Libungan, NORTH COTABATO— At the age of 70, she has the titles attached in the names of those who hold bachelor’s degrees despite dropping school in her 6th grade. Her contiguous smile comes into life as villagers fondly call her the rural M.D., as in Murag Doctor (Like a Doctor), M.E., as in Murag Engineer (Like an Engineer), M.A., as in Murag Abogado (Like a Lawyer), and M.T., as in Murag Teacher (Like a Teacher).
Up in the airy mountainous remote village of Kiloyao, Taciana Cigara, who only wishes to be known as “Lola Tacing”, alone, she starts her daily routine walking the grassy path Monday morning, heading towards the barangay hall where she works as all around volunteer.

Like a sun in a beautiful dawn, Lola Tacing’s presence shines brilliantly and being looked forward by many. In fact, she is still the one who can tickle funny bones of those she meets. Her 4-foot-10-inch frame is engulfed with valuable wisdom and strength that her co-villagers aspire for.

Her wrinkled face reads like a road map of time and, every line has a story to tell. Her legacy that transcends beyond generation in helping creating a platform for equality of men and women in her community is the one that is most worth retelling according to her.

Born in 1944, Lola Tacing was raised surrounded by skeptics. Men were prioritized to be educated rather than women members in the family. And for this, she found herself at a very young age working literally under the heat of the sun, holding plow and bolo instead of pencil and ball pen.

“We are ten in the family,” Lola Tacing relates. “Often, there was not enough food to feed everybody in the family adequately and money to send all of us to school that’s why, we were left with no choice but to drop from schooling,” she adds.

Also, most often than not, while journeying the dusty road to school in the next village, she had to endure bullies from some oldies in the community. Soon, according to them, she will be ending up confine at home after getting marriage, doing household works, caring her broods and for these, there was no used of going to school.
For many years, she realized and felt too hard as a woman, like no matter how hard she tried, no matter how hard she worked, others still continue to underestimate or discriminate her.

“The first time I attended a community assembly, nobody listened to me. Nobody cared my opinion.” Lola Tacing sadly recalls. “I also often felt lonely when attending village gathering dominated by men, only few women participating,” she adds.

Despite this situation, something inside in her that refused to give up. Her wave of passion was unstoppable force to make a difference in the lives of Kiloyao villagers, especially to women who are more often undervalued and overworked than men and more susceptible to discrimination and violence.

She found an opportunity as volunteer health worker. Despite difficulties in juggling her reproductive and productive roles in the family, she also managed to attend trainings, seminars and activities that enhanced her newly found knowledge and skills in the field.

“One thing that I really thank for is the support of my husband. Sometimes I attended two to four weeks trainings, leaving then our three children with him,” she gratefully recalls. At first, according to her, there was an opposition from her husband but later realized the importance of a health worker in the family and to all Kiloyao villagers, especially when one of his brothers got sick and no one attended except Lola Tacing.

Being the only trained health worker in the community, like a rural doctor and a teacher, she was an instrument in teaching and bringing health services to Kiloyao, especially to women in the outskirt sitios of the community.
Her efforts were gone unnoticed. Villagers encouraged her to enter politics which was dominated by men for a long period of time. She ran as councilor and easily won a seat with a strong support from women. Aside from her contribution in improving the health condition of the community, her diplomatic and consultative ways of leadership as a woman were noted.

She chaired women, health and other important committees in the village. For many years, she used the opportunity to influence the development direction and advance the interest especially of women like her.

This was manifested in the coming of DSWD’s Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) in the village of Kiloyao.

According to Lola Tacing, she saw the opportunity with the Kalahi-CIDSS community-driven development (CDD) as a strategy in which, it allows villagers to analyze their own needs, manage resources, and implement appropriate interventions for identified community concerns through an inclusive-participatory process.

She encouraged villagers especially women to go out in their homes and finding a place in the community, airing their concerns and needs, fighting for their rights, participating in decision-making and other worthwhile activities.

“I always tell them (women) that there is a better world outside the four corners of their homes and their potentials should not be thwarted,” Lola Tacing recalls.

Their efforts were paid off when Kiloyao villagers’ proposal for the construction of a health station with amenities amounting to P599791.71 was approved. The long awaited dream of Lola Tacing and Kiloyao villagers especially women has come into a reality.

The absence of health station facility in the community burdened mostly women financially and physically for they have to go either in the next barangay or in the town proper, considering the seemingly unending impassable road. Roadside birth that endangered women’s lives has been thing in the past for Kiloyao.

“We initiated activities to empower women like trainings, seminars and involving them in various community activities through coordination and collaboration with higher authorities and organizations to help us,” Lola Tacing recalls.

Kiloyao community projects prioritized under Kalahi-CIDSS are benefiting both men and women. These include construction a day care center, community stage and solar dryer. Lola Tacing involved herself in the Project by ensuring that funds are spent as planned and even in the actual constructions, which is why she was tagged as Murag Engineer (Like an Engineer).

The coming of Kalahi-CIDSS shed more lights in gender equality and the biases of what men and women can do or cannot do in community. Lola Tacing appreciates the conscientization of gender equality in the in the Project. Along the process, it also fosters relations in the community while helping in addressing problems.
“I am happy that more and more women are given the privileged to hold different committees and involved from conceptualization, presentation for prioritization to project implementation, far from the first time I attended the village gathering here,” says Lola Tacing.

“Women have now a share in decision-making and have ability to direct or influence development directions,” says Lola Tacing. “I also don’t want seeing women children denied of opportunity to be educated just because of the fact that they are women, just like what I experienced,” she adds

When asked about the greatest lesson she learned in her advocacy, she said.

“Being a man or a woman should not define what you can and what you cannot do. When it comes to development and opportunities, both men and women should be equal and no one should be left behind,” Lola Tacing says.
Lola Tacing is amenable that she is in an autumn of her life. He just can’t help but smiles remembering those titles tagged on her. In her twilight years, she hopes that these educational titles will come into a reality making the lives of Kiloyao villagers, wonderful stories that were meant to be. (End- Hilbert T. Estacion)