People stereotypically believe that men are always the strong, the grandiose, and the prevailing character. Even the television portrays that men are authorities and women are not.

If people only knew, the last man standing is a woman.

Cordella Delos Santos can get all things done, albeit breaking on the inside. She exudes the bravado of a strong woman who can keep a straight face, although on the brink of losing herself.

“I worked from home due to comorbidity,” she uttered without batting an eye.

“In June 2016, my husband who is a former OFW, returned home, because he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer stage 3B.’’

Delos Santos, who is fondly being called as “Ma’am Dei” is highly respected by her colleagues in the CAMANAVA Field Office of the Department of Labor and Employment – National Capital Region (DOLE-NCR).

She shared that her life was in chaos the first time she set foot in the DOLE. She was then still trying to familiarize herself with the tasks as she had just moved from the Philippine Statistics Authority. But just when the going got tough, she pressed on.

“Naranasan kong pumapasok mula sa Philippine General Hospital (PGH) dahil doon na ko natulog sa sahig sa PGH ward, doon na rin nakiligo, at doon na din uuwi from work. I am from Hagonoy, Bulacan kaya hindi pwedeng uwian.”

Her mind was perplexed with the bills and finances, not to mention the laboratory exams, treatment, radiation, operation, chemo therapy, and medication.

“Yung alam mong wala kang magagawa kung di magdasal na lang, umiyak, at huminga ng malalim kahit sa bawat higop ng hangin parang may bubog na bumabara sa lalamunan. I was literally dead inside, while maintaining a strong facade.”

A stark reality dragged her to the pit just a month before the last chemo therapy session of her husband. After the series of breakdowns, she discovered that her husband cohabited with his paramour abroad.

“They planned to get back together after the chemo. Since the discovery, we separated. I was left with tons of debts, and a son to care for.”

“He died with two other wives present at the funeral. I buried him September 21—the day after my birthday.”

Her heart may have been heavy from the mental anguish and emotional distress, but her commitment to the government service showed no signs of wavering.

Under her leadership, the membership of the Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (TIPC) skyrocketed in figures in the last five years. The numbers of Caloocan City TIPC has expanded from 24 members to 116 members; Malabon City TIPC from 34 members to 153 members; Navotas City TIPC from 26 members to 47 members; Valenzuela City TIPC from 108 members to 158 members; and Manufacturing Industry Tripartite Council (ITC) from 136 members to 281 members.

All these hard work paid off when she was nominated as the DOLE-NCR Best TIPC Implementer in 2020 and finally bagged the award the following year in the same category.

“I serve with great dedication and I regard government service as a vocation. Public service requires giving everything for the service. Sa serbisyo publiko, hindi mo pwedeng sabihing hindi pwede, dahil kaakibat ng serbisyo ang gumawa ng paraan para maging pwede.”

When asked about the first woman who comes to her mind upon hearing the word “empowered” this is what she said: “I guess no one in particular, because I believe all women have that innate ability to bounce back from challenges, reclaim their life, as if nothing ever happened.”

END / Clarisse Marquez