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Today at 12 noon will be the awarding ceremonies of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP) in Malacanang. I would like to congratulate the awardees, as well as the finalists who have made it this far. We are happy to have P-Noy with us as he agreed to personally award the winners. I don’t have any idea who the chosen ones are, but I am sure that all of them deserved to be a part of the TOSP community.
My father Joecon started this initiative back in 1961, on the 100th birthday of Dr. Jose Rizal to celebrate our national hero’s life and to pass on his legacy to the Filipino youth. The search stopped for a while, and in 1989 I restarted it together with one of the rotary clubs in Metro Manila. My sister Marie continues to manage the annual search, and the TOSP alumni have taken an active role in projects such as Project Pagsulong. TOSP has produced hundreds of citizens who lived up and has exceeded expectations. We have the likes of CHED chairman Pat Licuanan, National Artist for Theater Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, lawyers Rene Saguisag and Dong Puno, Elma Arboleras of iBus, and many others who have dedicated their lives to the Filipinos by continuously doing their share in nation-building.
It is very important to encourage our youth to adopt the right values that will make them succeed in life. Many of them do not come from rich families; they have come this far as finalists because they have taken a different approach in facing their challenges in life. We are not only awarding them because of how bright they are, but also because of the attitude that they have shown in facing their individual struggles. These are the same values that Go Negosyo, a movement that I started together with other entrepreneurs, continue to espouse on. And some of the TOSP alumni have actually been a part of Go Negosyo, working towards the goal of promoting the advocacy of entrepreneurship in the country.
Out of the 243 entries nationwide, 87 were screened by the national screening assembly, which was composed of notable men and women from several fields including the academe, business, health, and IT. Included in the national screening assembly are Go Negosyo advocates Rosalind Wee, Vivian Sarabia, and Philippine Marketing Association president Gwenn Albarracin, who is also the EVP of Center for Pop Music Philippines. The selection was further trimmed down to 30 finalists, who underwent further scrutiny from the five national screeners. This year, we have invited well-known motivational speaker Francis Kong, multi-awarded journalist Maria Ressa, AIM professor and TOSP awardee Dr. Soledad Hernando, Palanca Hall of Famer Dr. Luis Gatmaitan, and commissioner Heidi Mendoza of the Commission on Audit, who is also this year’s national screening committee chairperson.
This year’s 30 finalists are as follows: Kenneth Isaiah I. Abante, Michael Angelo M. Abarcar, Jufran C. Agustin, Randell T. Aranza, Ramon Matthew R. Basabe, Nesie Fe G. Binatero, Angelita A. Bombarda, Ma. Clarissa Lavena A. Bombase, Bobby S. Caceres, Aliza B. Castro, Jerome V. David, Lawrence Charlemagne G. David, John Michael FL. Dellariarte, Joshua Eleazar P. Domen, Daniel Philip V. Dy, Marville Cullen P. Espago, Cesar E. Higoy, Benny Mart R. Hiwatig, Ma. Shiril A. Jalad-Armero, Ridwan N. Landasan, Jay-R M. Mendoza, Ruthell A. Moreno, Reynaldo G. Nalliw, Maria Janua B. Polinar, Danilo V. Rogayan, Jr., Kurt Gerrard T. See, Mitz S. Serofia, Michiko S. Takemori, Juan Carlo P. Tejano, and Mark Gil D. Tuazon.
Let me share the stories of some of the top 30 finalists, whose stories have become sources of inspiration by their respective communities.
Twenty-four-year old Shiril Jalad-Armero is a doctor from Cebu City. Aside from being a cum laude and a recipient of the Dean’s Medallion for Excellence, she was also an active volunteer in medical missions and other activities. But on her profile, she listed motherhood as the first of her five most significant achievements. Shiril admits that having a child at an early age taught her to be selfless, and her daughter is her constant source of inspiration to move forward.
His passion to help those who are in need prompted another doctor in the batch, John Michael Dellariarte, to start an initiative. As a requirement for his course, he and his other classmates were sent to different parts of Zamboanga del Sur to assess health conditions of the community members. Most of the locals suffered from diarrhea because their drinking water is contaminated. John Michael thought of a cheap, convenient way to solve this, and he discovered that the contaminated water could be “purified” by exposing it to sunlight through a reflector which can be made from aluminum soda cans. Thus, “I CAN make a difference” was born. Today, John Michael and his team of volunteers have spread the advocacy to nearby provinces in Mindanao, teaching young kids that recycling just a single can of soda makes a big difference.
He may not be a holder of a latin honor when he graduated in college, but Danilo Rogayan, Jr. has already proven what he could do to make his community a better place. Dan, who is the fourth of five children, lost his mother to breast cancer when he was just two years old, leaving his father the sole responsibility of taking care of all of them. While he was studying, he secured scholarships, allowing him to continue his studies without burdening his father with the costs. He grew up feeling a need to help other people, and so he began actively participating in school and community-based organizations. He went further to win the Sanguniang Kabataan elections as chairman in 2007, giving him the chance to serve other members of the youth in his locality.
Ruthell Moreno was the summa cum laude with a GPA of 1.23 when she graduated with a degree in Special Education at the West Visayas State University. She even received several awards for SPED and for journalism, which is her other love. But what makes her story more special is that since 2007, she has been battling systemic lupus erythematosus, the same disease that afflicted former President Marcos. She was advised not to continue her studies anymore, but Ruthell did not let the bad diagnosis stop her from enjoying her life. She founded a lupus support group in Panay which aims to help other lupus patients who don’t have the money or the resources to finance their medical expenses. Having lupus made Ruthell appreciate her life even more, and even in the face of her own mortality, she wants to be of help to others.
These are just some of the stories of this year’s batch of TOSP. I hope that we can encourage more young people to be like them—to be academically excellent, to be leaders in their respective communities, to show good values, and to actively help others. The Philippines will definitely need another Rizal, and by continuing the tradition of TOSP, we are hopeful to come up with another one who shall help move the country forward to progress.