Yellowbelle Duaqui

Yellowbelle Duaqui


Dr. Marie Danielle V. Guillen: The Transport Research Maven and Her Return Journey

by Yellowbelle Duaqui

Dr. Marie Danielle V. Guillen, an Associate Professor of the Asian Institute of Tourism of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City, is one of the leading transport researchers and urban and regional planning experts in the country today. After almost seven years of studying in Japan as a Japanese government scholar at Tsukuba University, where she finished a Master of Science and PhD degrees in Policy and Planning Sciences, respectively, and working as a Research Associate at the Asian Development Bank Institute in Tokyo, Japan, she returned to the Philippines in 2011 with the desire to contribute to national development by applying her technical skills, particularly in research, and eventually contribute to policy-development. Her decision to return to the Philippines was spurred by her desire to participate in the Asian Development Bank’s call for transport consultants for a Davao Project in Davao City, which is her PhD dissertation case study area for her informal transport study.

Before leaving for Japan, she was initially into development work, leading an anti-smoke belching campaign as part of the Clean Air Campaign and Pasig River clean-up projects of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP). Her active NGO involvement led her to represent the Philippines at the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program sponsored by the Japanese government, where she joined a group of youth from all over Southeast Asia and Japan. This started what would eventually become her over a decade-long relationship with Japan. A friend she met in this program then invited her to pursue a master’s degree in urban planning in UP Diliman since there were scholarships offered in the field of transportation. At the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP) in Diliman, she pursued a master's thesis comparing the pedicabs of Intramuros, Manila, with Los Banos, Laguna. This is the first study in the Philippines on this topic. She then eventually pursued a Japanese government research and degree scholarship in Japan.

As a graduate student at Tsukuba University, her technical expertise in policy and planning was honed with university training, which entails attending and presenting her research outputs at local and international conferences, not to mention some summer and winter trainings in Switzerland and China on sustainable development. She was able to publish her research in academic journals, a journey that started while finishing the six-month Japanese language course at Tsukuba University, where she was encouraged to write a related transport article about comparing the transportation of Japan and the Philippines (in Japanese), and this got published in a respected academic journal in Japan.

While at the university, Dr. Guillen’s favorite place was the library, followed by the international center. She also immersed herself in Japanese cultural activities, where she learned ikebana (the Japanese art of arranging flowers), sumi-e (Japanese painting), and cooking Japanese food. She also joined the Science and Technology Advisory Council-Japan, a group of science and technology practitioners organized by the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo to contribute to Philippine nation-building via knowledge transfer and developmental activities, as well as the Association of Filipino Students in Japan and the Filipino Association of Scholars in Tsukuba to have a stronger relationship with compatriots who are also studying in Japan.

Upon returning to the Philippines, she embarked on consulting work in the transport sector with international development organizations, local and international firms, the government, and the academe working part-time as a faculty member of the Ateneo de Manila University-Japanese Studies Program. She has actively advocated for inclusive mobility, especially those related to active transportation and public transport service policy reforms. While she has been involved in many local and international transport-related projects, including a three-year stint at another international development agency (GIZ), she has been consistent in her academic endeavors of research and mentoring. This year, she has embraced teaching in the academe on a full-time basis, keeping her ties with the private university but returning service to the university that started it all. She gets especially inspired when there is a student signifying an interest in doing research. She is currently an elected board member of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines and one of the core members of the Women in Transport Leadership in the Australia-ASEAN region. Her current research initiatives are in the field of transport tourism, comparative studies in transportation, informal transportation, transportation, gender, and climate change.

Even if Dr. Guillen has a cadre of credentials to clinch transport-related career opportunities in the world’s core countries, she believes that returning home to the Philippines is a good decision, as this is where she was able to apply her knowledge, even if there were challenges along the way. She believes that the country remains fertile with the opportunity to make a difference.

© Yellowbelle Duaqui 2023


Column 1

The Return Journey

by Yellowbelle Duaqui

Filipino students in Japan are temporary migrants who can either choose to stay longer in Japan or choose the exit option. The first option entails entering the Japanese labor force then working for permanent residency. Meanwhile, the second option can either be re-migrating to a second country other than Japan or the homeland or returning to the homeland.

In this newly inaugurated column called “Balik Pasada”, I would like to highlight my return to Jeepney Press as a columnist under a new standard head. I used to write for Jeepney Press as a regular columnist under “Arangkada Pinoy”, where I wrote about my thoughts and experiences as a graduate student in Japan from 2008 until 2011. As a return migrant to the Philippines myself, I would like to dedicate Balik Pasada to the theme of return migration, where my goal is to share about my conversations with fellow return migrants from Japan (with their permission) about our experiences reintegrating in the homeland in various aspects of their lives – career or employment prospects, business or investment opportunities, continuous learning endeavors, advocacy projects, family life, among other things. What are their current challenges and difficulties, and how do they overcome them? Given their migration background, what helps and what doesn’t? What facilitates successful returns? Did they ever regret their decision to return to the Philippines?

In this maiden essay, let me begin with my own experiences. As a former student in Japan, return migration as a topic holds a special place in my heart. In 2011, I can still vividly remember how I can’t stop myself from crying aboard Keisei Line all the way to Narita Airport to board my final return flight to Manila via Japan Airlines. This was the culmination of my three-year and a half-Monbusho stint in Japan, which started in Spring Term of 2008 as a Research Student (Kenkyuusei) on Japanese government scholarship studying the Japanese language at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and ended with my completion of my master’s degree in Global Studies from Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan during the Fall Term of 2011. I didn’t want to return to the Philippines that time. But news of my then 89-year-old grandmother in a bedridden condition after suffering from an accidental fall (and I am a certified Lola’s girl!) made me pack my bags immediately in order to serve wholeheartedly as her caregiver. While I was aware of various possible opportunities for me in Japanese academia for PhD studies or working for Japanese companies, my full attention was on my grandma’s needs, which became one of the major reasons for my eventual return to the Philippines.

In 2013, the opportunity to join one of the Big Three universities in the Philippines opened up for me. I got hired to teach Sociology to university students and to do research! From the village, I plucked my grandma to join me in my rented condominium in Metro Manila. From our unit at the 32nd floor of the building, my Lola asked: “Nene, ano ‘yan clouds?” “Opo Nay, malapit na tayo sa langit,” I replied. Doing my dream job and living with my grandma is the best situation for me. In 2014, she peacefully passed away at age 92. Looking back to my decision in 2011, I realized that going back to the Philippines has been divinely guided. If I stayed in Japan after my master's graduation, I would have lived a lifetime of regret for not being able to personally care for my grandma during her twilight years, during her most vulnerable period. Further, had I not returned in 2011, I wouldn’t have landed my dream job as a faculty member in a top-tier university in the Philippines.

As a returnee, reintegration into the Philippine society isn’t a bed of roses. Often times, the values, beliefs, and habits imbibed in Japan might be at odds with prevailing modes of thought and ways of living in the Philippines from time consciousness down to work habits. Worse, I even find myself returning to situations and environments that caused me to leave in the first place. But I have returned this time equipped with more maturity, strength and capability to deal with complex situations. As what Jim Rohn stated, “Don’t wish it was easier: wish you were better.”    


© Yellowbelle Duaqui 2023

Serendipity and the Longing for Return: My Personal Relationship with the Our Lady of Jaro, Iloilo City

by Yellowbelle Duaqui

From Tokyo where I was having an ongoing Japanese Studies fellowship awarded by the Japan Foundation Manila and conducted under the wing of the Institute of Asia, Africa and Middle Eastern Studies at Sophia University, I flew to Manila last December 2018 to spend Christmas with my family and then flew to Iloilo City afterwards to attend the wedding of my Filipino-American first cousin to an Ilongga lady.    

After the wedding, my mother, my balikbayan aunt from the United States and I (all of us are Catholics) did a church tour around Iloilo City and the towns lying on its outskirts. The churches included in the tour were the following: Molo Church, Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral, San Jose Parish Church and the Miag-ao Church.

The first on our list was St. Anne’s Molo Church, which is situated in the Molo District of Iloilo City. It is said that the Filipino saint Pedro Calungsod canonized by Pope Benedict in 2012 came from this area. St. Anne’s Molo Church is also known as the “Feminist Church” or the “Women’s Church of Iloilo” due to its all-female saints featured on its main aisle. Consistent to this label, the church is also noted for having statues of Greek goddesses on its front yard.  

In contrast to St. Anne’s Molo Church, Iloilo City also has a “male church” located in its Jaro District with its National Shrine of Our Lady of Candles (Nuestra Señora de la Purificación y la Candelaria) or the Jaro Metropolitan Cathedral with its all-male statues of saints on the church pillars leading up to the main altar. The Jaro Cathedral is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, and is the second National Shrine in the Visayas next to the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City. Another interesting feature of the Jaro Cathedral is the location of its bell tower (Campanario de Jaro), which is built across the street and once served as a watch tower during the Spanish colonial era.

Entering the Jaro Cathedral at noon, I noticed how I suddenly felt cold despite the noontime heat. I’ve had goosebumps all throughout my church visit from the time I entered the main door of the church up to the time I left. By the church door, I whispered to my mother that I felt cold. She told me to just keep it to myself and pray. I then went to the Chapel of Lights next to the church and lighted a peach candle, which symbolized forgiveness. I prayed for God’s forgiveness of my faults and failings.

After visiting the Jaro Cathedral, we proceeded to the San Jose Parish Church, the first church in Iloilo built in 1607 by the Jesuits. In the church interior, a figure of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and a replica of Santo Nino de Cebu stood above the tabernacle. Finally, we went to the Church of Miag-ao (also referred to as Santo Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its Baroque Romanesque architectural design, the church façade transported me to a bygone era, interspersed with my own thoughts and feelings as I wandered around the church premises.

Going back to Manila, I was still in awe with the impact of the trip to Iloilo City, and how I felt particularly with my visit to the Jaro Cathedral. Doing a little research on the church, I discovered that the shrine of the Virgin Mary is often visited by devotees who believe that it is miraculous. The statue is 400 years old and is said to be fished from the waters of the Iloilo River in 1587 by a group of fishermen who found it floating – which remains a puzzle to this day considering that stone statues could not float. It is the focal point of the yearly Jaro Fiesta celebrated every second day of February. The Blessed Pope John Paul II, who celebrated a mass on February 21, 1981, has set a crown upon the Our Lady of Purification and Candles and declared it the Patroness of the Western Visayas.

Astonished by my discovery, I resolved to return to Jaro Cathedral again. This opportunity was presented this year, as I attended a conference by the Philippine Political Science Association in Iloilo City last June 2023. On the heels of cancer surgery and treatment this year, I continue to search for personal meaning and purpose for my life’s experiences. Just like my first visit, the moment I entered the church vicinity by the Chapel of Lights area, I felt the same cold breeze during my first visit, causing me goosebumps all over again. This time, a green candle was available to be lighted, and I dedicated it for a nun friend who was about to have surgery that week.

These encounters with the Our Lady of Purification and Candles in Iloilo City continue to be a mystery to me. What started as a serendipity has turned into a deep longing for continual return. Every visit marks a unique turning point in my life, and I also learn something new about this place, which seems to purify and heal me. I am deeply grateful for the way the Heavenly Mother has made herself known to me in my personal life.

© Yellowbelle Duaqui 2023