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POWER ON THE PACIFIC RIM : Changing Lifestyles : How Three Asian Families Work, Play, Learn and Pray : Meet the Arellanos of Hagonoy, Philippines . . .

May 21, 1991|ABBY TAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FATHER: Florencio Arellano, 41, nicknamed "Nonong," or quiet , helps with deliveries and repairs machines in the family garment business.

MOTHER: Maura Arellano, 43, petite, speaks at machine-gun speed, typical of the hard-driving Filipina in a matriarchal society; she really runs the factory.

CHILDREN: Son Christopher Arellano, 16, a high school senior who says he wants to be an engineer but really would like to be a pilot.

Daughter Charito Arellano, 14, who loves to sing and wants to be a newscaster.

Son Christian Arellano, 12, another would-be engineer.

LIFESTYLE: In a country where 54% of households live below the poverty line, the Arellanos are a Filipino success story. They are symbolic of the upwardly mobile entrepreneurs who have turned the garment industry into the country's biggest export earner. They are far better off than the average Filipino family, making twice as much money in a week from their small garment business as the typical Manila office secretary earns in a month. They have lived for nine years in one 200-square-foot room on the grounds of their modest wood factory, which doubles during the day as a nursery for their employees' infants.

But they will soon move into a proper, three-room house, which they bought for the equivalent of $10,800. They own a gray 1983 Toyota Corolla and two jeeps. "I am very happy now," Florencio said. "I didn't expect to reach this level."

ON WORK AND LEISURE: Near her wooden desk in a small office crammed with finished baby clothes is a color poster bearing Maura Arellano's motto, borrowed from Tennyson: "Arise, Go Forth and Conquer." But after profiting from an export boom in infants' clothing during the last three years, Maura said the family is ready to slow down.

"There was too much tension in the past three years," she said. "I was always quarreling with my husband. We could hardly eat. We couldn't talk to our children. They were asleep when we left for the factory and asleep when we arrived home.

"Patience is the key to success," Maura said. She and her husband started out as button-holers in someone else's back-yard factory. She was 16 and he was 14 when they met. Newly married nine years later, they worked for a time in a relative's factory. But then a dispute forced them out. Maura borrowed $100, bought a secondhand sewing machine, hired two workers and started producing baby clothes for her sister, who was exporting to Britain. It was 1980.

She was able to buy a jeep with profits from the first shipment. Her sister backed out of the project, but Maura found new exporters. As volume increased, she rented the land the factory now occupies and started building, using the jeep as collateral.

Now the Arellanos own more than 100 sewing machines and employ 120 workers, most of whom sew at home. They have no debt.

The Arellanos say they have no time to take a real, extended vacation. But they do spend a week a year at the Philippine mountain resort of Baguio. And on Sundays, after attending church, they go out to lunch in a restaurant and take in a movie. They say they want to take it easier in 1991.

ON EDUCATION: "Education is the only legacy we can give (the children) that can't be stolen or destroyed in a fire," Maura said.

Both Maura and Florencio admit they feel inferior because their own education ended with the sixth grade. "Pity," Maura said of her offspring. "They have to do their own homework. We can't teach them."

The Arellanos are determined that their children won't have the same handicap. Even when they were unsure whether their business would survive, they sent the youngsters to superior schools.

They also send to school one neighbor and a child of one of their workers as part of what is seen as a national obligation to strengthen the Filipino social fabric.

ON RELIGION: Maura was raised to be religious in this predominantly Roman Catholic country, and her faith is a part of her everyday life.

"It's God's will that I set up my own factory," she said, and the factory's walls are full of holy pictures. A statue of the infant Jesus is dressed in a blue-striped playsuit that Maura made, and a charismatic prayer meeting is held in the plant every Saturday.

One of the reasons Maura wants to take it easier is so that she can devote more time to God. She will head the local charismatic movement for a year.

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