MONKAYO, Compostela Valley— The lack of electricity after Typhoon “Pablo” brought down power lines in her community last December proved a blessing in disguise for 16-year-old Judy Ann Romano.
Instead of spending long hours watching television, the senior high school student devoted her time to her books, reading by candle light.
Romano’s diligence paid off. Last Friday, she emerged as the valedictorian of her class at Mt. Diwata High School, in Compostela Valley’s richest village known for awarding its brightest students with authentic gold medals.
“I’m very honored and blessed,” Romano said. “There were many of us who graduated and the others could also have become valedictorians.”
Since the roof of the village court was blown away by the powerful storm, Romano and 132 other graduates in white togas and mortarboards sat in the mini-gymnasium under learning tents donated by the Department of Education and the United States Agency for International Development. A sputtering generator powered the almost inaudible sound system in the gym.
Romano received half a dozen medals for various honors. Capping her haul of tokens for academic excellence was a shiny 15-gram gold medal the size of a 5-peso coin.
Now in its 10th year, the gold medal tradition is one of the survivors of the tragedy and economic hardship caused by Pablo in the village.
The lingering effects of the typhoon on the community’s gold mining industry almost drove the school officials to skip the expensive gold medals and instead give honor students the standard gold-plated medals this year, according to village chief Rodolfo Boyles.
“We really had a hard time raising donations for the medals as the children’s graduation drew near. The typhoon destroyed many people’s livelihood and the villagers were just starting to get back on their feet. Previous donors like tunnel operators and traders we approached for the medals begged off,” Boyles told the Inquirer.
But one trader refused to allow the tradition to become another victim of Pablo.
Boyles said local miner Nelson Sala of Kalayaan Mining Cooperative donated all of the 30 grams of gold needed to mint two medals: one for the elementary school valedictorian and another for the high school valedictorian.
At P1,900 per gram of gold, each medal was worth about P28,500, excluding the costs of minting, Boyles said. Adding those costs would push up the value of the two medals to at least P60,000, he said.
Gifts from community
According to village officials, the gold medals are gifts from the community to its brilliant children. Miners, traders and other villagers chip in a gram or two of gold for the medals.
Approved by a local ordinance, the gold medal program was launched in 2003. It drew support from mining tunnel operators, businesses and even ordinary miners who regularly contributed small amounts of gold for the medals. It was only this year when all the gold needed for the two medals came from just one donor.
“It’s all right. The donor is also from Diwalwal,” Boyles said.
The gold medal for the valedictorian of Mt. Diwata Elementary School was awarded to Marigold Elayron during commencement ceremonies on April 2.
More than a token
Wilson Son, the village high school principal, said the gold medal was an encouragement for students to try to excel in school.
For the student who receives the medal, it is “more than just a token,” Son said.
“The gold medal will also be valuable when the holder goes to college and a financial need arises,” he said. “Its value does not diminish.”
But Romano’s mother, Jovita Romano, said her daughter would keep her medal for life.
“I want her to keep the medal as a souvenir, a beautiful reminder of her hard work in school,” said Jovita, who runs a small store in the village. Her common-law husband, Judy Ann’s stepfather, is a habal-habal (motorcycle for hire) driver.
“I’m very proud of her,” the mother said, adding that her daughter planned to become a pharmacist.
The proud mother was on the verge of tears as Judy Ann, the first of her two children, thanked her and her husband for their support and love in her valedictory.
“I’m the happiest mother in Diwalwal now,” Jovita said.