Alumna Cornelia “Nel” Rillera continues to inspire indigenous communities in Kalinga 

Cornelia “Nel” Rillera, a full-blooded member of the Kalinga Tribe, an indigenous community in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Philippines, is proud of her humble beginnings, which continue to inspire her professional and personal achievements.

“My parents were farmers. My father finished Grade 3 and my mother Grade 6. They didn’t want us to experience the same hardship. Out of poverty, most women in the community marry early.” Despite scarce resources, Nel finished elementary as the class valedictorian. She then graduated with honours in high school and was offered a scholarship at Saint Louis University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications arts and a master’s degree in public administration. Empowered by her education, Nel devoted herself to public service, working at the Civil Service Commission (CSC) CAR since 1989. She started as Personnel Specialist I and rose from the ranks to become Director III. The CSC’s mission is anchored in human resource management and the organisational development of government workers—also Nel’s passion.

Drawing inspiration from Australia

Nel’s desire to serve and learn reached new heights when, at 51 years old, she was given the opportunity to pursue postgraduate studies through an Australia Awards Scholarship. Her Australia Awards journey allowed her to appreciate the value of immersing in other cultures and gaining global perspectives. “In our tribe, a lot of things are communal. There is strong value in sharing and bayanhihan. I also saw this value in Australia. Their indigenous communities are well-organised. I wish the same for the Philippines,” she said. Nel completed her Master in Human Resource Management at the University of Newcastle, which equipped her to become a more strategic HR practitioner. “In Australia, I saw the value of strategic human resource management. There is a critical partnership between management and the HR unit compared to traditional HR practice. HR is not considered a side function only but a major key element.”

Adopting Strategic Human Resource Management

As the chairperson of the performance management team of CSC CAR, Nel and her team dealt with recurring HR problems such as the lack of standards on quality, efficiency, and timeliness in self-rating personnel; time-consuming review and calibration processes; and inconsistency in applying performance measurements. Taking these challenges into consideration, Nel pursued the implementation of a Strategic Performance Management System (SPMS) in CSC CAR and the development of policies to support it as her re-entry action plan (REAP) for Australia Awards. Nel went through the entire process of identifying key core functions of different units and field offices. As a result, she developed improved outputs and metrics in terms of efficiency, timeliness, and quality.  The management validated these and eventually became part of CSC CAR’s policies. Teresita Biteng, Chief Human Resource Specialist at CSC CAR, underscored the relevance of the manual. “The CSC CAR SPMS Manual has served as a guide in implementing performance management system in regional and field offices and as reference for other agencies in crafting their performance standards. These standards are continuously revised to align with the CSC’s overall performance objectives”. Meanwhile, Ruby Verceles, former Head of CSC CAR’s Human Resource Division noted the usefulness of the manual. “It was beneficial for me, especially when I reviewed and evaluated the SPMS of other government agencies, which are submitted to CSC CAR for approval. I used the manual as a reference in rendering technical assistance to other government agencies, helping them  develop their agency performance standards. The agencies appreciated it because it allowed them to understand performance standards as measures in evaluating the individual performance of their employees”. With the implementation of the SPMS, the staff in CSC CAR are more focused on what needs to be done. With just 43 staff in the regional office, that means better services to the people. As a result, CSC CAR ranked as number one among 16 CSC Regional Offices for three consecutive years (2016-2018) in terms of the office’s actual accomplishments vis-à-vis their core, strategic, and support performance commitments.   CSC CAR was also categorised as “Best Office” under the guidelines of the Performance-Based Bonus, which benefitted all CSC CAR officials and employees. Nel also applies her learnings in Australia to other initiatives beyond her REAP. “I learned the value of networking and partnership in Australia. That is very much needed in implementing programs. I applied this in our work. For learning and development, we partner with other agencies in the conduct of their programs.”

Empowering the Indigenous Peoples (IP) Community

Aside from her dedication to her work at the CSC, Nel is also passionate about promoting Cordilleran cultural heritage. As an advocate of wearing indigenous or traditional Cordilleran attire, she encouraged the use of authentic weaves such as inabel produced by local women weavers for the gala uniforms of CSC CAR . She also encourages employees to wear colourful Cordillera-inspired attire during events such as awards programs and ceremonies, conventions, and symposiums. As part of her advocacy, Nel also ensures that CSC CAR events incorporate native chants and intermission numbers . Every October, to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Month, she and CSC staff share indigenous stories, poems, and riddles.  Nel also coordinated with the Department of Trade and Industry-Kalinga to promote and sell face masks made of Cordilleran weaves to support women’s groups during the pandemic. Nel’s passion for service continues to inspire indigenous communities in Kalinga, especially women. Her advocacies have made a difference in the lives of the people around her. Recently, inspired by Australian natural parks , Nel acquired a passion for gardening, which led her to set up her own “Ivy’s Garden” Resort and Farm in La Union, where locals can commune with nature. The farm  employs women gardeners, an essential source of livelihood during the pandemic.
After 33 years of service at the CSC CAR, Nel was reassigned to CSC Regional Office I in San Fernando City, La Union as Director III, effective 1 January 2022.