She may only be 43 years old—an age when most of her contemporaries are just beginning to recognize their potential for public life and government—and yet Marlyn “Len” Belizario Alonte-Naguiat has already served the people of her beloved hometown in Biñan, Laguna for almost half her life.
The daughter of Bayani “Arthur” Alonte—former municipal mayor from 1988 to 1998—and Fe Erlinda Belizario—daughter of wealthy philanthropist Ildefonso Belizario—the young Alonte’s initial foray into politics was in 1998 when she ran and won as municipal councilor of Biñan. She was only 23 years old at the time; practically a fresh graduate of BS Tourism from the University of Santo Tomas who drew just enough experience from a brief stint in the corporate world.
Looking back, Alonte definitely had a calling for public life as she thrived in serving Biñan to become vice mayor in 2007, and thereafter, make history as the youngest mayor in the province of Laguna, as well as the first ever female elected to the post.
Today, Alonte—whose term as mayor saw much development and ultimately the cityhood of Biñan—has gone on to become its lone representative in Congress, and remains beloved by her constituents for her caring brand of leadership.
Alonte is especially admired by women, not only for her achievements, but for passionately pursuing their cause
wherever her political career may take her. She is, as they say, a leader who is all heart.
As such, even as this 2014 TOYM (Ten Outstanding Young Men) awardee is repeatedly recognized for her work in improving public health and access to education, to name a few of her many advocacies, Alonte is proud to say that women empowerment is closest to her heart.
Eager to explain why, she told The Sunday Times Magazine, “I believe that women must be both empowered and empowering. [In my capacity] I ascribe to Women Empowerment Principles (WEP) that propagates equity in the workplace.
“I particularly ascribe to a high level of corporate leadership for gender equality and the promotion of education, training and professional development for women.”
On a more personal note, she went on to reveal that her advocacy is also the result of challenges she met along the way in building a career in government. These, she added, are the same challenges so many women continue to face, no matter their field or vocation.
When she became a mother, a whole new set of challenges came her way in terms of juggling responsibilities for the home and the workplace, expectations on both sides and limited rights.
“More than a public servant, I consider myself a mother first and foremost. A mother dons on multiple hats; and for each role this important woman plays, she clocks in countless hours and pours her heart out.
“If you really take a closer look, women are actually responsible for our country’s future—they take care of our future public servants, lawyers, doctors and teachers. Hence, it is important to also take care of these women and to constantly raise awareness on issues that they are facing, and provide a stage for them to discuss topics significant for them.”
“My mom, a strong and resilient woman herself, has been my constant source of strength and inspiration all these years. Aside from raising five kids, she’s also been the wind beneath my father’s wings especially when he took on the role of being the town’s father. Growing up, I saw how a single woman could actually make a whole lot of difference in people’s lives.”
Alonte recalled how her mother busied herself with charity work on top of taking care of the family. Finding fulfillment beyond the home, the older Alonte went on to empower other women in Biñan and founded the “Green Ladies” group who devoted themselves to community work and environmental preservation in their free time.
“I think the message I got early on was that mothers need not be confined to their duties at home. They can contribute their time, energy and effort to the betterment of society while gaining self-worth.”
Eventually, her mother also joined the all-female Zonta Club of Laguna (ZCL), which enabled her to do more for society and fellow women, while recognizing her abilities and those of her peers.
As Alonte thrived in public service, all the while recognizing the need to bond with women and help them through their struggles, she followed her mother’s footsteps and became the second Zontian in the family.
Founded in 1919, Zonta International is a leading global organization of professionals empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy. To date, it has more than 30,000 members belonging to more than 1,200 Zonta Clubs in 67 countries and geographic areas, including the Laguna chapter.
Part of the club for 15 years now, Alonte explained that the club (a member of Zonta International District 17 Area 5) serves as a catalyst, conduit and channel to enable its members to share the best of themselves and combine the brilliance of minds with selfless service all toward making gender equality a reality.
“ZCL envisions a world where women’s rights are human rights and every woman and young girl will have access to resources for them to achieve their full potential,” Alonte proudly explained.
Fulfilled by the work they do while thoroughly enjoying the company of ZCL’s dynamic women, Alonte confessed their was a time she was hesitant to join the club given the demands of such an organization.
“During the first few years they invited me to become a member, I would politely say no what with my work in government. At first, I felt I wouldn’t be able to give the time they needed, knowing full well that Zonta is an honest to goodness ‘working’ club, rather than a social club.”
The women of ZCL patiently waited for Alonte to say yes, knowing in turn what an asset she would be, and in 2002 were thrilled to induct her as member.
“When I finally joined them, I came to admire the club and its members even more as I saw firsthand what they did for their fellow women and the less fortunate in our community. For, unlike other organization’s I’ve encountered, ZCL’s members aren’t the type who simply pose for photos and press releases. They take on meaningful but grueling projects, at times even using money from their own pockets to deliver and make a difference in the lives of others.”
So demanding as it may be, Alonte quickly realized the value of being a Zontian, and a Zontian’s value in society.
Now on its 27th year, Alonte acknowledged how ZCL has proven its worth as a mission-focused service organization. Proof is in the endless projects that have earned the club due recognition in District 17. Among these are the Continuing Literacy and Livelihood Education Program (CLEPP), Community Outreach Daycare Program (CODP), Women Economic Empowerment Program (WEEP), Free Legal Clinic (Karapatan Mo Alamin Mo), Buntis Fair (Maternal Care Forum For Expectant Mothers), No to Teenage Pregnancy, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, He for She Campaign and Support for UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Alonte is currently ZCL’s biennium president, a post she took as promised when she finished her term as mayor of Biñan in 2016. And just as she was the youngest serving mayor in Laguna, she is also the club’s youngest president to date.
Asked for her most notable project so far, the tireless lady leader cited her eponymous flagship project “Tatak LEN” under which specific activities are outlined toward achieving gender equality. (See sidebar for details).
Moreover, within a year, Alonte’s projects have already earned ZCL numerous awards from the Zonta community, among them the prestigious D.R.E.A.M.S Achievement Award in Empowerment through Educational Opportunities; Meritorious Continuing Service Projects (for maternal and children empowerment program); Meritorious Newly Conceptualized Service Project (for Sitio Balimbing Community Center); Meritorious Biennial Mission-Focused Project addressing United Nation’s Women and Girls (for Tatak LEN); and the D.R.E.A.M.S 1st Place Overall Achievement Award.
Amid all the accolades in her ongoing term as ZCL president, Alonte told The Sunday Times Magazine she is most proud of the club’s community-based enterprise development program for the women of Sitio Balimbing, in cooperation with Lingap-Saint Michael’s College Laguna.
“This is actually the brainchild of my mentor and former ZCL president Lourdes Sese. The program provides sustainable income to underprivileged women in the adopted community,” Alonte shared.
Under the project, a dumpsite in Sitio Balimbing, San Antonio, Biñan was transformed into the Milagros Limaco Community Center where some 15 mothers now make a living from making bags, rags, coasters and hand towels out of recycled fabric.
The center initially provided skills training and a small capital to cover the cost of materials needed and weekly
upkeep of the mothers.
Under Alonte’s leadership, the “mother-weavers” found a marketing arm for their products via Gifts and Graces Fair Trade Foundation Inc., which supply their goods to SM Kultura and Rustan’s among other retailers.
“What makes this project special because it gave more than just a livelihood to these mothers; it also gave them a sense of pride. They felt hopeless in life before all this happened, but today, they have a confidence about them, especially when they share their testimonials when guests come to see the center.”
As her term as ZCL president comes to an end, Alonte said that besides the tangible legacy “Tatak LEN” leaves the women of Biñan, she would like to think that she has also given them a sense of hope.
“I’ve always believed that giving women hope—to rise from their current situations and finally see the day that their rights will be recognized in full—is the best legacy I can leave as ZCL.”
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Defining ‘Tatak Len’
Linking with Government Organizations (GOs) on Gender and Development (GAD) issues
-Conduct consultation for possible sponsorship of a bill in the Congress of the Philippines
Empowering Women and Girls to achieve gender equality
– Strengthen campaign on Zonta Says No to Violence Against Women
– Conduct WEP (Women Empowerment Principles) lectures
– He for She: Engage Men as partners for gender equality
– Conduct Youth Empowerment Foras
Networking with Like-Minded Organizations/Non-Governmental Organizations to sustainable community development
-Uplift the economic, educational, political, legal, and health status of women and their families in their adopted barangays/communities
– Promote/Prepare for the ZI Centennial Anniversary Celebration