By Milagros B. Gonzalez

She is the mother of celebrity Drew Arellano and the mother-in-law of another celebrity, Iya Villania; she is also the daughter of former Pangasinan governor and minister of the Department of Agrarian Reform Conrado Estrella Sr. But Bernadette E. Arellano, 68, of Rosales, Pangasinan, has created her niche in the agriculture industry as a quiet but powerful force in the promotion of malunggay, the so-called “wonder vegetable.”

Malunggay’s Benefits

“Bernie,” as Arellano is fondly called, is convinced of the nutritional benefits and healing powers of malunggay. Thus, she wants this vegetable propagated and consumed by people of all
ages nationwide.

The malunggay advocate, Bernadette E. Arellano, at her residence in Rosales, Pangasinan.

Malunggay’s scientific name is Moringa oleifera; in English, it is known as the “drumstick” or “horse radish” tree. It is abundant in the Philippine countryside as a backyard vegetable, and is a popular addition to bread, soup, and various viands. Filipino recipes like tinolang manok, corn soup with malunggay, and malunggay-enriched pandesal all contain the leafy green
vegetable.

Packed with nutrients like calcium, iron, phosphorus and vitamins—especially Vitamins A and C—it has many medicinal uses, with all its plant parts utilized for that purpose. The young leaves of the malunggay are fed to lactating mothers to increase their flow of breast milk. Malunggay fruits and leaves are good for constipation, hypertension, gout, and asthma. Powdered roots are
used for inflammation and swelling.

So many are malunggay’s health benefits that Arellano herself consumes five capsules of malunggay every morning, noon, and evening. She believes her quick recovery after pancreas
surgery—much to her doctor’s amazement—was due to malunggay’s benefits.

Her Advocacy

Arellano founded the Moringaling Philippines Foundation, Inc. (MPFI) in 2009 to “build up a strong, sustainable and globally competitive moringa industry in the Philippines.” Members include farmers, processors, exporters, consumers, exporters, and health enthusiasts.

Every year, the foundation organizes the Moringa Congress, during which members meet to share experiences, listen to discussions of trends and advances in the industry, and network with other participants. Although Arellano is no longer the chairperson of the MPFI, she actively participates in its activities.

She believes that malunggay is the key to preventing malnutrition among children and she strongly advocates for its propagation and consumption. Arellano maintains four malunggay farms, with three in Rosales, Pangasinan, and one in Porac, Pampanga. In Rosales, she has 20,000 malunggay trees planted in her one-hectare (ha) farm, and 10,000 trees planted in her six ha farm in Brgy. Acop, Rosales. The rest are planted in her 2,000 square meter (sq. m.) farm in Brgy. Tumanay, Rosales, Pangasinan and on a 40 sq. m. farm in Porac, Pampanga. For every tree, she harvests one kilogram of malunggay leaves.

A farm worker cutting malunggay stems at the organic farm in Rosales, Pangasinan.

An organic farmer, she instructs her workers to observe good agricultural practices in the malunggay farms. “There should be no be chemicals lying around the farm, [not] even empty
bottles. There should be no plastic or other materials…Our native pigs, chicken, tilapia [are not fed] on inorganic feeds. We feed them with darak (rice husk) coming from our little rice mill, then [we feed] kangkong [to] the pigs; [the plant] just grow wild in my ponds.”

Arellano envisions the establishment of a training school for barangay health workers, mothers, and out-of-school youths. In this school, TESDA courses like vermiculture, agri-entrepreneurship (including malunggay production in the backyard), Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), and so on will be taught.

“Then we will graduate [to] a higher level, [which is why there is a] solar dryer [installed on my] farm,” she revealed.

Patnership with PHilMech

Always a willing development partner, Arellano narrated that when a study by the John Hopkins Hospital was conducted among schoolchildren in Luzon, she supplied the malunggay powder added to the pandesal which the school children ate. Whereas before, the children were lethargic, malnourished, and always absent in class, after their consumption of pandesal with malunggay, their weights increased, they became more active, and began to be always present in school.

Her partnership with the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech), a government agency under the Department of Agriculture, is in keeping with the Public-Private Partnerships she espouses.

Malunggay partners: Dr. Cristy Gragasin of PhilMech and Arellano.

It started with Dr. Cristina Gragasin’s research on “Enhancing the Quality and Safety of Moringa Products.” The PHilMech research study developed appropriate and improved processing systems for malunggay leaves to produce nutritious and safe dehydrated malunggay products. Arellano provided the malunggay leaves for Dr. Gragasin’s research.

How has PHilMech helped Arellano in her malunggay production and business? She explains that Dr. Gragasin has always volunteered for the betterment of the foundation, and her study was conducted at their processing plant. Dr. Gragasin is an awardwinning Supervising Science Research Specialist of the Bio-Processing Engineering Division of PHilMech. It was during her research period on malunggay that Arellano met Genara Matsuoka, another PHilMech partner in malunggay research. Arellano supplied seeds and moringa powder for Mrs. Matsuoka’s needs and export business. Meanwhile, Matsuoka also supplies processed moringa capsules to Arellano for her daily needs.

Bright Prospects for Malunggay

With the increasing cost of medicines, the rise of malunggay as an alternative drug and food supplement is a welcome development. Initiatives from the Philippine congress spearheaded by women legislators are paving a bright path for malunggay. In March 2014, Congress passed House Bill 2072, authored by Congresswoman Gina de Venecia of the fourth district of Pangasinan. The bill proposed malunggay as a national vegetable and November as malunggay month.

Similarly, Senate Bill 104 (the Malunggay Development Act) authored by Senator Loren Legarda has been proposed. The bill is for the allocation of PhP 1 billion for the production, marketing, and processing of malunggay. Earlier, Senate Bill 2099 or the act establishing the malunggay industry was proposed by Senator Cynthia Villar to help provide a source of employment and livelihood to many Filipinos.

Arellano is currently a board member of the Philippine Institute for Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC), an attached government corporation of the Department of Health (DOH). The corporation aims to provide alternative health care to Filipinos, especially the poor sector. PITAHC’s advocacy efforts, Arellano pointed out, can be seen in their lobbying for the inclusion of malunggay in the popular Bahay Kubo song. This way, it is believed that the importance of malunggay as a vegetable will be emphasized among schoolchildren and their parents, she explained.

Yes, bright prospects are in store for malunggay in the near future, thanks to strong women advocates, consumers, and partners like Arellano.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s June 2016 issue.