Order of Lakandula for Lea, climbers
- Paolo Romero () - February 8, 2007 - 12:00am
World-renowned singer and multi-awarded stage actress Lea Salonga was accorded yesterday by President Arroyo the highest presidential honor that may be bestowed upon a Filipino civilian: the Order of Lakandula.

Salonga was awarded the Order of Lakandula with rank of Commander (Komandante) for "her outstanding dedication in fostering mutual understanding, cultural exchange, justice and dignified relations among persons and nations," the citation reads.

Clad in a pink chiffon dress, Salonga told reporters after the ceremonies that she felt very honored and that the award gave her a sense of duty to bring pride and glory to Filipinos.

"It feels really good to have been conferred this award from the President and a little strange for me, a commander, a komandante," Salonga said. "It is certainly interesting but I guess when I was just standing there receiving the award and hearing the citation, it dawned on me that this is not just a privilege or an honor – it is a responsibility, it is a duty from my country."

"It is like a calling, I guess… it is not just about me being a performer to make people happy but it is also to bring pride and, in some way, I guess, glory to our people and show our people a positive life," she added. "It is an honor to be thought of in that way and I felt very honored to have received such a citation. It is also a pretty medal. I can’t complain."

Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. on Tuesday bestowed the Congressional Medal of Achievement upon Salonga. The award is given by the House of Representatives to Filipinos and international leaders of distinction in the fields of international diplomacy, the arts, politics, the humanities and sports.

The Congressional Medal of Achievement cited Salonga’s efforts "to show the extent and depth of the Filipino musical talent... By doing so, she has opened the way for other Filipino artists to break into the finest theaters in the world."

Salonga will be leaving on Feb. 22 for New York City to start rehearsals for "Les Miserables," which opens on March 6. She said she would decline if she is asked to help political candidates in their campaigns for the May senatorial and local elections.

"I like remaining as apolitical as possible and I would like be able to respect whoever gets elected," she said. "Being election season, I would look upon it with interest but I would much rather remain on the sidelines and watch, I like remaining where I am. It is a very peaceful place."

Mrs. Arroyo also awarded Everest mountaineers Leo Oracion and Erwin "Pastor" Emata with the Order of Lakandula with the special class of Champion for Life.

Oracion gained the distinction for being the first Filipino to reach the summit of the world’s highest peak on May 17, 2006.

Emata followed suit 24 hours later to become the second Filipino to reach the Everest summit.

"Both climbers are avid outdoorsmen and members of the First Philippine Mt. Everest Expedition Team that strove to conquer the formidable mountain and endured rigid days of training and discipline," a Palace statement said.

CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF ACHIEVEMENT EMATA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES LEA SALONGA LEO ORACION AND ERWIN ORDER OF LAKANDULA SALONGA
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