November 21, 2019
photos Dookie Ducay
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Through collective action, the climate change advocate believes it as a step towards building a sustainable future for everyone

On Manna: 18K floating earrings, MANILA DIAMOND STUDIO, The Dilag long sleeves, CARL JAN CRUZ courtesy of TROPA.
On Manna: baroque pearl stud earrings, PRANCA courtesy of TROPA, 14K white gold double tennis bracelet, MANILA DIAMOND STUDIO, floral jacquard shirt dress, DEBBIE CO.

Spending much of her childhood summers up in the mountains and by the ocean, Manna Vargas learned to cherish these moments of solace and serenity, as well as the bonding moments with her family. Their trips to witness and experience the wonders of nature developed her passion for it. Yet like all other children, with growth comes gradual enlightenment on the realities of her environment. Among those are the prevailing inequalities, especially in the country. Joining ABS-CBN’s Bantay Kalikasan and ABS-CBN’s Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, Manna says, “Those experiences greatly influenced the choices of where I wanted to steer my life.” At a young age, Manna already knew and understood her purpose, and that is working from the ground up to help thousands of lives.

Before diving into the real work, she took up Environmental Science at the Ateneo de Manila University and eventually continued her undergraduate studies and earned her master’s degree in Sydney. Taking a Western approach to studying climate change posed a difficulty once she returned to the Philippines. “My initial reaction was to feel small, insignificant in comparison to the overwhelming challenges faced by these communities,” she says continuing, “But apathy and defeatism are antithetical to overcoming our most pressing environmental and developmental challenges, so bearing in mind that every little action matters, has definitely helped.”

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On Manna: gold link chain necklace and 14K emerald illusion necklace, MANILA DIAMOND STUDIO, Harlow earrings, FINA courtesy of ARANÁZ, Evie cami & Ali midi skirt in lavender, ANIKA, white polka tulle overlay, MICHAEL ROSERO courtesy of ARANÁZ.

A Noble Purpose

Fast forward to a few years later, she is now the Partnerships Manager at the Oscar M. Lopez Center. The institution envisions itself to find science-based solutions to building resilient communities living amidst the climate crisis. On the outset, Manna’s work may seem technical and intimidating, especially for those unfamiliar or out of touch with environmental issues. “Our work then is to communicate the science in such a way that it can be appreciated, understood and acted upon by a vast majority of society,” she shares. It proves to be a challenging work compared to her tasks as a student. “I was no longer operating on just theory and concepts but rather placed in front of those we were living out the realities I had studied.”

At the OML Center, Manna stresses the importance of passion, commitment, and team effort to pursue their goals and exceed them. It makes sense as environmental concerns did not stem from a single person nor is it an exclusive issue. As populations grew in number and systems changed over the course of generations, the state of the planet has gotten worse and has been doing so at a fast pace. Thus, Manna fully shows her dedication to working in the center. Among their projects is Mga Kwento ng Klima, a documentary on climate change in the Philippines. Soon to be available on ABS-CBN platforms, the stories aim to inform viewers in an engaging way. Manna is proud of these continuous efforts, exclaiming “One thing our country isn’t short on [is] brilliant and determined minds looking to further this work!”

On Manna: diamond hoops, MANILA DIAMOND STUDIO, white high neck blouse, MARK TAMAYO courtesy of ARANÁZ, SULU jumpsuit, PIOPIO.

Demanding for Real Action

With the recent events across the globe, it had come off a surprise that a sixteen-year-old girl from Sweden had become among the leaders championing the conversation about climate change. Greta Thunberg’s dedication to convening world leaders and different sectors to take real action on the planet’s crisis is truly remarkable. Manna shares a similar sentiment, “It’s inspiring as well as unsettling that it had to take the young people to walk out of school, strike outside government buildings and public roads for even marginal action to happen.” Yet with the uprise of these young climate leaders comes the first positive result we all need. “The upside is that more and more people are paying attention,” Manna says. “It is just a matter of harnessing that concern and pointing towards the direction of positive change and productivity.”

With the massive spread of public attention from the youth uprisings, it is high time to take true climate action. Manna believes real action comes from a collaborative effort, especially in our country pressured by systemic barriers. “The country’s development issues need to be viewed as more systemically, more holistically,” she says. “Issues to be addressed at their root causes and not as singular, isolated challenges.” In spite of these challenges, Manna remains optimistic about what can be done. With the Filipino concept of Bayanihan in mind, she stresses its important role in the country’s growth. “If we never lose that… we stand a chance at ensuring a more just and sustainable future for the entire country.”

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On Manna: diamond drop earrings, MANILA DIAMOND STUDIO, kimono blazers with puff sleeves Spring/Summer 2020 Concordia Voyage collection courtesy of ARANÁZ, Kalinaw dress, KWENTO, Love Birds scarf terracotta courtesy of TROPA, flamingo tiki tote, ARANÁZ.

The Green Lifestyle

Manna’s work at the OML Center is certainly inspiring as her passion reflects in her entire lifestyle as well. The climate change advocate’s home seems to be a nature sanctuary filled with different plants. Manna shares she enjoys conversing with fellow plant enthusiasts to know which ones would be perfect for her room. “Beyond aesthetics, ensuring a plant’s livability is something crucial to me because if I were to be completely honest, I haven’t been blessed with the greenest thumb,” she says. The natural elements allow more breathing room and for creativity to strike. After all, Manna needs it with the multiple roles she takes: a mother, a student, a manager, and an advocate. “It’s a lot but it’s the pursuit for fulfillment in all these different roles that keeps me motivated,” she explains.

In spite of wearing different hats, Manna believes in the help of managing her time well and sorting out priorities. Through these, she finds herself taking steps to make radical changes in her life. One of which is encouraging people to recognize the situation of our world. Living on this planet alone demands accountability and responsibility from people. “If you do and that still doesn’t make you act, then you are obviously not paying enough attention,” she says. This is how much Manna values the environment and the meaningful life she has now which is “Being fully present in my life and the lives of those that I love.”

Photos: DOOKIE DUCAY
Art Direction: PAU DE MESA
Hair and Makeup: ERICA MANOSA assisted by RIKKA VILLAREY
Styling: GEE JOCSON assisted by MADES HAUTEA
Shoot coordination: ALY TIMOG

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