Many Sto. Tomasinos lost their jobs and other sources of income under the devastating strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of the Taal Volcano eruption.
In the face of the dire situation, politics took a backseat. The city government of Sto. Tomas—under the leadership of the indefatigable Mayor Edna P. Sanchez, Administrator Salvador M. Geling, and the department and section heads—joined forces with the national government and the private sector, regardless of political affiliation, to generate livelihood and employment opportunities for the city’s 218,500 constituents.
The city government of Sto. Tomas maximized the livelihood and income opportunities offered by various national government programs and matched them with the needs of Sto. Tomasinos.
The City Agriculture Office, carrying out the guidelines and regulations of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), facilitated the transporting of agricultural goods in the city by issuing food passes and certification.
Production was expanded and technically monitored to help farmers at the community level.
From the Spanish times to the present, agriculture has been the most important industry in the province of Batangas, owing to its rich and fertile volcanic soil.
But with the eruption of the Taal Volcano and the spread of the COVID-19 contagion, thousands of farmers lost their crops and encountered difficulties attending to their farm lots due to the pandemic-induced lockdowns.
By implementing the Sure-Aid program of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Sto. Tomas city government helped farmers recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Through Sure-Aid, farmers were able to boost their production by being able to avail of needed agricultural credit through the Mount Carmel Rural Bank in the city.
The DA’s Agricultural Credit and Policy Council (ACPC) provided the Mount Carmel Rural Bank with a validated list of qualified Sto. Tomas farmers.
The city government, through the DA, also helped farmers avail of technical assistance, a 100% off on tractor services, crop and livestock insurance, and provision of seeds and agricultural inputs. A total of 373 indigent farmers in Sto. Tomas were served and given support in crop production.
PLANT, PLANT, PLANT
Sto. Tomasinos were able to avail of agricultural inputs of organic fertilizers, garden tools, seedling bags, and high-quality vegetable seeds through the DA’s Plant, Plant, Plant program.
A webinar series on the Plant, Plant, Plant program was opened and participated in by Sto. Tomasinos, with help from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Crop Science Cluster.
The series covered a variety of topics, ranging from planting ornamentals, edible landscaping, and vertical gardening.
Some 100 participants attended the webinar series and received garden tools, seedling bags, 5-kg organic fertilizer and vegetable seeds.
All inputs were shouldered by the City government’s Livelihood and Enterprises Development Office.
Continuous provision of seeds was given to backyard enthusiasts, households, schools, farmers and 4-Ps beneficiaries.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the allotted budget for trainings and seminars to be converted to assistance for communities.
For 2020 alone, a total of 14,016 seed packs were distributed to households and individuals in the 30 barangays of Sto. Tomas City.
Organic practitioners expanded their area of production and conducted online organic market days which continued until the last quarter of 2020.
The DA monitored Organic Market days in collaboration with the Sto. Tomas Organic Practitioners Association (STOPA).
The STOPA also joined a Plant Exhibit conducted through a partnership of the city government’s Department and Livelihood and Enterprises Development Office.
MARKET STALL LEASES
Sto. Tomas City Mayor Edna P. Sanchez and Vice Mayor Armenius O. Silva enacted an ordinance to help market stall owners survive the pandemic.
The ordinance amended the city’s 2018 Market Code. It provided an economic relief stimulus to those renting stalls at the Old and New Public Market.
The ordinance was the result of marathon meetings and hearings with Mayor Sanchez, Vice-Mayor Silva, the Committee on Public Market and market stall lessees.
Under the stimulus package, market stall lessees with outstanding arrears in their monthly rentals were allowed to settle only 50% of their outstanding obligations to the city government. The remaining balance were divided into 24 monthly payments.
A mark down of 30% in monthly rental fees was likewise implemented for a period of two years.
Livelihood opportunities were given to women farmers in the form of raising organic free-range chickens.
The women farmers in some 24 barangays were each given a set of poultry production parent stocks.
The City government also provided them with nets, transition houses, feeders, waterers, nests, cages, vaccines and medication.
The livelihood scheme operated in such a way that each beneficiary would bring back a set of trio chickens (one rooster and three female chickens) to the next recipient.
Only brood stock was given to the next recipient to ensure sustainability of the project. The rest of the assistance provided was given by way of a grant from the LGU.
CASH FOR WORK
Under the leadership of Mayor Edna P. Sanchez, the city government of Sto. Tomas implemented the “Cash for Work” program.
It was implemented in coordination with the heads of barangays, the City Livelihood and Enterprise Development Division (CLEDD), City Engineering Office (CEO), and the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO).
Residents of Sto. Tomas who lost their jobs in the course of the pandemic were provided interim jobs ranging from declogging of waterways, rehabilitation of riverbanks, and communal gardening.
Barangays who participated in and benefitted from the “Cash for Work” program include: Barangays San Roque, San Vicente, Sta. Anastacia, San Agustin, Sta. Ana, San Fernando, Sta. Teresita and Sta. Cruz.
With the determination to help Sto. Tomas communities in adopting the innovative approach to attain higher productivity and self-reliance, the city government implemented a people-empowered Livelihood program.
The program focused on skills enhancement, micro-finance support, and creation of livelihood projects.
These projects catered to small business and micro-industries of women’s organizations, small entrepreneurs, and individuals belonging to the less privileged communities.
Examples of these innovative livelihood projects include de-pidal food carts given to 25 individuals from different barangays and the provision of 60 high-speed sewing machines to 60 mothers in the city’s 30 barangays, among others.
Livelihood opportunities also sprouted from the development of local products through label design and conceptualization trainings. Among the successful product designs involved products ranging from leche flan, atcharang papaya, yema spread, ginger tea, and peanut butter.
Trade fairs, the Management Pasalubong Center, management seminars, as well as marketing and management trainings summed up the range of city government assistance to livelihood projects.
Small and Medium enterprises were likewise provided with Lingap Kabuhayan financial loan assistance amounting to P563,000.
PESO’s TULONG HANAP BUHAY
Tulong Panghanapbuhay for Displaced/disadvantaged workers (TUPAD) is a short-term employment program launched in coordination with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
Rose Lyn Cabrera Francisco, Public Employment Service Office (PESO) head and Chief Information Officer, said that “under the program, those who lost their jobs or are self-employed were given the chance for 10 days to earn P400 daily.”
“The first batch had 30 residents and since there are 30 barangays, each of them were deployed in the barangays to help out in disinfection programs,” Francisco added.
Other programs that PESO pursued include “Brigada Eskwela,” where residents were deployed to clean the schools or engage in the face mask-making project and the walis tingting project.
Francisco related that PESO conducted regular job fairs for local recruitment. Companies would approach PESO to conduct recruitment activities at the city hall.
“Aside from the usual recruitment activities, we also have Passport on Wheels in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Authority (OWWA). Their regional offices come here to the Sto. Tomas City Hall to cater to the needs of our overseas Filipino workers,” she said.
OFW HELP DESK
OFWs based in Sto. Tomas would take advantage of the opportunity to follow up on rebates, apply for scholarships or inquire about livelihood opportunities. The PESO’s partnership with the DEF and OWWA can be attributed to an ordinance which called for the creation of a Help Desk for OFWs.
“Thanks to this partnership, we were able to come up with a job fair for overseas employment last March 2021. During the two day affair, we were able to cater to 361 OFWs who looked into being recruited for jobs in the Middle East and Asia. The employment opportunities include openings for production operator, carpenters and domestic helpers,” Francisco related.
She is also confident that the city government will be able to revive the summer job program for students. Screening for the program was supposed to start early February but was postponed owing to adjustments in the school calendar.
“The allotment for this program has increased from 20 to 132 to 150 applicants and it was Mayor Sanchez who approved this increase. We should be able to open the application for students sometime in March so that come May and June, we will be able to deploy them in the barangays or in any of the departments inside City Hall,” Francisco said.
Employment opportunities and livelihood projects, both big and small, have been conceptualized and implemented—emanating from the vision for progress of City Mayor Edna P. Sanchez.
It is a legacy of accomplishments based on dreams for a better Sto. Tomas City, fueled by teamwork between the city government, Sto. Tomas constituents, and the national government.