in everyday life. active not only as mothers and wives but also as innovators, forefront health practitioners, and entrepreneurs,” she says.

To Emi, sustainability is anchored on education. “We give financial assistance to 65,000 students from elementary to college, giving ₱1,000 per month, per student to help them. We are producing quality students so that they can be employed in any establishment,” she says. “The things we do and the advocacies we take for business, arts, health, governance, and environment should always be recognized and given importance. Protect our ecosystem and preserve it for our future generation.”

With the ever-increasing pressures on our environment we all need to raise our awareness and capabilities to implement sustainable practices. —Maria Lourdes Locsin

The project director of annual cultural events that foster unity and cooperation among the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) community, Maria Lourdes Locsin is the chairperson of various organizations, namely the DFA Ladies Foundation, the International Bazaar Foundation, and the ASEAN Ladies Foundation (ALF). She heads collaborative initiatives and partnerships with the 10 embassies of the ASEAN member states. Her strong promotion of Filipino indigenous fashion, heritage cuisines, and visual arts for the international community are her distinct contributions to nationalism and sustainable environment.

“With the ever-increasing pressures on our environment we all need to raise our awareness and capabilities to implement sustainable practices, be it in our personal lives, our work, or in our various advocacies,” she says. “To come up with and engage in sustainable initiatives we need a lot of creativity before we can harvest the desired results. I and my fellow members of the DFA Ladies Foundation, the International Bazaar Foundation, and the ALF are committed to contribute through our projects such as our scholarships, grassroots and livelihood programs, particularly those that promote, develop, and preserve Filipino arts and culture. We will continue to work with more people, organizations, and communities to empower them and ourselves in conserving our natural resources and in preserving our national heritage.”