Long before women empowerment became a global movement, Filipino women had been holding their own in the home and the community. In precolonial times, they held equal status with men. Colonizers may have redefined their role in society, but they strove to defy their demotion, asserting their rights and capabilities while rallying around one another.
Look no further for evidence of this kinship: When a woman leaves home for work, she can count on the natural support system of her mother, sister, aunt, daughter, even grandmother.
In the early 1970s, a group of wives in Manila put up a school for young women from underprivileged families. They drew inspiration from the teachings of Opus Dei founder St. Josemaria Escriva on women’s dignity and the sanctification of work.
Punlaan School, located at 173 M. Paterno, Barangay Pasadena, San Juan, initially trained housewives and housekeepers in homemaking.
Five decades on, it has evolved into a multiawarded institution offering a tuition-free program in hospitality and culinary arts with guaranteed job placement in the hotel and restaurant industry worldwide.
It transformed its technical course in home arts into the dual training system in food and beverage (F&B) services, which it pioneered in partnership with a German foundation during the term of executive director Luz M. Filmer in the early 1990s. The dual system integrates classroom skills instruction and character formation with on-the-job training in a hotel or restaurant. It is accredited by Tesda (or the Technical Educational and Skills Development Authority), with National Certificate II qualifications.
The government soon institutionalized the dual training system for vocational courses in the country, and upheld Punlaan as a model for its successful implementation.
With over 3,000 graduates—among them F&B supervisors, restaurant managers, sous chefs and chefs de partie—now practicing their expertise in top-tier hospitality industry establishments here and abroad, Punlaan is a success story in women empowerment.
On Oct. 6, to mark its golden jubilee, the school will inaugurate a seven-story building that can accommodate 700 students. It has 180 scholars at present; it expects around 500 more in the next three or four years.
Along with the new building, Punlaan is introducing an apprenticeship program for pharmacy assistants, in partnership with Watsons. It will also open a one-year health care and wellness program in June 2024 and offer specialized short courses of up to 10 sessions in culinary and home management to tap the big market of young professionals, culinary enthusiasts, and mothers of all ages.
The expansion is intended to meet the growing demand for high-quality education and skills training over the next 20 years.
More and more young women aged 18-23 from disadvantaged families are looking to get an education and access to employment, according to Punlaan executive director Mila Araneta. The majority are daughters of seasonal workers such as drivers, carpenters, laborers, as well as unemployed parents. Those from the rural areas are daughters of farmers, fishers, and contractual workers.
The demand for job-ready graduates for the hospitality industry is also increasing as businesses are fully back to normal after the pandemic, and with tourism seen as one of the drivers of economic recovery, Araneta says in an email interview.
Consider the impact of a scholarship, with a job placement to boot, on these women’s families.
“Our graduates earn as much as P15,000 a month as entry-level workers and up to P50,000 after five years if they are working abroad. They become the family breadwinner; they are able to send their siblings to school, pay the rent, and in many cases build a new home,” she says.
Underscoring the multiple roles women play in the family and society, Araneta expresses the belief that “an educated woman or mother has greater possibilities of bringing up children of good character who hopefully will become good citizens.” Being employed enables them not only to provide for their dependents but also to participate in the building of a stable family and community.
“Women from the poor sector should have the same opportunity to be part of the effort to transform individuals and build sustainable societies,“ she insists.
The group behind Punlaan subsequently opened more training centers for women (in the provinces of Laguna and Cebu) and organized the Foundation for Professional Training, Inc. (FPTI), which owns and operates the schools. The foundation is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Bureau of Internal Revenue as a donee institution.
Donations and other forms of support from industry partners as well as individual and corporate benefactors and other local foundations with a similar vision enable FPTI and its schools to finance their operations and the scholars’ tuition. The government provides some funding in the form of Tesda scholarships.
The new building is equipped with the best housekeeping modules and what must be any budding chef’s dream—industry-standard, state-of-the art facilities and utensils for kitchen and baking laboratories. Ideally, the kitchenware should approximate what students will eventually be using on the job.
Besides comfortable classrooms and offices, the new building also has an auditorium and an oratory (a small chapel usually for private worship).
The increase in demand for staff is seen not only in the F&B services but also in hotel housekeeping. Given that the graduates come from simple backgrounds, the school is particularly circumspect in assessing requests for chambermaids.
“We want to ensure the safety and welfare of these young women,” says FPTI director Cynthia Picazo in a phone interview. “Our graduates are also employed in cruise liners, so security is very important to their families, especially with the high incidence of human trafficking.”
The other aspect of Punlaan training is character formation through personalized mentoring. Each student is assigned a mentor who assists her in identifying and communicating her academic needs so that these may be addressed and she can achieve her best.
“This formation sets Punlaan apart from other technical schools,” says Picazo. “As it equips its students with academic and technical skills, it also imparts core values to enable them to fulfill their work and achieve the quality of life consistent with human dignity.” She highlights Christian virtues such as respect, courtesy, helpfulness, sincerity, integrity, humility, and selflessness.
The school’s industry partners have observed the students’ dedication and commitment, qualities that make them highly employable.
In an audiovisual presentation, some Punlaan scholars speak of their common aspiration for a better life for their families. Pastry chef Mary Ann Garcia Agajanian, sous chef Angelica Velasco, restaurant manager Rochelle Dequito, and graduating student Ragen Rome Vergara all acknowledge how Punlaan gave them a fighting chance and enabled them to attain their goals.
Dequito quotes the poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Success is not something to wait for, it is something to work for.”
School director Anna Marie N. Jacinto remarks that Punlaan has truly adhered to the teaching of St. Josemaria Escriva, “who wanted to promote women empowerment.”
Punlaan conducts information campaigns in public schools, barangays, and parishes. Applicants must be 18-23 years old, single, senior high school graduates with 80% grade average. They must pass the entrance exam and the interview for the scholarship.
More information is available at www.punlaanschool.edu.ph and facebook.com/punlaanschool, or call t8250-4534 local 1016.
Punlaan’s hotel partners are Grand Hyatt Manila, Hilton Clark/Manila, Conrad Manila, Herald Suites, Park Inn by Radissons, Seda Hotel, Fairmont Raffles, Ascott Makati, Diamond Hotel, Marco Polo, Bayview Park Hotel, The Bellevue Manila, Discovery Suites, New World Manila Bay Hotel, and New World Makati Hotel.
Its restaurant partners are Cafe Mary Grace, Conti’s, I’m Angus Steakhouse, UCC Vienna Café, Amici, J.CO, BRTO, Pan de Manila, ALC Bistro Inc., Annabel’s, Barcino, Cafe Ysabel, Icings, Via Mare, Apartment1-B, Pancake House, Katherine’s Café, Mann Hann, Pico de Loro, Max’s Group, French Baker, Pasto, Bistro Remedios.
Foreign institutions and sponsors are American Initiatives, Limmat Foundation of Switzerland, and Wonder Foundation, London.
Donors will be present at the Oct. 6 inauguration of the new Punlaan building. They will be joined by FPTI chair/president Imelda G. Nibungco, Punlaan School director Theresa E. Nabatar, and Ana B. Pastelero, head of the Development Board of the New Punlaan Project.
The special guests are Maria Gerty D. Pagaran, Tesda director for Pasig, Mandaluyong, Marikina; and San Juan Rep. Maria J. Zamora.
A Mass will be officiated by Rev. Fr. Julio Dieguez, Regional Vicar of Prelature Opus Dei.
“Punlaan is Tagalog for seedbed,” Araneta points out. “By providing skills training, character development and work values, Punlaan is planting seeds not only of economic well-being but also of moral and spiritual growth of the young women it nurtures.”
The original Punlaan school was a humble two-story mostly wooden structure with a few classrooms and a kitchen. It used to be a private maternity hospital.
With the new building and expanded teaching programs, the site is indeed a women’s domain.