Many years ago, she had a vision to someday have all her ducks in a row—a happy family, a big house, a nice car, and money to spend for retirement. Instead, what she got was a long line of fish—waiting to be manufactured, bottled, and exported to top Filipino food stores located on foreign soil.
For successful microentrepreneur Teresita Valdez, this “fish in a row” comes as a welcome replacement for the ducks that she initially wanted. After 41 years of painstaking hardwork and skillful craftsmanship, she now has her own family, a two-story house, a delivery vehicle, and Viaña Food Condiments—her bagoong (fish paste) manufacturing business that allows her to live a comfortable life.
Little did she know that the business she lovingly named after her mother’s surname would bring her the success she never dreamed of. And it was a success with a story to tell.
Nanay Tess grew up in the humble district of Navotas, popularly known for its pier and fish port industry. Her mother was a vegetable vendor. Her father was a boat driver. Both jobs gave her parents a steady income until the fish port was transferred near the pier which meant that the area no longer demanded boat drivers. It was a difficult time for her parents as she still had a long line of siblings after her that the family needed to feed, care for, and send to school.
“Noong araw po kasi, dahil nga sa kahirapan ng buhay at sa kahirapan ng mga magulang ko, sinabi ko sa nanay ko na hindi na ako magpapatuloy ng pag-aaral. Gusto ko na lang po magtrabaho para matulungan ko sila (Because of my family’s difficult life back then, I told my mother that I will stop going to school. At that time, I just wanted to find a job so I could help them),” she said.
The second in a brood of nine, Nanay Tess was unfortunate to have not finished her schooling. She only reached 6th grade. Despite the hardships of not having the level of education expected by society, Nanay Tess has managed to move her way from being a mere factory worker to a humble supervisor, and now, a successful microentrepreneur.
“Nadaya iyong edad ko kasi malaking bulas ako. Mga 13 years old pa lang ako, nasa pabrika na ako sa Lorenzana (I was a big girl then and it was easy to hide my age. I was only 13 years old when I started working at the factory in Lorenzana),” she said, referring to Lorenzana Food Corporation, one of the country’s pioneer manufacturers and exporters of Filipino food products.
In 1973, she started as a factory worker by processing raw fish for canning, peeling vegetables, and manufacturing fruit preserves. She was exposed to the various stages in the food processing business, moving from one work process to another as a proof of her ingenuity and desire to learn the ropes of the industry.
“Hindi naman po sa nagmamayabang ako, kasi noong kabataan ko, napakasipag ko po kaya madali ako nakukuha. Kapag nakikita nila ang trabaho ko, lagi akong napipili na maging group leader tapos naging bisor (Humbly speaking, I was a very industrious worker. When they see how I work, they always get me as a group leader before making me a supervisor),” she said. “Ang Lorenzana ang number one exporter noong araw ng mga frozen products, fish, vegetables, fruits, at lahat ng mga products na for export (Lorenzana was the number one exporter of food products back then).”
Whenever the supervisors at the factory needed extra hands to do extra work, Nanay Tess was always one of the people who would volunteer her services for extra income. This led her to the processing of bagoong which was one of the top products of Lorenzana at that time.
“Kapag kailangang mag-overtime, lagi ako ume-extra. Hanggang sa nakuha po ako doon sa pagluluto ng gisado at bagoong. Iyong group leader noon, kinuha nila akong taga-luto, taga-bote, hanggang sa ginawa na niya akong assistant (When they need people to do overtime work, I always do extra work. Eventually I was able to work my way to becoming a bagoong processor and packager, then the group leader made me as an assistant),” she said.
Her 12-year stint with Lorenzana ended in 1986 when she moved to a similar company to further learn the different bagoong manufacturing processes. She admitted that she needed that extra exposure because it was during this time that she was slowly building the confidence she needed to become an entrepreneur.
“Doon po talaga ako naka-focus sa pagluluto ng bagoong. Iyon ang gusto ko talaga gawing hanapbuhay dahil napakadali lang niya timplahin (I was focused in bagoong manufacturing. That was really what I wanted for my business because the cooking process was very easy),” Nanay Tess said.
If the bagoong cooking process was easy for Nanay Tess, the road she took to becoming a stable microentrepreneur proved to be the exact opposite.
After her employment with food processing companies, Nanay Tess went on and partnered with other small bagoong manufacturers to start a small business in 1989. She said that she owes her humble beginnings to Lorenzana which helped develop in her the skills she needed for the business as well as a keen eye for opportunities. The gratitude doesn’t end there because it was also through this company that Nanay Tess would meet her pillar of strength and number one fan.
“Kalakasan po ng luya noon. Naka-assign po ako sa pagbabalat ng luya at hindi ko po namalayan na may tumititig na pala sa akin (Ginger was very in demand at that time. When I was assigned to peel ginger, I did not notice at first that someone was already checking me out),” Nanay Tess said with a giggle, while recalling how she first met her husband, Tatay Manny. “Lahat ng binabalatan niya, nilalagay niya sa isang timbang maliit. Kapag nakatalikod na iyong bisor, binibigay niya sa akin, pandagdag timbang (He would put all his peeled ginger in a small pail. When the supervisor is not looking, he would give it to me so I could fill my pail).”
Nanay Tess and Tatay Manny tied the knot in 1980, three years after they met. Her husband has since been very supportive of her business endeavors, taking care of raw materials purchasing, delivery, and customer relations.
In lieu of biological children, the Lord has generously blessed the couple with an opportunity to raise two beautiful children. Though not their own, the couple managed to send the two kids to school. Angel, their eldest, graduated from the Lyceum of the Philippines with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management while Eula, who has yet to finish her Business-related course, has already joined the family business.
The sweet part would be eclipsed by the bitter when differences in business objectives plagued the relationships that she had with her business partners. When the others wanted to secure a loan even if the business was at its peak, Nanay Tess suggested that they also fix the financial documents of the business. But it was received by her partners in a bad light.
“Pinagbibintangan pa nila ang mister ko na may ginagawang masama. Sabi ko, kung ganyan rin lang at wala na kayong tiwala sa amin, aalis na lang kami (They were also accusing my husband of doing something wrong. So I told them that if they did not trust us anymore, we were willing to leave the business),” Nanay Tess said.
The couple pawned their house and set their eyes to continue doing the business on their own. That’s where they found an opportunity to transfer from Navotas to San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan, where they were able to purchase a small lot. It was also in San Jose Del Monte where they learned about Tulay sa Pag-unlad, Inc. (TSPI), a microfinance NGO assisting microenterprises build their businesses.
The TSPI edge
It was in early 2010 when Nanay Tess joined TSPI with an initial loan of P10,000. After four years, her current loan amount is now P200,000, which is already nearing its payoff.
“Malaki ang naitutulong ng TSPI sa amin. Kapag kinakapos kami ng pang-kapital sa negosyo, lagi silang nakaagapay sa amin (TSPI has been a big help to us. Whenever we needed additional capital for our business, they are always there to assist us),” she said.
She was referring to TSPI San Jose del Monte, the branch that extended the financial services which
helped her sustain her business and helped her beef up her capital. This assistance from TSPI has greatly assisted her financial needs for the continuous production of her export-quality bagoong and other products like shrimp paste, shrimp fry, and Balayan sauce. With TSPI’s help, her business has already grown to employ 22 workers and she was already able to purchase a Ford Fiera for all her delivery requirements.
Nanay Tess adds, “Siguro nga po destiny namin na mapunta dito sa Bulacan kasi marami kaming natutulungan. Ang TSPI po ang naging tulay para makatulong din kami sa iba (Maybe it is really our destiny to be transferred here in Bulacan because we are able to help a lot of people. TSPI became our bridge to be able to help other people).”
Relyn Descalsota, Nanay Tess’ trusted assistant for the last nine years, attests to her employer’s generous and helpful nature.
“Marami na po kaming napagdaanan ni Nanay Tess. Hindi po niya ako kadugo pero pamilya po ang turing niya sa akin. Hanggang ngayon, tumutulong siya magbigay ng trabaho sa ibang tao dito sa amin at tumutulong din siya sa simbahan (Nanay Tess and I have already been through a lot. We are not related by blood but she treats me like family. Until now, she still helps by giving employment to her community members and she also helps the church),” Descalsota said. She added that Nanay Tess has donated part of her earnings to the construction of the church within their community.
Apart from the active donations to the church construction, Nanay Tess and her husband has also been conducting feeding programs for street children.
When asked about her opinion on the five characteristics that a successful microentrepreneur should have, Nanay Tess was quick to share. “Nagsusumikap. Determinado. Malakas ang loob. Masipag. At matipid (Persevering. Determined. Courageous. Industrious. And thrifty),” she said.
These winning virtues, evidently possessed by Nanay Tess, paved the way for her nomination as Microentrepreneur of the Year to the 12th Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards (CMA) hosted by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Citi Foundation, Citibank, and the Microfinance Council of the Philippines, Inc.
Now on its 12th year, the CMA has chosen Nanay Tess as its National Winner for the Microentrepreneur of the Year category among a rich pool of small entrepreneurs from different microfinance institutions all over the country. This accolade, the highest recognition given out by the CMA, has a corresponding cash prize for the chosen winner.
“Answered prayer ito. Malaki ang kailangan naming halaga para sa inaayos namin with BFAD. Ngayon, wala na akong problema sa mga bayarin ko (This is an answered prayer. We need a huge amount for our expenses with the Bureau of Food and Drugs. Now that I have won, I won’t have any problem with my expenses anymore),” Nanay Tess said.
Nanay Tess will be awarded in formal rites on December 3, together with other successful winning entrepreneurs from various categories such as Microentrepreneur of the Year for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao and Special Awards for Innovation, Agri-business, and Community Service.
Her recognition is a testament to her years of hard work and unwavering faith in the Lord’s gracious ways. Nanay Tess makes sure that her success will be a meaningful one by giving back to her community.
“Hinihiling ko naman palagi sa Diyos na gamitin niya ako para makatulong ako sa kapwa ko. Kung ako ay isang mayamang negosyante, iyong mga nakikita ko sa daan, bibigyan ko ng trabaho iyan (I always ask the Lord to make me an instrument to be able to help other people. If I were a very rich entrepreneur, I would give jobs to the unemployed people I meet on the street),” she said.
They say that the mark of a successful person is when you finally get all your ducks in a row. But for Nanay Tess, success came at the expense of a steady line of fish.