By Maricar “Chi” Laigo Vallido, Philippines
Maricar “Chi” Laigo Vallido was among the first cohort of QUT’s special course on NGO Management and Leadership Development funded by AusAID in 2002. The course included an Internship in an Australian NGO/non-profit organization and she completed her internship at the Australian Reproductive Health Alliance in Canberra. Returning from her program at QUT, she continued her work as Deputy Executive Director of the Philippine NGO Council for Population, Health and Welfare (PNGOC). PNGOC is an alliance of 100 NGOs all over the Philippines and implements activities such as advocacy campaign development trainings, reproductive health rights orientation, adolescent and youth leadership development, resource mobilization among others.
The QUT-Specialized program on NGO Management and Leadership for me was more than just learning to think strategically to make my organization sustainable and less funder-dependent. The program helped me become a better mentoring-leader. That an organization is made stronger by a leader who is able to pass the torch to an equal or equals – an organization of leaders.
In 2008, Chi Vallido moved to a new organization, Forum for Family Planning and Development (The Forum) where she helped strengthened the capacity of The Forum as an advocacy organization. From having single-short term project, Chi helped build the reputation of the organization as a strong development and advocacy partner for sexual and reproductive health and population and development programs. Before long, The Forum was managing multi-year projects supported by organizations like UNFPA, UNWomen, WHO, IPPF and Catholics for Choice. From 2008-2013, Chi managed a monthly press conference called Usapang PopDev where issues on population and development particularly reproductive health rights were discussed by experts. Usapang PopDev is part of the advocacy strategies of The Forum which has become among the leading civil society organizations in the frontlines of the campaign for the passage of the country’s reproductive health law.
Being a Roman Catholic and a Reproductive Health (RH) rights advocate, Chi Vallido was also very vocal about her belief that a good Catholic was also an RH rights advocate. Together with seven of her friends, they founded the Catholics for RH Speak-Out Movement in 2009 which has since become a registered non-government organization called Catholics for RH (C4RH). After 14 years of advocacy campaigning, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law was passed in December, 2012 and upheld constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2014.
In 2015, The Forum received a multi-million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Chi wrote the project proposal and managed the five-year project that also provided sub-grants to other NGOs to help sustain the advocacy for RH at the national and local government levels. By the end of the grant in 2020, the project was instrumental for the passage of at least 30 policies, ordinances and executive orders in the five provinces of the project. At the national level, The Forum and its partner NGOs also contributed to the advocacy for increased annual budget for RH and the passage of other health and gender empowerment laws.
Chi was also the conference coordinator of the first and second National Family Planning Conferences in the Philippines held in 2017 and 2018 respectively where President Rodrigo Duterte consistently gave statements of support and commitment to the country’s family planning program. While Chi believes that CSOs should work together with the government to maximize the impact of programs in the communities, she also says that “those of us in the NGO sector must also be the voices of the communities we serve.” When the current Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte catcalled a woman journalist during a national press conference, Chi felt that there may be a silencing of women’s voices. This was a feeling shared by many feminists and activists. But at that time, Duterte was hugely popular and had an army of social-media followers who threatened critics with bodily harm and verbal abuse online.
Women activists had been threatened with rape and other bodily harm when they spoke against Duterte. We were worried of course. I also have a daughter. But we can’t give in to fear.
In March 2017, a few months after Duterte was elected President, Chi co-founded the Women Writing Women Philippines with three other journalist and activist friends. WWW Phils. (www.womenwritingwomen.com) is a social media and news organization and describe themselves as “a group of empowered women journalists, writers, artists, advocates and trainers who champion women’s rights by challenging the narratives that delimit girls and women from understanding the world of bigger truths and realities.” When COVID-19 gripped the world and pushed the country into months of lockdown, WWW Phils. started documenting experiences of Filipino women in a series called COVID-19 Journals in their site. The essays and stories in their website is now published into a book that the group launched on July 23, 2021 through the support for Gantala Press, a feminist publishing company.
We are so proud of this book and we are grateful to the women who trusted us with their stories. It was important for us to document this time in our history and we wanted to help make sure that the stories of resilience of women and girls during this pandemic is heard. For me, it doesn’t matter who we turn off. What matters is who we inspire.