Mrs. Maria Lani Empleo Barrera
If there is one thing that could take her away from the job that she loves, it is a career in broadcasting.
She has always been fascinated with how one's voice can command such authority and respect. She looks up to veteran broadcaster and TV personality Tina Monzon-Palma, and considers her “regal” in her every delivery of the news. She recalls that if only her parents were more supportive and able, she would have pursued what her heart beats for. And broadcasting could be considered her true love as while already “very happy” with her current assignment as Secretary at the College of Nursing, when an offer knocks on her door to join TV or radio, she would, with barely a gasp, gladly accept it.
Mrs. Maria Lani Empleo Barrera, Lani to many and MElanz to family, is a graduate of the then School of Communication (now College of Mass Communication). She obtained her bachelor's degree from Silliman in 1991.
She is the eldest among four siblings. It was at age six when she and her family transferred to Dumaguete from Cebu. They decided to live with her mother's aunt and her husband who did not have a child and whom they consider as their grandparents. Unlike most ordinary kids whose life was marked with the streets as their playground, hers was one of a princess locked up in a castle.
“We were always inside the house. And my grandfather never forgot to padlock the gate. After school, we barely had 30 minutes to play. By 5:30PM, we were already inside the house. We're all fair-skinned, and our neighbors somehow liked to talk about us every time they saw us peeping out of the window inside the old big ancestral house,” she narrates.
Still at a loss up to this day if it was out of guts or a prank, Lani shares that there was one time when a guy serenaded her. “But the problem: It was his first and last! I don't know until today who that guy was.” She is certain though that it wasn't her husband. “My husband was brave enough to court me and see my parents eye-to-eye inside the house.”
Her love affair with broadcasting might come off as a surprise to many. Even to her, in her early college years, the idea, as a saying goes, was “so near yet so far.” The level of confidence that the profession demands, she admits was not with her.
“Coming from another school, I lost my self-esteem when I entered college in Silliman. And that was ironic because I was a performer when I was in high school; I joined many activities, competitions, and I was an honor student,” Lani recalls.
She managed to get back on track when mid-part of her college years, she was close to becoming a Class Honor. “That was when I realized: 'I'm not that dumb after all.'”
Despite being aloof in college, she received praises for her voice. One classmate, who is some good years her senior (and now a popular broadcaster in Dumaguete), encouraged her to develop further her potential in broadcasting. Notwithstanding the push and her dream to become a broadcaster, her life after graduation whisked her away from the idea.
Lani joined Silliman as a contractual employee in 1996. She handled the PABX, the telephone system that connects callers to the different offices in the University. That may have been the closest she got to broadcasting as her sweet voice that almost always made callers visualize her smile, created her humble following. She was able to make friends as she connected a person to another within the University by a phone call. Her way of dealing with clients on the phone left some asking who she was and earned her a spot in the minds and hearts of those whose jobs she helped make easier.
And so when a vacancy was announced at the College of Nursing for the position of Secretary to the Dean, it came natural for her to figure on the shortlist and eventually get it. It was in the College where she fully “mastered” herself and gained more confidence. Up to this day, she expresses gratitude to her former boss, now Graduate Programs Coordinator Dr. Teresita Sy-Sinda for the experience.
“Her management style and the way she empowered her staff made me believe in myself more. I could not have completely broken free from that feeling of inferiority if not for Dr. Sinda,” she said.
Like a Filipino telenovela, while already starting to feel better about herself, life poked her. What she was already struggling to address since she got married reached its tipping point. Lani and her husband had been wanting to have a baby. They had tried to have one since they got married. And the process was not as complicated until in 2003, when she was confronted with two options: risk her job to rest and have a baby or continue working and further compromise her chances at successful fertility.
Things were already difficult for her even before that.
“It was very painful to be at family gatherings and be asked why I still didn't have a baby. My husband comes from a big family, and it hurt when people hinted at how it was a waste for us not to have a baby.” she said.
That developed bitterness in Lani. “I was bitter about life. I questioned why I can't be given what most had.”
But she pushed on.
“I went to the doctor. I took pills. I did everything I could for us to have a baby. To no avail. Sometime in 2003, I decided to go through comprehensive professional care that required regular monitoring and check-ups and, most important of all, rest,” she explained.
But 2003 was when nursing was catching on fire. The demand was high, and this was when the population of the College started to balloon.
“I could not just go to the hospital for my scheduled check-up. Work required my presence, and shuttling back and forth to the hospital was taking its toll on me. I decided to put a stop to it. I chose my work,” she said.
Lani offered her pregnancy to the Lord. “If He wills it, it will happen,” she told herself. And 2003 was also her turning point in life. She felt a miracle embracing her and freeing her up of the bitterness.
“I learned to accept that I was the one who has a hormonal imbalance. Why should not having a baby stop me from living my life? I surrendered it to the Lord. When He gives it, you will have it. Nothing is impossible,” she says.
And her new outlook in life changed her. The same faith influences how she faces head on whatever trials come her way.
What Lani lacks as a mother, she fills by being a doting aunt to her sister's three children whose father is British. She does not deny still feeling the longing to have a child especially whenever she sees a baby. But she comforts herself: “Why focus on one thing that I do not have? Looking around me, I have so many to thank the Lord for.”
Let's get to know Lani more:
Describe yourself in three words.
Sweet. Loving. Funny at times.
What is your mantra in life?
To live a purpose-driven life while still on earth for God's glory. Chances are I may commit the greatest mistake in my life where there is no room for regrets, and I have to go back to the Cross. Through that I am assured that I am forgiven and accepted back by my loving Father in heaven.
What makes you laugh/cry?
I easily laugh about simple yet funny things that happen every day. I cry when things in my life and at work are so overwhelming and start to get out of control; and also when I am frustrated.
What's your favorite time/day of the week and why?
On weekdays: After office, when I'm back in my home at Silliman Heights — that's where I feel secure and I'm most relaxed. On weekends: Saturday! Doing the laundry and cleaning the house help me get rid of stress. Sunday, too, because that's when I'm with my family and my brothers and sisters in church.
What do you love doing when not working?
Stay at home and do some household chores while listening to Christian music. Or go to the beach, if not be at the farm of my brother.
What is your favorite hangout place in the University?
What makes you blush?
Whenever I bump into my idol. Or whenever I receive a beautiful compliment.
If you were an actor/actress, who would you be?
Meryl Streep. She's a versatle actress who makes good movies that offer a lesson. She's also very respectable.
Tell us a fact about yourself?
Workaholic with a Type A personality but considerate when others fail to meet my expectations. I'm afraid of heights, lightning and gekos!
What's your favorite game growing up?
Chinese garter, kayukok and sprint.
What is your idea of a relaxing day?
When there are no work-related calls and text messages. That would also have to be me at the beach, being lulled by the breeze in my white dress, wearing a hat and with black sun glasses on.
What one thing would people be interested to know about you?
I don't pretend and hide who I really am. My life will be an open book for those who want to know me deeply becasue everything that transpired in one way or another is merely a manifestation of God's greatness. Even until this time I am letting Him write the rest of the chapters of my life story. I know the journey ahead will not be easy, but He said that I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me ( Philippians 4:13).
What song best describes the YOU and the life you have now?
“Lord I offer My life to You”
What is the first thing you do right after waking up in the morning?
Thank the Lord for the gift of life, and read my Bible.
What's your idea of a family?
A family that is God-centered. Love, respect, forgiveness and humility are the ingredients of a happy and contented family. Time spending with love ones is a must because if you give your time it means you give them yourself, and if you give them yourself, you give them love.