by JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO and ISAGANI DE LA PAZ
OFW Journalism Consortium
IBAAN, Batangas — A SCUFFED brown wooden bench in front of a school serves as a throne of the struggles endured by women left behind by migrant spouses.
The bench at Teodoro M. Luansing College in neighboring town Rosario is where Marivic Valencia, 43, sells adobong mani (roasted peanuts) during her school break and in-between taking care of her two children.
The P200 daily profit she earns bankrolls many things. Aside from the school needs of 17-year-old son Christopher and milk for her two-year-old Christina, what she earns supplements her own schooling.
Valencia is now on her third year in the college’s Computer Science degree program.
The money also supplements what husband Rogelio sends from working as a construction worker in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“If I don’t do these things, the remittance from Rogelio will not be enough for sure. I have to do my share here.”
At an average, Valencia says her husband sends P9,000 a month; the largest P25,000.
She said this may be high enough for some but Valencia said she is looking at the future when her husband would stop working overseas and stay with the family.
“You may have lots of money, but that will be of no use if the family’s apart.”
Hence, she went into business as well as tried to finish a degree.
She put up a home-based convenience store and also went into hog and poultry-raising.
However, her hogs and chickens caught a fatal virus and all died, leaving her indebted.
She was also sued by creditors.
Valencia said she only told Rogelio about the lawsuit, who encouraged her to settle the debt.
Having survived that, Rogelio decided to go back to the KSA for another job stint.
“We do not aspire to become rich. We just want to live a simple life.”
THE simple life Valencia lives starts before the break of dawn.
At 5 o’clock, she cooks breakfast for her son. While her baby’s still asleep, she goes to the local market to buy the day’s meal and the peanuts she would cook, pack, and sell for the day.
House chores and taking care of her baby follow.
Right after lunch, she walks from their house to the bench at Luansing College to sell peanuts for P10 each brown pocket paper bags.
Sales, she said, are enough to give son Christopher a day’s fare of P100 from Rosario to Lyceum of Batangas (in Batangas City, the provincial capital) and back, and enough to buy milk for baby Christine.
She only stops selling to go to class, which starts late afternoon and ends at near dusk.
Upon arriving home, Valencia takes over the care of her baby from a relative who lives near.
Only after feeding her children does she review her lessons and work on her assignment in class.
During weekends, Valencia performs her role as president of the Rosario OFW Association, a small self-help group of OFW family members and former OFWs.
Valencia says perseverance has kept her going.
She’s also not ashamed by selling or by studying alongside far-younger classmates.
“I don’t want to ask for more money every time [from my husband]. I don’t want to borrow money, too.”
In a country where many spouses are separated due to overseas work, Valencia said she always thinks her husband is just “beside her”, especially during difficult times.
“I [try to] understand the situation [my husband is in] there [at Saudi Arabia],” she added.
Valencia said the spouse is also a key actor here.
“The spouse is the one who will [strengthen] your resolve.”
VALENCIA’S entrepreneurship is what advocate May Ann Villalba said can reverse the imbalance of power characterizing migration.
In her presentation at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City last February, Villalba of the Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation identified three ways to do this: saving, investing, and going into business.
Savings, she said, reduce vulnerability and build capital. Investments, on the other hand, enable the migrant worker to plan for productive return and re-integration. Doing so also creates financial value and gives access to productive assets.
By entrepreneurship, the migrant and his or her family build productive activity and create jobs.
Valencia appears to be on her way to achieving the latter.
From just selling roasted peanuts, she has gone into cooking peanut butter.
Here, she said, trust is a premium.
Valencia cited that one time, she gave 30 bottles of peanut butter worth P2,500 to a woman she met for the first time during a meeting.
Easily the lady can run away with the money and Valencia can kiss her capital goodbye.
“I just trusted her, and she trusted me back. She is a regular client for three months now,” Valencia said.
She also rents out her two desktop computers at home. Sometimes, she also sells Avon-branded beauty products.
Still, Villalba said several issues face migrant workers going into entrepreneurship.
The conditions are underdeveloped while there are vagaries of the market, e.g. rice crisis, importation, etc.
Villalba added that while there is lack of incentives and protection for migrant families going into enterprise development, there are also legal disincentives like high corporate tax, long and expensive process of business registration, shipping-transport cartels, and cabotage law, among others.
For Valencia, however, “it’s not all about money.”
“For as long as I enjoy what I am doing, I will never feel tired.”
She adds that resolve shows “because of your faith, your love, of your sacrifices for your family.”
OFW Journalism Consortium