Filipina leaders come together to talk about equity, inclusion, and diversity in their fields

Coca-Cola Philippines celebrates International Women’s Month with a forum featuring footballer Inna Palacios, news anchor Grethen Ho, LGBTQIA+ advocate Mela Habijan, and filmmaker Antoinette Jadaone

In the past years, many Filipino women have been breaking the glass ceiling and raising the Philippine flag high on the international stage. While it is undeniable how important their contributions are today, many are still to be done in order for equity, inclusion, and diversity to fully reign in their fields.

To further highlight their importance, and the stories of female trailblazers across various areas and fields, Coca-Cola Philippines hosted “Embracing Equity: Stories of Championing Every One” last March 16. The goal of the forum is aligned with International Women’s Day’s 2023 global theme of #EmbracingEquity, which encourages honest conversations about why "equal opportunities are no longer enough," and that what we need is to strive for is equity, recognizing that each person has different circumstances and that resources and opportunities are needed to reach an equal outcome despite their differences.

“We believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion help make us stronger as a company, enable us to create a better-shared future for all, empower access to equal opportunity, and build belonging in our workplaces and in society,” said Tony del Rosario, president for Coca-Cola Philippines and vice president for East Franchise Operations of Coca-Cola ASEAN and South Pacific.

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Mela Habijan, Antoinette Jadaone, Gretchen Ho, and Inna Palacios

During the event, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle got the chance to talk with some of the panelists—athlete and news anchor Gretchen Ho, Philippine Women’s National Football Team goalkeeper Inna Palacios, LGBTQIA+ advocate and actress Mela Habijan, and filmmaker Antoinette Jadaone—as they share stories about empowerment and how to achieve equity in their respective fields.

When do you feel most empowered?

Inna: I feel most empowered when I get to do things that I’m passionate about, I see results, and I see people getting inspired by the work that I do.

Gretchen: I feel empowered when I get to do things and I get them done… I’m very purposive when it comes to making sure that whatever it is that I dream of that it gets done in real life.

Antoinette: I feel most empowered when I tell stories of women and about women.

Mela: I feel most empowered when I’m naked because being able to put out everything off my body means I get to own my insecurities. Kasi marami tayong itinatago kapag nagsusuot tayo ng mga damit (Because we tend to hide many things when we put on clothes)... We are afraid to show what needs to be hidden. But when I’m naked, I get to see the beauty of my body as a whole.

How do you think people from your field could embrace equity, diversity, and inclusivity more?

Inna: I think people should have a different mindset toward sports, that it’s about seeing everyone as an athlete rather than him or her, or male sports or female sports. It’s about having that equal opportunity and support between the athletes and all of us.

Gretchen: As a storyteller, people can embrace diversity by choosing carefully who they talk to, which stories they feature, the words they use, the time and platform they give these stories, and the perspective they apply. Ang challenge ay lumawak ‘yung mga taong nagkukuwento, perspective, at mas maging welcoming sa different points of view (The challenges is to have more storytellers, to widen people’s perspective, and to be more welcoming of different points of view).

Antoinette: Just giving them opportunities and amplifying their voices. In the film industry, ang daling pumasok. Bukas talaga yung pinto kapag babaeng filmmaker ka or LGBTQIA+ director ka, madaling pumasok. Ang challenge ngayon ay ‘yung manatili at paano makagawa talaga ng kuwentong gusto mong gawin using your own voice to tell that story. Iba yung papasok ka lang sa mag-stay ka at magtatagumpay ka sa pinili mong field… Na-pave ‘yan ng way nina Laurice Guillen, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Olivia Lamasan, and even Cathy Garcia Molina and Joyce Bernal, ganoon din dapat ‘yung gagawin natin sa mga susunod na generasyonon. Binuksan nila yung  pinto para sa amin, dapat hindi hayaan masara ulit yun para sa mga susunod pa.

(Just giving them opportunities and amplifying their voices. It’s easy to enter the local film industry, the door is open to female or LGBTQIA+ filmmakers. The challenge now is to stay in the industry and produce stories using your own voice. Breaking into the industry is different from staying and championing your chosen field… female directors like Laurice Guillen, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Olivia Lamasan, and even Cathy Garcia Molina and Joyce Bernal paved the way for us and the same should be done to the future generation. They opened the door for us, and we shouldn’t let it close again for the people following us.)

Mela: Open the possibilities. Open the possibilities for LGBTQIA+ people to shine on their own. I think, doon nagsisimula ‘yun (that’s where it starts). When I see a trans person getting hired by multinational companies, it makes me happy because it means that there’s someone out there living their dream. When we see an LGBTQIA+ person thriving in the military, in the fields that they want to be in, huge win ‘yun for all of us kasi doon natin binabasag yung mga  (because that’s how we break) stereotypes that we have assigned, the society have… We just want spaces to open up so that these spaces can be our starting point to grow as individuals.

Why is it important for brands like Coca-Cola to lead this kind of conversation?

Inna: I’m very thankful and honored that they invited me here to be part of the panelists and I am also very proud of the work they have done, for championing women and being led by 50 percent women globally. I hope that they continue this good work.

**Gretchen:**Napakalaking bagay na sinusuportahan nila yung Pilipinas at ‘yung Philippine Women’s National Football team (It is a huge thing that the brand supports the Philippines and the Philippine Women’s National Football team), because we need people to support our sports teams, athletes, and talents in the journey itself and not just when they’re done, they’re winning, and getting all the accolades. To be with them on that journey through blood, sweat, and tears, I think, is the most crucial and the most contributing part to their success.

Antoinette: Sobrang happy ako kasi bihira ‘yung mga ganoong companies…Coca-cola has been supporting women’s sports through the years and equity in terms of its work space. Hindi lang lalaki ang napo-promote, nagkakaroon ng opportunites*. Alam mong matagal na nila itong advocacy hindi lang para sa Women’s Month. Sana dumami pa yung ganitong companies.* (It’s not just the men who get promoted or gain opportunities. You’ll know that this is an advocacy that they have been supporting for the longest time and not just for Women’s Month. Hopefully, more companies will follow suit).

Mela: I’m grateful to them. They thought of me, they thought of me as a voice of the trans community and, at the same time, including me in celebrating gender equity. I hope that this is a beginning for us to form platforms to catalyze conversations. “Coca,” for me, means “conversation catalyst”… This is where the conversation starts and it must keep going. Hopefully, through Coca-cola, there will be more messages that can be amplified.

To learn more about the efforts of Coca-Cola Philippines to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, visit