For many, retirement spells summer vacation on the beach, walking along with their dogs on the stretch of the beachline wearing a long beach gown over a hat; joining a cruise ship or maybe wandering in the malls, or even doing “APOstolic” mission. 

However, some are redefining what it means to retire. They still choose to reinvent themselves and achieve the kind of fulfillment and meaning in their lives. They wanted to do more, looking for more worthwhile activities with their desire to change the world and leave a legacy.

This may have been true in the case of Ms. Milagros Buenafe, 83, a former government employee from Brgy. Buenlag, Binmaley, Pangasinan, the owner-manager of Binmaley Rural Improvement Club (BRIC) Seafood Products.

Ms. Buenafe is a former Population Commission Officer of Binmaley town. A 4-year Secretarial graduate who works as a secretary of the then 3rd District House Speaker Perez, she now enjoys running her family’s fish processing business and at the same time helping others become self-reliant individuals by sharing her knowledge, skills and resources on fish processing and sustainable fishing enterprises.

Humble beginnings

Aling Milagros’ passion on fish processing started in 1989 after having attended a training on fish deboning sponsored by the Municipal Government of Binmaley through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). 

Seeing the potential of milkfish processing business as a profitable source of income for the group of women that she organized, she started her small processing venture in her backyard and sold the finished product to the nearest town. 

At first, success wasn’t easy for Aling Milagro’s business venture as it had its share of ups and downs. Without capital to start on, she led the members of the organization to venture into bangus retailing business by purchasing through credit from vendors in the local market. However, she ended up borrowing from ‘5-6’ money lenders with high interest rates, making her family even more oppose to continue on with her milkfish processing business.

This discouragement from her family has not dampen the high spirits of Aling Milagros. She went out from her comfort zone and asked for the assistance of BFAR together with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Science and Technology. Through these government agencies, she and her group was able to acquire financial assistance as well as tools and equipment for use in their fish processing business.

Her breakthrough

Aling Milagro’s business breakthrough started in 2004 when she joined the agri-fishery trade fair sponsored by the Department of Agriculture in Ilocos Region where they could sell and exhibit their products.

Her attendance provided her the opportunity to expand her marketing linkages, thus creating higher demand on her products.

During the pandemic for instance, her products have reached to as far as Bulacan, Parañaque, Metro Manila, Makati and Antipolo due to the increasing numbers of resellers and retailers of her products.

Local malls, like the Robinsons as well as restaurants in Pangasinan signified interest to be supplied with her products too.

With the continuing demand of processed milkfish products, Aling Milagros was able to produce more value-adding activities as it now reached around 25 locally-made variants to include marinated bangus in three flavors (spicy, original and sweet and spicy), deep smoke (spicy and butterfly style), relyeno, siomai, shanghai rolls, bangus sisig, bangus kilawin, bangus skin (chicharong bulaklak), bangus longganisa, bangus nugget and buttered bangus skin, among others.

At present, the BRIC Seafood Products is supplying around 10 tons of various processed milkfish to NCR and within Luzon area, and now expanding to tilapia and hito processing.

With the increasing demand of the seafood processed products, the 18 hectares fish cages of Aling Milagros’ family may not be even enough to supply the needed raw materials. Nonetheless, she was able to establish better linkages to the owners of fish cages in the nearby towns where she gets the supply on a wholesale basis.

During peak season, particularly on the months of March, April and “ber” months where the demands of her products is higher, Aling Milagros provides job opportunities to mothers and young alike as she hires more than the regular employees on an on-call basis. 

Her secret of success

Sharing the secret of her success, Aling Milagros identified hard work and perseverance as among her ways to reach her goal. Sharing whatever she have, especially her skills and knowledge in running the business paved the way for a meaningful success.

To do this, she conducts trainings and seminars for the mothers and the youth who are interested to learn the basics of fish processing and seafood business operations for free.

Having blessed with 12 children, and now all professionals, Aling Milagros wanted to be remembered as the kind, generous and hardworking fellow who wanted to see her brand at the international market.

For now, she has been closely working with officials from BFAR and DOST in tandem with the Pangasinan Development Entrepreneurs to prepare her way of exporting her products outside the country. 

With the total net worth of P3M today, indeed, Aling Milagros’ success has truly reinvented herself driven by her desire for a purposeful life after retirement. She is retired but definitely not yet tired.###