The congresswoman from La Libertad

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - October 1, 2020 - 12:00am

There are 312 members of the House of Representatives, 85, or 27 percent, of them women.  Among the women legislators is Jocelyn “Josy” Limkaichong, representative of the first district of Negros Oriental, whose election to the legislative department several times is on account of her feet being on the ground, with her priorities being women’s concerns and the plight of farmers and the less privileged.

Josy, a comely  61 next month, had no inkling she would be one of the 85 stars in the firmament of the  18th Congress and in the previous 13th, 14th  and 17th Congresses.  She finished high school at Silliman University in Dumaguete City and after finishing the  accounting course at De La Salle University, graduating as first honorable mention, she assisted in the establishment of an uncle’s auto parts business and married  Lawrence “Dodong” Limkaichong Jr., who became the mayor of La Libertad, a town 105 kilometers north of Dumaguete city.

Lessons she learned from helping out in her uncle’s business would come into play when she was elected La Libertad mayor (2004-2007) and House representative (2007-2013 – six years) and 2016 up to the present (six years). Then there was the influence of her father, the late Julio Ong Sy, who successfully developed, from scratch, enterprises ranging from trading to  distributorship, real estate, shipping, banking and sugar milling and  served as chairman of the board of trustees of Silliman University. Practical lessons she got from her mother, the gregarious Anesia Uyguangco Dy, originally from Medina, Misamis Oriental her model as the wind beneath her husband’s  wings. Josy’s sister Jeanne Krebs is president of Busco Sugar Milling Company; another sister has passed away. Her two brothers are  Julio Jr., who is into distributorship of food products, and Jonathan, a trader of essential commodities like sugar, flour and oil.

Josy’s  husband is a mechanical engineer whose  parents came from Fujian province in China. His father was a school teacher and a businessman who later became a politician in La Libertad.

Dodong grew up in La Libertad, became a councilor, was appointed by President Cory Aquino as vice mayor for a total of three terms, then won as mayor in the next election. When his term ended in 2004, he prodded Josy to run for mayor, which she did, initially with hesitation, but agreed, as “a leap of faith.” After Josy’s term ended in 2007, Dodong  became mayor again – from 2007 to 2016, and from 2017 up to the present, again as vice mayor of the same municipality.

Josy proudly says Lawrence’s  priorities included infrastructure programs and water works, and he focused his attention on developing human capital and advocating for responsible parenthood. In fact, La Libertad was the only municipality at the time that was recognized for its local initiatives in responsible parenthood.

As a mayor’s wife, Josy ”never meddled in the town’s affairs. I was always behind the scenes, pushing for my own personal advocacies.” Her biggest achievements then were raising funds for the purchase of toys for kids on Christmas and joining medical missions.

When she became mayor, she tried to inculcate “a different kind of service because of my orientation and background in business. In the district, there was no venue for seminars and for recreational activities, so I saw it as the opportunity to build La Limar Beach Resort, which is attracting local and foreign tourists.”

For farmers, she started the Bagsakan Center where they could sell their vegetables at low prices. In addition, she helped kargadors and vegetable vendors form labor organizations which different agencies recognize by giving them trainings and various seminars.

Since she assumed office at the House, she constantly pushed for programs “aimed at developing human capital and helping the growth of micro-, small and medium enterprises in my district and in the country at large.”

She supported weavers in the district, their products using indigenous materials include handbags, floor mats and baskets that are sold in commercial stores and trade fairs as far as Manila.

Her chief concern as a woman legislator is “to excel in public service despite the glass ceilings in a male-dominated political environment. I have been working to promote equality and women’s rights by supporting measures that give equal opportunity to women and safeguard them from all forms of abuse.”

Bills she supported are the “Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act,” on the strengthening of national and local health and nutrition  programs, development  of entrepreneurship skills among government employees, poverty reduction through social entrepreneurship, instituting a socialized micro financing program and expanding the functions of the Negosyo Centers.

Running for a congressional seat had its challenges. When she first joined the race, her opponent challenged her nationality but the Supreme Court held that she was a natural-born Filipino. “After assuming office, I had to do a lot of adjustments since I shifted from the executive to the legislative department.”

She had tried to make it to the governorship in the 2013 local election, but lost to the incumbent governor.

She summarizes  her platform as the “HEART ni Josy Program.” This means  health, education, agriculture, rural development, trade and tourism. “Health will remain my utmost priority. Health should be accessible not only to those who can afford it. I also believe that the sector that demands the greatest attention from our government is agriculture.

“Our farmers earn very little and yet we owe them so much. In rural development, my goal is to significantly reduce our poverty incidence by providing support in the cultivation of our agricultural lands together with the implementation of more sustainable livelihood programs in our rural communities. This will also facilitate trade, which has been one of my biggest advocacies as a legislator.

“I also advocate for local tourism. It has been a constant source of livelihood for many people in our district. I have been working together with the community to make sure that the Apo Island, the Manjuyod Sandbar and the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes, among many other attractions, will be protected and not exploited.”

Josy and Dodong have four sons. The eldest, Lawrence III, finished information  systems at Ateneo and civil engineering at Silliman  University. Luke, an industrial engineer, is working in Germany as part of the quality control team of an agri-chemical company. Leonard has a BA in business administration, from DLSU, and is now taking up data science at the Asian Institute of Management. He is his mother’s chief of staff in Congress. Justin, the youngest, has a bachelor’s degree in plastic engineering  (summa cum laude) from the University of Massachusetts where he is currently taking his master’s degree in the same field and is taking yet another masteral course in Oxford University.

During this pandemic, Josy is constantly monitoring the implementation of the SAP or the Social Amelioration Program (first and second tranche) and overseeing  the implementation of Bayanihan 1 and 2 in her district. “It is more difficult  now that communication is no longer personal. My meetings are mostly conducted through Zoom and sometimes, the instability of internet connection makes work more challenging and less efficient.”

She makes time for her hobbies. “I love watching K-drama on Netflix and cooking for my family.”

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