Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos: Empowering Our Heroes
Maria Nicole Q. Cortez (The Philippine Star) - September 9, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The golden age of heroism is long past – or so we have been desensitized enough to believe. The truth, however, is that the best of humanity reveals itself every day in the quiet acts of hundreds of Filipinos who work in the fields of public service.

They are our country’s teachers, molders of the minds of our next generation leaders.

They are our soldiers, guardians of our nation’s freedom, notwithstanding dangers and borders.

They are our police officers, champions of peace in the communities they pledged to serve.

Together, they are the unsung men and women that the Metrobank Foundation Inc. (MBFI) seeks to annually honor through its flagship excellence recognition program, the Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos. 

“It is our belief that a country can only develop fully if its people are empowered to achieve their greatest potentials. This can only come about if the citizenry has a supportive environment which puts a premium on a culture of service excellence,” said George Ty, the Foundation’s founder.

Guided by his philanthropic vision realized through the theme “Beyond Excellence,” the Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos pays tribute to the modest, unwavering dedication of these individuals who quietly hold the foundations of our society together, and supports them in their vocation to make a greater impact.

Lt. Col. Francis Señoron has focused his career on developing counter-explosive tools and conducting sector-specific trainings.

This 2018, as Metrobank celebrates 56 years, MBFI once again conferred the award on 10 Outstanding Filipinos – four teachers, three soldiers and three police officers – whose devotion to duty and commitment to excellence drive their respective pursuits of service for the nation.

This year’s teacher-awardees are Mary Jane Ramo of Tonggo Elementary School in Misamis Occidental; Alma Janagap of Pavia National High School in Iloilo; Aimee Marie Gragasin of Philippine Science High School-Cagayan Valley Campus in Nueva Vizcaya; and Carla Dimalanta of University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City.

Soldier-awardees are Maj. Francis Señoron from the Philippine Army; Lt. Col. Danilo Facundo from the Philippine Navy; and Lt. Col. Thomas Ryan Seguin from the Philippine Air Force.

Meanwhile, police-awardees are Senior Police Officer 1 Aida Awitin of Davao Occidental Police Provincial Office; Police Senior Insp. Dennis Ebsolo of Villanueva Municipal Police Station in Misamis Oriental; and Police Senior Supt. Pascual Muñoz serving at the Camp Crame headquarters in Quezon City.

The formal conferment ceremony was held last Friday at the Metrobank Plaza in Makati City. Each awardee received a cash incentive of P1 million, a gold medallion and a trophy.

The four teacher-awardees are heroes who would offer all they have for their students and the communities they are in.

 Lt. Col. Danilo Facundo and his men were able to secure zero kidnapping and zero terrorism-related activities in Palawan during his term.

Ramo, a teacher for 24 years, specializes in Indigenous Peoples (IP) education in the Subanen-populated town of Tudela, Misamis Occidental. Though not of Subanen descent, Ramo has focused her life’s work on bringing back the locals’ self-worth and adoration for their native culture, at a time when the Subanen themselves have stopped speaking their local dialect in their homes.

Her students at the Tonggo Elementary School were brought closer to their roots through the creation of makeshift IP rooms where they are encouraged to play music, speak the dialect, recite chants and discover folklores, among others.

“Nothing compares to the happiness and fulfilment I feel every time I see young learners perform Subanen dances, wear their Subanen attire and be proud of their own culture,” said Ramo.

Her persistence has revived the unique Subanen culture in the town: most natives now speak the dialect and proudly showcase their customs and traditions, not only during festivities and IP celebrations, but more so in their everyday routines.

“I get goosebumps every time I think of my advocacy bearing fruit and creating an impact in the community,” Ramo added.

The mission to have an impact larger than one’s self is the same fuel that has pushed Janagap of Pavia National High School in Iloilo to promote a culture of reading within and beyond the school’s walls.

A teacher for almost three decades, Janagap developed a school-based Reading Clinic, the first of its kind in Region VI. The Reading Clinic is a one-room reading haven equipped with books and multimedia materials ranging from interactive videos, charts and games.

PSSupt. Pascual Muñoz initiated the “UPLB Ko, Bantay Ko” program that institutionalized the safety and security measures of the UP campus in Los Baños.

Janagap’s legacy through the Reading Clinic resulted in a zero dropout rate in their school, which houses more than 5,000 learners every year. She has facilitated seminars for more than 240 reading coordinators in Iloilo and encouraged them to put up their own remedial reading programs.

Eventually, her innovation became a benchmarking model in the province and has been replicated by 149 out of 179 schools.

But her legacy did not end in schools. Her famous remedial classes have also extended through her immediate communities.

Taking another shape through what she dubbed as “Project Mind, Body and Soul”, Janagap has made it a mission to personally visit houses in the neighborhood and speak on reading and writing skills, hygiene and nutritional needs and building of spiritual character.

The project benefited around 2,000 elementary children together with their parents, most of whom are living in poverty.

“Knowing that my students lead empowered lives anchored on moral values gives me real pride and joy. I am inspired by a quote from Emily Dickinson: ‘If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain’,” Janagap said.

Empowering students to lead better, more meaningful lives is also the battlecry of Gragasin, a physics and research teacher in the Cagayan Valley Campus of the Philippine Science High School in Nueva Vizcaya.

Dr. Alma Janagap’s remedial classes have extended to the communities surrounding the school.

Coming from a lineage of science teachers, Gragasin has been sure of her calling since she was four years old. Now teaching for 24 years, her passion to promote science education has never faltered.

“I am inspired by my family. Everything I do speaks to our legacy of being a family of teachers,” she said.

In 2010, she developed the Summer Internship Program (SIP) for her students – envisioned to make them appreciate the scientific field better through immersions in actual research and working contexts.

Under the SIP, students undergo a two-week intensive internship in government and private institutions in Nueva Vizcaya, neighboring provinces and as far Metro Manila, where a bulk of national science institutions are located.

Not only does SIP provide students a glimpse of their possible future as scientists, but early in this stage of their careers, they get to establish networks of field experts and potential colleagues from other schools and institutions.

Eight years after its inception, Gragasin’s SIP is now adopted as a program for the whole PSHS system. The Department of Science and Technology has long been acknowledging the program for its promising contribution not only to the interns, but also for local science institutions. It also fits well in the implementation of the K-12 program, which requires workplace immersion for senior high school students.

Despite accomplishing many things, including being awarded as an Outstanding Filipino herself, Gragasin vows to never stop introducing innovations and new ways of learning.

Mary Jane Ramo effectively integrates IP education in school premises.

“Getting this recognition would mean a confirmation, and somehow, a license to continue with the programs I have started to propagate a culture of science in the school and the community,” she said.

Dimalanta is also a staunch advocate of a culture of science. A geophysics professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, she finds joy and deep meaning in the promotion of scientific research in a developing nation like the Philippines.

As the country’s only female exploration geophysicist with a doctoral degree, Dimalanta’s 25-year service deals with research that provides answers to geoscientific problems in the Philippines, such as assessment of landslide hazards, investigating gold mineralization and identifying sources of groundwater for coastal communities.

“My goal is to use geophysics as a tool to empower communities and solve pressing societal problems,” said Dimalanta.

Acknowledging that geophysics is a highly technical field, she ensures that her work provides concrete applications for the Filipino masses. Among others, she facilitates seminars on climate change adaptation and disaster risk management nationwide.

Further, her work on climate change is integrated into UP’s General Education classes, which are required to be taken by all undergraduate students.

But among a bountiful stretch of accomplishments, Dimalanta takes most pride in her students’ achievements.

She has mentored and advised 15 students to complete their graduate degrees in geology. Five of her students are now pursuing their doctoral studies in geophysics abroad. Furthermore, several of her previous mentees are now her co-faculty at UP Diliman’s National Institute of Geological Sciences. They are mentoring students of their own, adopting the same work ethic and research culture that Dimalanta has instilled in them.

“A teacher is not only an educator, but also a second parent, a mentor, a researcher and a public servant. I want to be remembered as a teacher who embodies all these different roles,” she said.

Working in the military service is arguably the toughest, riskiest job in the world: every day on duty carries the possibility of being killed. But for soldier-awardees Señoron, Facundo and Seguin, there is no other job they’d rather have.

Putting himself in harm’s way to protect the lives of others is almost second nature to Señoron, who has been in the military ordnance service for 22 years.

Acknowledging the hazards that come with his line of work, he has focused on developing counter-explosive tools and conducting sector-specific trainings for various stakeholders. His efforts have made the overall process of bomb disposal and management more efficient and safer for his comrades and civilians in the line of fire.

He designed and constructed the Electric Blasting Galvanometer and the explosives disruptor – alternative counter-explosive devices he put together using readily available, locally sourced materials.

“I developed the prototypes even with countless discouragements from senior officers and colleagues who said it would not work. But I pushed on, because unless we have effective tools, we would only continuously put the lives of Army bomb technicians at risk,” he said.

These counter-explosives are extremely expensive when procured from foreign countries; one blasting galvanometer alone commercially costs at least P200,000, while an IED disruptor costs around P850,000. Yet his models of the galvanometer and the IED disruptor only cost P1,500 and P600, respectively.

The Philippine Army has adopted Señoron’s design and funded the mass production of the local galvanometers and IED disruptors. Until today, these revolutionary devices are being used by various EOD units nationwide.

For Señoron, these are solid proof that the Philippines has the capacity to develop its own military equipment, armed with only Filipino ingenuity and persistence.

“I am sure there are equally capable Filipinos working in the public and private sectors that could work together for the same purpose. I believe our country has the potential to conduct research and develop modern technologies at par with our global peers,” he said.

For his part, Facundo believes that cooperation, not competition, must prevail in the quest for true and lasting development for the nation.

This is the guiding principle that has steered him to champion initiatives that uphold diversity and equal opportunity within the military and among the communities he has vowed to serve.

“The jointness and interagency approach is something I have spent my career working on, because it essentially means bringing everyone to work in unison towards a common goal,” he said.

During his stint as commanding officer of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 4 in Palawan, Facundo led various inter-agency interventions to combat widespread insurgency and terrorism in the province. He facilitated the creation of the Sustained Multi-Agency Assistance in Resorts and other Tourist Areas (SMART-MARINES) and the Joint Inter-Agency Task Unit Brooke’s Point, Batazara, Rizal and Balabac (JIATU-BBRB), which dictated the operational tempo of all their counter-insurgency campaigns.

SMART-MARINES and JIATU-BBRB strengthened the information sharing protocol of the military with local authorities and business officials in the province.

By so doing, there was zero kidnapping and zero terrorism related activities in Palawan for the entire duration of his term.

On an administrative level, Facundo challenged existing norms within the Marines by initiating programs on bottom-up leadership for junior officers and non-commissioned personnel, as well as trainings on gender mainstreaming which empowered female officers in the line of duty.

During the five-month-long armed conflict in Marawi last year, Seguin, a fighter pilot, was among the dauntless few who directed aerial missions instrumental in scoring victories against the Maute group.

In the face of overwhelming odds, he masterfully exemplified composure under fire, flying 134 out of the 156 total air-to-ground attack missions over Marawi’s main battle area. Seguin had to steer these missions day and night, over bodies of water, despite the risks brought about by unfavorable weather conditions and limited air visibility due to ground fires.

The missions marked a milestone in his 22-year career, holding the most number of missions ever achieved by a pilot in the entire PAF history.

But more than a mission, he sees being a PAF pilot as his contribution to national development.

“We took an oath to protect the people and sovereignty of the state. We exist so that others can sleep soundly at night,” he said.

Seguin is also a mentor of pilots. He teaches and trains a new generation of troops to become qualified pilots of fighter aircraft. This was an urgent necessity given the shortage of fighter pilots within the force, especially as many of them have retired or were recruited by commercial aviation companies.

Determined to break this trend, he worked to instill the values of nationalism and service in the curriculum of military aviation education.

His persistence in training his colleagues resulted in a total of 25 combat-and mission-ready pilots in PAF’s 5th Fighter Wing.

“As an instructor pilot and squadron commander, fulfillment comes in knowing that I have done my part to bring back the fighter operation competency of the Philippine Air Force,” Seguin said.

For police-awardees Awitin, Ebsolo and Muñoz, what counts in law enforcement is not the guns they fire, the delinquents they arrest or the number of laurels in their uniform. There is a call louder than enforcing the law – and it is choosing peace.

In her 12-year career, Awitin has always chosen the path of peace through the noble pursuit of police-community relations in every station she’s assigned to. 

“You cannot be a good police officer unless you form good relationships with the communities you serve,” she said.

A licensed teacher turned police officer, she has worked as an investigator of the Women and Children Protection Desk of various police units in the Davao Region for a majority of her career. She ably harnessed her teaching background and inherent maternal compassion in handling sensitive cases of violence and abuse against women and children.

Awitin is also a staunch advocate of police engagement with people in the grassroots. She was the moving force behind the institutionalization of the Lingap Mamamayan (Care for the People) program in the rebel-tagged municipality of Malita, Davao Occidental.

Through Lingap Mamamayan, the delivery of social services to underprivileged communities became more efficient. Poor families living in mountainous areas were provided with life’s basics such as daily food items, personal hygiene kits, school materials for children and medical and dental services.

Armed with her teaching background, Awitin also led the Akyat Aral (Education in the Mountains) program which aimed to provide basic literacy lessons for out-of-school youth and unschooled adults in the community.

“My role as a police officer is not only to enforce laws, but to educate the people. This is the backbone of sustainable peace and order,” she said.

Like Awitin, improving police-community relations has always been the top priority of Ebsolo.

His way of engaging the people he serves, though, is rather unique. In this age of new technologies, Ebsolo chooses to preserve an old-fashioned policing technique: the heritage of mounted patrol, or simply, cops on horseback.

Ebsolo, chief of the Cagayan de Oro Police Station 8, initiated the use of horses in patrolling the hinterland barangays covered by his station.

Before he took over, these barangays could not be accessed by the police due to difficult terrain. Composed mostly of marshlands, rainforests and steep hills which could not be accessed by automobiles, the barangays became hotbeds of illicit activities and hiding spots for wanted criminals.

The horse patrol was instrumental in the arrest of numerous robbery and murder suspects and the capture of high-profile drug offenders within the province. It also led to the crackdown of illegal mining and illegal logging operations, and the suppression of ridos (tribal wars) and other local conflicts in the area.

“People may think that the badge of a police officer represents power and authority; but for me, it signifies selflessness and service to the community and the country,” Ebsolo said.

Beyond paving the way for successful police operations, the horse patrol achieved a much larger triumph: it became the key to win back people’s hearts. The locals, who used to be very suspicious of the police, have since become cooperative – proactive, even – in securing peace and order among their respective barangays.

Ebsolo believes the secret is simple: “With each new day, I am reminded to always go the extra mile, to make myself available especially to the most vulnerable, even if it means putting my life on the line.”

In his 28 years in service, Muñoz has proven himself a jack of all police trades.

Whether out in the streets arresting criminals and conducting underground raids, or within the halls of the police headquarters, he has served as a game-changer, exceptionally living up to his sworn mandate to ‘serve and protect.’

When Muñoz was director of the Laguna Provincial Police Office in 2012, he implemented new operational strategies to curtail pervasive drug trades and organized crime groups.

Under his watch, the province of Laguna has seen marked improvements in environmental protection through the adoption of Operation Plan BERDE (Boost our Environment Reserves for the Development of our Ecosystem), which was instrumental in stopping rampant illegal logging activities and large-scale deforestation in the 1,300 hectares of public forestland in Laguna.

In 2017, when he was lifted out of frontline duty to serve in Camp Crame headquarters, Muñoz did not falter in blazing trails towards the improvement of police services.

In just a year, he ably facilitated the conceptualization and formulation of policies streamlining service procedures for retirees and two support programs for a more transparent and expedient procurement of goods within the force.

“In my almost three-decade service, I have embodied the PNP core values of being Makadiyos, Makakalikasan, Makatao, at Makabansa – a police officer who, with the grace of God, has served the people and impacted a positive change in my organization and the communities, in the pursuit of protecting people’s lives and dignity and the environment they live in,” he said.

The 10 awardees officially join the roster of 665 Outstanding Filipinos – 364 teachers, 157 soldiers and 144 police officers – honored by the Foundation since 1985.

“We again present 10 Outstanding Filipinos who embody the best in our people and are recognized for their steadfast commitment to inspire change for others to emulate,” said Metrobank Foundation president Aniceto Sobrepeña.

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