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Ex-HK OFW is now company owner & ‘kapitana’

24 March 2021

By Daisy C L Mandap

The 'punong barangay' with husband Rex and their two children

In the six years that she had worked as a domestic helper in Hong Kong, starting her own business and being in public service were never far from the mind of 36-year-old Janice Morales de Pablo.

In the first place, she and her former college sweetheart and now husband, Rex de Pablo, already had a clear idea of what business they wanted to set up. For another, she had always done something to help fellow residents of her hometown of Batuan in Balasan, Iloilo.

Long before she set out to work in Hong Kong in 2007, aged just 23, Janice was already deep into community work, having served as Sangguaniang Kabataan chairman in Batuan and vice president of the Sangguniang Kabataan Federation President in Balasan, a fourth class municipality.

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Her father, who worked as a carpenter and tricycle driver, was also a three-term barangay captain in Batuan, a role that her younger brother Dino also took on for a while, until he decided to become a fulltime police officer.

Thus, when the question came up as to who should next occupy the post, Janice, though heavily pregnant, became the natural choice, not only of her family but the other elders in their barangay.

Sabi kasi ng mga tao, ang daming naiwan na magandang legacy ang tatay ko. At saka bata pa daw ako at aktibo kaya marami pa akong magagawa para sa barangay,” Janice said. (People said my father left a lot of good legacies. Also, they said I was still young and active so I could still do a lot for our barangay).

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It thus came to pass that she ran unopposed for the post of punong barangay in 2018.

But that is just part of what Janice has achieved since returning to Iloilo in September 2013. With Rex, whom she married two years earlier, she started not just a family, but also a company that they had long dreamed about.

Janice says the company which they called 21 Designs Printing Services, was one of the reasons she decided to work abroad, and grab an opportunity to join the Ateneo Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship course in Hong Kong.


Lagi akong matamlay noon kasi gusto kong magkaroon ng additional learning. Kaya nung mabasa ko sa The SUN ang tungkol sa LSE ay agad akong nag-apply,” she says. “At yung 21 Designs ay produkto ng paggabay sa akin ng The SUN publisher Leo A. Deocadiz bilang mentor ko sa LSE.”

(I was listless then because I wanted to have additional learning. Thus, when I read about LSE in The SUN, I immediately applied. And 21 Designs was the product of the guidance I received from The SUN publisher Leo A. Deocadiz, who was my LSE mentor).

A treasured photo of Janice's Ateneo LSE batch graduation 

With capital pooled from their savings and investments from Janice’s father and two siblings, 21 Designs was officially formed in 2018. 

But the seed for it started way before, when Janice and Rex agreed to set up a T-shirt design and printing business. At the time, Rex was working as an artist for a printing press in Molo City owned  by Rosendo Mejica, a cousin of former Consul General to Hong Kong and now Ambassador Noel Servigon.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

On the side, the ever resourceful couple who both have a computer technology degree, was already doing printing jobs, but needed to raise more capital to start their own business.

In 2011, armed with newfound confidence in running her own business, Janice went home to marry Rex. However, she decided to go back to Hong Kong to serve another two-year contract as they needed more money for their dream business.

When she finally went home for good Janice poured her energy into setting up the business she and Rex had long worked hard for. In between having two children who are now six and three years old, the two began building the company that they now call simply as 21 Designs.

Seven years hence, the company that is registered in Janice’s name now has a fulltime staff of five: two artists, one secretary, one machine operator and one t-shirt printer. Rex acts as chief of operations while Janice and her two siblings who are also invested in the company handle the finances, marketing and supply procurement.

From their initial venture of T-shirt design and printing, they have branched out to doing car and motorcycle stickers, decals, calendars, shop receipts, risograph and photocopying. When demand for a certain product drops, especially amid the pandemic, they shift to doing other services.

By this time, the couple had decided to move from Molo to a more laidback life in Balasan, where they have bought their own home and a rice field that has been augmenting their monthly income.

Janice in her souvenir shop in Balasan before it was damaged by Typhoon Ursula
Janice tested her business acumen further by setting up a shop called Bugay Pasalubong in the town center, where she sold native products created by native Aetas in the province, and inmates in a nearby jail.

But the focus on their own business never waned, so that in no time, their company acquired a reputation for quality, dependability and good service. It now counts among its satisfied clients several local government units and agencies like Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) and companies like Yamaha and the St. Peter’s group.

Like any other businesses, 21 Designs has had its ups and downs. Surprisingly, the one that devastated it more was not the pandemic, but typhoon Ursula which struck in December 2019, leading to lots of order cancellations, and caused extensive damage to their souvenir shop.

Mahigit Php100,000 ang talagang nalugi,” Janice says. (We lost more than Php100,00).

Then came March, and Covid-19 dealt them a further blow with schools canceling T-shirt orders and other services like printing souvenir programs and book-binding.

But, with their innate resilience, Janice and Rex found ways to cope. They took on other printing jobs, and with his photography skills, Rex even worked as wedding photographer to generate additional income for their family.

Janice, on the other hand, embraced public service and has been busy dreaming up and executing projects for Batuan like installing street lights, buying mono bloc chairs for the barangay hall, school supplies for children and medicines for senior citizens, and acquiring a grass cutter and initiating “Regalo sa Basura” to promote cleanliness.

Most recently, Batuan bested all barangays in Balasan when it won the Communal Garden 2020 award initiated by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to address malnutrition.

The jobs of running the barangay, helping out in the business and looking after her children have taken their toll, says Janice, “kaya ang payat ko na.” (That’s why I am so thin now).

But she has no regrets. Having survived six years working as a domestic helper abroad, and a longer time setting up a business, starting her family and taking up public office, there is no doubt she will continue to survive, and thrive.

Her advice to OFWs still dreaming of going back home and starting their own businesses shows her simple secrets to success: “Magsipag at magtiyaga, at siyempre, manalangin din. Kasi iyan ang pinaka powerful sa lahat.” (Work hard and persevere, and of course, pray, because that is the most powerful [weapon] of all).


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