Sunday, November 4, 2018

Interview with Cebu's Ellen Deldig: Single Mom, Three Degrees

Ellen Deldig, a regional manager of a Filipino pizza chain, isn't the first choice for an interview subject. Yet, she provided one of the best interviews I've had. 
Ellen at 32 Umber Cafe in Cebu, Philippines.
Q: You were born and raised in Cebu, Philippines, though you spent ten years in General Santos (in Mindanao province). People like you call themselves Cebuanas. What does it mean to be a Cebuana? 

A: It means we were born in Cebu and our experiences are from Cebu. I prefer here than major cities like Manila. One reason is because I enjoy speaking my own dialect, Cebuana/Visaya, which is not spoken commonly outside of Cebu. 

Q: What do you think about President Duterte? 

A: I voted and campaigned for him. He is one of the better presidents we've had aside from Marcos. He's already implemented two significant changes: one, he's extended passport validity from five years to ten years, and two, he's implemented a national ID system that will give every Filipino bank access as well as reduce welfare fraud

Q: You mentioned Marcos. Wasn't Ferdinand Marcos one of the Philippines' most corrupt politicians? 

A: My older colleagues and my parents told me otherwise. It's true Marcos declared marital law around 1972, which allowed him to imprison many of his critics, including Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. However, after Aquino's assassination in Manila in 1983, Corazon Aquino, his wife, became presidentIt was called the EDSA Revolution

[Interviewer's note: despite being declared the official victor of the 1986 election, protests in Manila against a rigged political system caused Marcos to flee the Philippines, allowing Corazon Aquino the presidency.] 

Q: The revolution seems to indicate Marcos was not doing a good job. 

A: I try to validate what I read with people 10 to 20 years older than me. The older generation told me [Ferdinand] Marcos wasn't corrupt, but his wealth led to a backlash of envy against himself and his wife. [Interviewer's note: people all over the world can still remember his wife's massive prolific collection.] 

Q: How much money do you think the Marcos family amassed? 

A: Trillions [of pesos]. 

Q: Do you think Ferdinand Marcos got this much wealth through honest work? 

A: I can't say that. 

Q: So why are you saying that Marcos was not corrupt? 

A: Because he was wealthy before he entered politics. I don't have evidence he received most of his wealth through embezzlement. I'm basing my views on the older generation's opinions. They were saying back then, life was more simple, commodities like rice were cheaper, they could buy sufficient food for just 10 to 20 pesos, and the agricultural industry was more stable. 

[Interviewer's note: rice farmers play an outsized role in Asian countries, including in developed Japan and developing Thailand. Despite the modernization movement post-1945, most of the world's workers are still involved in agriculture. From Max Roser's "Employment in Agriculture" (2018): "While more than 2/3 of the population in poor countries work in agriculture, less than 5% of the population does in rich countries. It is predominantly the huge productivity increase that makes this reduction in labor possible." Furthermore, agricultural products for consumption in Asia went from 4% of imports in 1960 to a 14% share in 2000, a change negatively impacting many farmers.] 

Q: Let's move away from politics. You are a single mom. What has that experience been like for you in Cebu?

A: I gave birth in my early twenties, when I was finishing my second degree at university. It was not easy. People would ask, "Where's your partner?" "You must be married, right?" After I gave birth, with my parents' help, I continued to finish my second degree, so I was a working student and a mom. 

After a year, I finished my second degree and became a manager for a restaurant chain in 2008. I realized working in management would be tough, and I needed to be competitive, so I took a third degree. My first degree was Fisheries and Food Processing/Technology; my second degree was Fisheries in Aquaculture; and my third degree, in 2010, was Business and Administration for Executives [an MBA]. 

Q: How did you deal with health insurance costs in your twenties when you gave birth?

A: Since I was a student back then, I had no insurance. I gave birth in a private hospital. I paid cash, no discount. Since I was working--I was a working student--I had saved up some money. It wasn't enough, so my parents pitched in. 

Q: What did your parents think when you told them you were pregnant?

A: I didn't really inform them ahead of time. It took me seven months to get the courage to tell them. I knew it wouldn't be their expectation. My parents felt sorry for themselves, but not for me. As parents, they felt responsible. They had let me go away for college, and they thought I could have done better had they not let me go to a different city [General Santos] on my own. 

Q: You went to a public school, Mindanao State University. What was it like going to a public college? 

A: I was on scholarship, so I had to maintain a certain grade level. [Interviewer's note: the "scholarship" mentioned here is an allowance.] 

Q: Do Filipinos generally prefer public or private schools?

A: In Cebu, the best private university is University of San Carlos, but we also have public universities like Cebu Normal University and University of Philippines at Cebu. We have options, but when I attended public school, tuition was free.
I attended public university because my parents could not afford a private one. 

At the same time, private colleges have courses not offered in public schools. For example, in my time, the Broadcasting Journalism major was only offered in private colleges. Also, the public university curriculum was more rigid. You could only take certain courses if you had the grades and certain scores on the entrance exam. [Update: before you could be admitted into a university, you had to take an exam administered by that particular university. The higher your score, the more options you had.] Based on my exam results, my only options were within the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Fisheries. I really wanted to be a TV journalist, but that major wasn't offered on my particular campus. 

Also, by studying agriculture, I received an allowance, the result of a public-corporate partnership. (A private corporation's foundation would sponsor students in a particular field.) It turned out I didn't like the courses, but I had to take them because the opportunities were immense. Once I graduated, I was guaranteed a job. 

I had the most fun auditioning for a theater group. My college days were fun because of theater. After I had my son, I was still active in theater, but I discovered my love for theater before him. Theater made me feel like I was doing the closest thing to broadcasting as I could. 

Q: Now you're the regional manager of a Filipino-owned pizza chain. What's been the most challenging part about your job? 

A: Meeting the KPIs [Key Performance Indicators], i.e., the targets related to profitability, etc., not just in one specific branch, but across different regions. If you really wanted to break it down, the biggest challenge has been managing people, and that's where my Executive MBA helps. 

That reminds me--I had taken my MBA courses when I was working in a call center [BPO, or Business Process Outsourcing]. I did that because BPO paid well and you got two rest days, whereas in the food industry, you only had one rest day. I got promoted in my BPO job, and after three years, my former food industry contacts also offered me a promotion as manager of a single restaurant branch. The job offered 30% less, but I had already paid for my MBA, and I liked the position and the opportunity to gain experience. 

Q: What's your favorite part about working in the food industry?

A: It's dynamic. I consider myself a Millennial, but the people I work with are even younger than me. Every day I deal with diverse personalities, plus direct engagement with customers. I also travel for work, which puts me in touch with even more interesting people. 

Q: What advice would you give to single mothers in their twenties?

A: It's not going to be easy, but it's worth it. Having a child is fulfilling, and it gives you a purpose in life. Depending on your outlook, it can make you more driven. As I look back, if I didn't become a single mom, I might not be in the Philippines because I might have decided to follow other paths. At the same time, I would probably be more self-centered, and I have no regrets. In my case, it helped bring my family even closer. I want to credit my parents for really supporting me. 

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