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LEAF 2018 SPEAKER IN FOCUS: Hon. Junaflor "Sweet" Cerilles

Junaflor S. Cerilles, a registered Medical Technologist, businesswoman and current mayor of the Municipality of Dumalinano in Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines, is the epitome of an empowered woman who works hard to uplift the lives of the people around her. She began her community development work in 2013, when she was called to lead the Women Empowerment Movement – Rural Improvement Club (WEM-RIC), an organization of approximately 10,000 rural women in the Province of Zamboanga del Sur, which has now grown to 42,000 members. 

She and her fellow WEM-RIC officers ventured on various entrepreneurial activities that provided livelihood opportunties to rural women in far flung barangays and municipalities in the province. Linkages and partnerships with various local, national and international agencies allowed WEM-RIC to access technical and financial assistance for its members, allowing more rural women to learn, practice and earn income from sustainable agricultural practices such as vermicast production, swine raising and fattening, native chicken and egg production, and integrated rice-duck farming among others. Their efforts led to the establishment of 27 agri-based social enterprises benefiting approximately 1,500 women farmers and their families. Sweet has ensured that WEM-RIC’s empowerment programs for women and their families are holistic. These include livelihood skills training and enhancement, product development and marketing, financial literacy and business planning, and human rights, legal aid assistance and psycho-social support, all of which have helped enhanced self confidence and encouraged equal roles in terms of family relations, as well as control of family income and other resources. 

Because of her outstanding leadership, Sweet was selected in 2015 as a fellow of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) of the US Government and participated in a five week-long mentoring program which helped her maximize her potentials as a woman leader and also prepared her for her role as mayor. In 2017, Dumalinao was recognized and awarded with its first ever Seal of Good Local Governance (SGLG) by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). In March 2018, Sweet and other WEM-RIC members were invited by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women to speak about the WEM-RIC journey at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. 

An environmentalist at heart, Sweet is passionate about protecting the environment, working with the youth to instill a love for the planet and all its inhabitants. In 2016 she launched the GO Dream Dumalinao campaign which includes a “No to Single Use Plastic” (Hindi Ako Plastic) advocacy which is backed up by a municipal ordinance released October of that same year and the tree planting and nurturing program called BAnYANI AKO. She has also partnered with the province and environmental NGOs for two youth empowerment programs: Salom sa Kaugmaon, which focuses on marine conservation) and Tanom sa Kaugmaon to encourage and the next generation of agri-entrepreneurs. 

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