PLDT-Smart’s GK Village in Sooc continues to promote sustainability

Though it has been over a decade since they were relocated, Marife Tormon still remembers life at a dumpsite in Barangay Calajunan, Mandurriao, Iloilo City.

She and other former residents of the waste disposal area recall how accustomed they were to struggling. “Our children were on the streets, and we were rummaging through other people’s garbage for food,” Tormon said.

Things took a turn for the better in 2009 when leading digital services provider PLDT and its wireless subsidiary Smart Communications (Smart) gave them new homes at the telco’s sixth adopted Gawad Kalinga (GK) nationwide project. Located in nearby Barangay Sooc, Arevalo, the community was named as the PLDT-Smart Amazing GK Sooc Village. 

Livelihood for a new life

More than merely providing shelter, PLDT-Smart helped establish the Sooc Social Ventures (SSV), which initiated a variety of livelihood programs – from solid waste management, a trisikad business, and recycling old marketing collaterals.

Among the three initiatives, it was the latter that gained the most traction for GK Sooc residents and buyers. Tormon narrated how she and her daughter joined other women in their community for training on sewing and making recycled materials – such as turning old tarpaulins used in PLDT-Smart events into fashionable “tarp bags”.

“Residents of GK Sooc initially started with simple bags and basic designs,” said Smart Visayas-Mindanao Public Affairs head Atty. Maria Jane Paredes. Later on, SSV tapped the expertise of international lifestyle designer PJ Aranador to come up with more modern creations. “These were eventually sold under Aranador’s fashion label, Nautilus, promoted in his Iloilo restaurant, Wawa, and sold in his shop in Boracay Island, Aklan,” Atty. Paredes detailed.

The tarp bags of GK Sooc became even more popular thanks to the wonders of the internet. SSV currently showcases the recycled goods through various Facebook pages, which has allowed even global customers to take notice of their bags.

The online presence also caught the attention of trade show organizers in Manila, where Sooc ladies were able to connect with buyers from around Asia.

New materials, trends, and projects

SSV Manager Marilyn Platon admitted that sewing tarpaulins has now become more challenging. “The new tarpaulins are biodegradable, so they are thinner and harder to sew,” she said. To make it more durable, the women GK Sooc adds hablon - a type of woven indigenuous cloth - under the tarpaulin. “This makes the bag more durable, which is important since even buyers outside of the Philippines are looking at it online,” Platon explained.

Apart from online orders, SSV also receives direct orders for tarpaulin bags from institutions like West Visayas State University and John B. Lacson Maritime University. The enterprising moms have also learned how to make wallets, folders and other accessories much faster, in just a few minutes.

Now that they know more and are more confident with their craft, the ladies of GK Sooc are ready to take on their next big project - sewing the uniforms of the students of Iloilo Science and Technology University (ISAT) in La Paz, Iloilo City.

"There are 19 of us now who train every Saturday to make uniforms for ISAT,” said Platon. ISAT's project is called the Skills Training in Electrical Building Wiring Installation, Dressmaking and Tailoring. The gig is a big break for GK Sooc, with more than 10,000 enrollees estimated to need new uniforms every school year. 

Aside from used tarps, SSV also learned how to create recycled goods out of a very big waste contributor. “We collect plastics, which are cleaned before we turn them over to students of Ateneo, who grind them as part of a school project,” Platon explained.

“Afterwards, we use the ground plastic to make stuffed toys, furniture sets, and pillows,” she added.

Project Zero

PLDT-Smart’s initiatives in GK Sooc is part of a social entrepreneurship project called Project Zero, a partnership with GK Sooc Arevalo, Sooc Social Ventures, PJ Aranador, GKnomics, Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), and Business Fair Trade Consulting. “It was named as such because this livelihood aims for zero unemployment and zero garbage by making products with zero electricity and carbon footprint,” Atty. Paredes explained.

Platon and other Sooc ladies even got to travel to Dumaguete and Cagayan de Oro to share learnings from Project Zero with other resettlement communities. The initiative has also been awarded with international titles from the Asia Communications Awards and World Communications Awards.

As the residents of GK Sooc have come a long way, Platon gratefully looks back and acknowledges how support from the likes of GK and PLDT-Smart allowed them to have better lives.  “PLDT-Smart’s livelihood programs taught us well, and we have been able to provide for our family’s daily needs,” she said.

“However, it is with how they gave us the eagerness to continually learn – even at our old age – that I am more thankful,” Platon said.

The PLDT-Smart Amazing GK Village in Sooc, Arevalo, Iloilo is part of the community-building initiatives under the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.  The group remains committed to empowering communities by donating tools, providing training and livelihood, and connecting them to buyers around the world through the power of the internet.

For more information on the company’s other CSR projects, visit or send an email to