Proud to Be! HS 83
By Ana de Villa Singson
At a recent batch reunion in Milky Way, we had a game called “How Well do You Know Your Batch Mates? “ We gave clues about a classmate and it was a race to see which section could guess the right name first. Whenever we read clues about someone doing outreach or helping the marginalized in far remote places, many hands would shoot up and they would answer “Mardi.” The answer wasn’t always Mardi, but it is telling that within our batch, she epitomizes service…social service, to many of us.
Mardi now helms Habitat for Humanity as its CEO. The organization aims to eliminate poverty by “Building Homes for Every Juan” , at least 3 000 homes per year. It’s a huge role with lofty ambitions. How did Mardi, who was one of the more soft-spoken and reserved among us but with ever-smiling upwardly-tilting chinky eyes, get there?
Hers is the road less traveled. Her collegiate studies focused on Social Work and her Masteral degree was in Community Development. Eschewing the corporate path, Mardi’s 40 year journey from high school is replete with involvement in NGOs and government. She was with the Fred Hollows Foundation ( eponymously named for a famed ophthalmologist whose vision is a world where no one is needlessly blind), the Negrensen SILAG foundation (which provides services for the tenants of large hacienderos), USAid and Amnesty International where she had charge of the entire Asia – Pacific region. Relocating to Negros, where she met and married Ernesto Suplido, she ran, and won, as a Provincial Board Member of Negros. Her government experience was not facile. “People were lining up for money in front of my house in the mornings. I was not sanay. I don’t believe in dole outs; I was hoping to legislate change and stop corruption. That’s why I ran for government.” Known and trusted by the New People’s Army rebels in the area, she was appointed by then Secretary Ging Deles as one of the Peace Panel negotiators. She would liaise with the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) and negotiate peace deals. They would ask for roads and social development projects and Mardi would coordinate with local and national government units to make those “requests” happen. A difficult part of the deal was the “request” to free political prisoners. She drew the line there, agreeing to free only those “who had not killed, only those who were caught in the middle of the fighting.” There were blood-curdling, terror-filled moments too. She would negotiate with the rebels in the mountains, accompanied only by staff. “ I had a scary encounter one time, on the way to meet with the community. I informed their head in Negros that I was going but their army in the mountains, didn’t have signal, so they did not get the message that I was going up. “ Mardi was held at gunpoint, more specifically, rifle point.“ Half of me was pretending to be confident…I kept telling them that I knew all their leaders. I was thinking then that I take risks and at that point I regretted the risks; I was so afraid that something would happen.” She was terrified facing down rifle-toting rebels; but her pseudo confidence worked because she convinced them to move to higher ground in search of a phone signal and the tense impasse was resolved.
Now back in Manila, she took stewardship as CEO of Habitat for Humanity 2 years ago. She is passionate about her work; her passion working as a catalyst and a contagion for others to volunteer and commit resources. “Every Filipino wants a house but the cost of housing is way over what majority of Filipinos can achieve. Even if you are earning PHp 20,000 a month, there’s no way you can afford a condo or house until you are around 60. There is a backlog of approximately 6.5 million houses for families, including those living in the danger zones, the informal settlers who pitch homes beside beaches, rivers, hilly slopes. The house really takes people out of the cycle of poverty. It enables the health of the whole family, children’s education, income doesn’t have to go to rent.” Habitat for Humanity hopes to empower the underprivileged with security of tenure. It now costs Php 450,000 (four hundred fifty thousand pesos) for a titled 26 square meter house and lot, an amount which can further be reduced to Php 250,000 when subsidized by a Pag-ibig loan. Much of her time is devoted to networking among donors, suppliers, volunteers; liaising with local government units to build side development such as water and electrical connectivity. It’s a big role with many moving parts and her biggest headache is bureaucracy, the daunting swathes of red tape she must cut through. Another major challenge is the consistency…or inconsistency of donations. “We’re open to any kind of contributions. Whatever we have, that’s something we can share.”
What prepared Mardi for her in-depth engagement in social altruism? “ It goes back to everything we got brainwashed about in high school. To whom much is given, much is expected . Assumption taught us, anyone can contribute in any small way.” Her mom, the inimitable Lirio Mapa, taught her much about faith and set her on the road to service by “allowing me to go into this work. Usually, parents want to educate their kids so that they can earn. My mom said “Sigue na lang, I have 7 other kids in the corporate world, I will donate this daughter to service.” So I am her contribution to society!” Her mom, by teaching and life example, also instilled in her the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey (namely: Be Proactive | Begin With the End in Mind |Put First Things First | Think Win-Win | Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood | Synergize | Sharpen the Saw). The 6th Habit, Synergy, is a battlecry of Mardi. “ Synergy is where you are able to bring in everyone’s efforts, partnerships of all kinds. And here in Habitat we need partnerships with the private sector, public sector, people in the communities. We call it the 4 Ps: People Private and Public Partnership, that’s the synergy we need in housing to make it more affordable. We need to be able to create that synergy with everyone contributing.” Another great influence in Mardi’s life, then and now, is the much loved Sr. Gertrude Borres, R.A. ” She has a way of going to people and encouraging them to get involved. Every person she meets, she can find a fit. Oh, perfect! You can help here and you can help there!”
Even in high school, there were many clues that Mardi would lead a life of service. When we would choose Reading, Math, Cooking and Baking (under the venerable Mrs. Carreon and her unforgettable apple pie!), the atypical Mardi would choose Alay Kapwa. We didn’t even know there was Alay Kapwa, a voluntary summer immersion program. Later on, she joined The Associate Missionaries of the Assumption ( AMA) and was immersed in Negros. It is her pride and joy that her daughters, Sandi and Sari, also joined AMA. And like their mother, all 4 of her children, including Sato and Simon, immersed themselves in faith development choosing the youth ministries, Antioch and Luke.
Mardi’s guiding principle is to encourage as many people to be of service and to share what they have. “At this point in my life, I want to focus not just on me giving my time for development efforts but encouraging and inspiring others to do the same no matter what their skill, interest is. It’s telling people you can be a musician, an IT expert, you can be into fashion, there is no discrimination. Everyone has a role to play. And that’s the role I want to play.”
Mardi…a life of service whose example is an invitation to serve. She invites us to look intently and see how we might be of service too. There is nothing too small or too big, too humble or too lofty, too commonplace or too sublime. We too can do our part. Says Mardi, “We learned that in Assumption. We all have a role to play.”
Learn more about Habitat for Humanity through https://www.habitat.org.ph/