See How Special Envoy to UNICEF Nikki Prieto-Teodoro Fights for the Welfare of Children
Drop dead gorgeous. Oozing with sophisticated sex appeal. Born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Uptown girl. This is the first impression one usually, and unfairly, makes of Monica Louise Prieto-Teodoro. Unfair because it barely scratches the surface. To use a cliché, she is all this and more.
The wife of former government official-now-back in private business, Gilbert Teodoro, currently holds the position of special envoy of the President of the Philippines to the UNICEF. The appointment is a perfect fit. Nikki, as Teodoro is more familiarly called, has fought for the welfare of children since she was elected to the 14th Congress of the Philippines representing the first district of Tarlac province.
The fact that she believes her performance in the Lower House paved the way for this special post shows a sign of level-headedness. “The reason why I was given this [appointment] was because I founded and chaired the Child Welfare Committee in Congress,” she says.
We are in a guest room of her beautiful, tastefully designed home as she is being preened for this cover pictorial. Stylist Patrick Rosas, even if he tried, could do no wrong to mess up the perfect canvas before him. But Nikki is not at all concerned about eyeshadows and curlashes or rouges and lipstick shades. Her attention is on this part of the interview where she talks about her acquired passion.
"When I was asked by Gilbert in 2007 to run for Congress, I told him I did not want to be the typical politician," she says. A fair request—Nikki certainly is not your typical politician; she is not a politician at all. "I discovered that the best thing for me was to focus on something, and this turned out to be a passion for the protection of children."
She was in a good position to advance her advocacy. As a congressional representative, she had access to people who helped her form the standing committee. “It surprised me [then] that there were so many different committees in Congress and yet not one specifically took care of the welfare of children,” she says.
Relentlessly, she authored three bills to protect the rights and to promote the welfare of children. The Anti Corporal Punishment Law (HB682) prohibits and penalises corporate punishment on children. The Anti Child Exploitation Law (HB683) raises the age of a rape victim from 12 to 16. The Anti Child Pornography Act (HB684) defines the crime of child pornography with its corresponding penalties.
And her deeds went on. On 9 December 2008, a home for special needs children who were abused, abandoned, and neglected by their respective families arose on a one-hectare lot in San Francisco East, a barangay in Anao, Tarlac. The facility was built from Nikki’s congressional funds and supported by her Golden Rooster Foundation. She also donated nine out of its initial 11 buildings (the other two came from foreign funding) and the guardhouse. AMOR exists to “accelerate minors’ opportunity for recovery.”
The name, of course is the Spanish word for “love.” “That is also how I call Gilbert,” Nikki winks.
Although AMOR was immediately turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for maintenance and operations, Nikki has continued her support particularly in finding partners and donors. Considered the biggest facility of DSWD in Region 3, AMOR currently houses 118 children who are taught by SPED teachers. They are also trained in livelihood projects like recycling bags and rugs as well as gardening with plastic bottles.
A nurse is regularly available at the clinic and infirmary and by December, a dental clinic will be added. On top of these, there is a therapeutic garden, a covered court for physical activity, a worship centre with Christian service every Sunday, and an evacuation area in case of disasters.
Centre Head Melba Vinluan has only praises for their generous and indefatigable supporter. “Ma’am Nikki has been an inspiration to us to work with a joyful heart. The first time we met her, we right away felt her passion, love, and commitment in helping the children. Even if she is not a politician anymore today, she does not forget to help us. How I wish there will be more like her,” she says.
The pictorial is proceeding smoothly. Nikki is now all dolled up in a coral gown by Rajo Laurel with matching accessories especially flown in for her from Singapore by Bvlgari. The photographer Wig Tysmans is not wanting for beautiful backdrops as the house is full of photogenic possibilities. Its unique feature is a 30-foot high skylight by Architect Ed Ledesma in the living room. Every piece of furniture, every decorative item is precious, tastefully chosen by Nikki herself. Not surprising. After all, she has a good background in these things, having taken auctioneering courses in the United States while her husband was studying in Harvard.
A 300-year-old liquor box, ivory and tortoise shell fans, Fabergé eggs, ivory religious icons. A letter opener from a czar was handed down to her by an uncle. A painting by a Ukrainian couple hangs on one of the living room walls. The solid 25-foot molave main door came from the late Omeng, the best wood supplier in the Philippines, embellished with antique door knockers by Nikki. Precious finds from all over the world and through the centuries by this lady with an international upbringing as well.
Nikki went to exclusive schools like Marymount, St Joseph’s, and Notre Dame in California. She studied international marketing and trained in international economy at Webster University in Geneva, Switzerland.
She speaks several languages but had to perfect her Tagalog when she came home to the Philippines in 1990, intending to merely drop by and accomplish an errand. Except she met Gilbert and life was never the same.
The couple is blessed with one son, Jaime Gilberto, 20, who is studying in London, and where Nikki spends most of her time these days, like a doting mum. All of 6’1”, Jaime who is in Manila at the time of this pictorial for his summer holiday has not quite decided what he wants to be; but, according to mum, he is a leaning towards anything humanitarian. Goodness must be genetic.
There’s the legal side of it, there’s the mental side of it, and then there’s also the nurturing side of it. These children still need to have a mother and a father figure
— Nikki Prieto-Teodoro
As this story is being written, Nikki is in New York, having just attended two separate high-level events at the 74th UN General Assembly in this new role she was appointed to. She spoke on Anti Child Trafficking, which she says is “a multi billion dollar industry” and called on key stakeholders to unite in advancing the eradication of child trafficking. She was clearly effective in her mission. The UN report said: “High-level officers of organisations working for the welfare of children commended her for being a visionary in the sphere of child protection.”
The report mentioned her past and current initiatives revolving around this “personal advocacy of fighting for children’s rights” and touched on a pet project that she is pouring her energies on, the Anti-Child Trafficking Office or ACTO.
Nikki is clearly in high spirits. Earlier in the morning of this pictorial/interview, she received the go-signal from President Rodrigo Duterte to go ahead and start organising her concept of a special agency to protect children from being trafficked.
She envisions ACTO to serve as a separate entity without supplanting or duplicating existing mechanisms but complementing them as ACTO will be focused on channeling information on child trafficking. It will also serve as a central repository of data specifically for anti-child trafficking.
The objective is to have accurate data to inform evidence-based policies of relevant agencies that are involved in the issue of child trafficking. She believes that such an office will play a vital role to help eliminate child trafficking in the country.
This “very long overdue agency” according to Nikki will involve a lot of people because it has so many facets. “There’s the legal side of it, there’s the mental side of it, and then there’s also the nurturing side of it. These children still need to have a mother and a father figure,” she says.
She will, however, not be daunted. As she recalls the report about a victim who is only six months, she is more emboldened. “Trafficking is more than sad, it is evil,” she says.
Nikki knows exactly what she wants: “I am working towards the Philippines where children will not only be safe, healthy, and better educated but also respected, innovative, and potential leaders on an international level. They will be leaders and influencers of world trends and opinions.”
While she has been recognised by many for this endeavour, Nikki treasures most the support from her husband and her son. “Both my boys are proud,” she says. Then adds with passion and confidence: “It’s a lot of self-worth because I’m not doing something for myself. I’m doing something for the next generation, and that’s the future.”
- Photography Wig Tysmans
- Art Direction Anton San Diego
- Styling Monique Madsen