Woman leads 2019 PMA graduates
FORT DEL PILAR, BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — A mother’s love helped Cadet First Class Dionne Mae Apolog Umalla of Alilem town, Ilocos Sur province, graduate at the top of her class in the male-dominated Philippine Military Academy (PMA) here.
Umalla, 21, is the fifth woman to graduate as class valedictorian since women were accepted into the academy in 1993.
The four others were Arlene dela Cruz (1999), Tara Velasco (2003), Andrelee Mojica (2007) and Rovi Mariel Martinez (2017).
Umalla will lead the 263-strong Class of 2019, dubbed “Mabalasik,” during its graduation on May 26. The batch has 73 female cadets, five of whom are in the top 10.
Mabalasik stands for Mandirigma ng Bayan, Iaalay ang Sarili, Lakas at Tapang, Para sa Kapayapaan.
President Rodrigo Duterte will commission Umalla and the rest of her class as military officers.
After some prodding from her mother, Umalla entered PMA, setting aside an education degree (major in mathematics) in Batangas province.
“Because I love her so much, I cannot say no. She was the reason I reached this far,” Umalla said of her 65-year-old mother, Dionisia.
She said her mother’s perseverance and hard work helped her survive the tough times in the academy and pushed her to strive for excellence.
Dionisia, a retired teacher at Alilem National High School in Ilocos Sur, raised her four children as a single mother. Her husband, Reuben Sr., left them nearly two decades ago.
The eldest, Benjie, is now a police major. He is followed by Reuben Jr., a head nurse, and Philmar, a chemical engineer. Umalla is the youngest and only daughter.
Umalla said it was also her mother who taught her not to hold grudges against her father, a soldier, she last saw four years ago during her recognition rites at PMA.
“I will appreciate his presence if he comes (during the graduation) but I don’t expect him to come,” she said.
As the top cadet, Umalla, who will join the Navy, will receive the Presidential Saber, Philippine Navy Saber, distinguished cadet award, academic group award, Spanish Armed Forces award, Joint United States Military Assistance Group award, Association of Generals and Flag Officers award, and Australian Defense Best Overall Performance award.
She will also receive the plaques in humanities, management, social sciences, natural science, computing and information science, and department of leadership.
Umalla said she was heavily influenced by her squad leaders in joining the Navy as well as her taking a fancy to the Navy logo, which contains the mythical merlion.
Others in top 10
Four other female cadets made it to the top 10: Cadets First Class Jahziel Gumapac Tandoc of La Trinidad, Benguet province, (No. 3), Marnel Dinihay Fundales of Leganes, Iloilo province, (No. 7), Glyn Elinor Buansi Marapao of Buguias, Benguet, (No. 8), and Ruth Angelique Ricardo Pasos of Pasig City (No. 9).
Tandoc, 21, will receive the Secretary of National Defense Saber, Philippine Army Saber, Army professional courses plaque, and Australian Defense Best Overall Performance award.
Marapao, 22, who will receive the Navy professional courses plaque, will be the second PMA topnotcher in her family. Her older sister, Navy Ensign Eda Glis Marapao, placed third in the graduating Class of 2017.
Cadet First Class Kimberly Joy Saliw-an Baculi of Tanudan, Kalinga province, will receive the athletic award, tactics group award, and the sports and physical development plaque.
Other top graduates are Cadets First Class Jonathan Eslao Mendoza of Sangley Point, Cavite province (No. 2), Daniel Heinz Bugnosen Lucas of Barlig, Mountain Province (No. 4), Aldren Maambong Altamero of Kidapawan City (No. 5), Richard Balabag Lonogan of Sagada, Mountain Province (No. 6), and Daryl James Jalgalado Ligutan of Sta Mesa, Manila (No. 10).
Mendoza will receive the Vice Presidential Saber, Philippine Air Force Saber, Aguinaldo Saber, and the Australian Defense Best Overall Performance award.
Lucas will receive the Air Force professional courses plaque while Altamero will get the Gen. Antonio Luna award.
Altamero, 25, a son of a utility worker, is the only cadet from Mindanao who made it to the top 10.
“My graduation will serve as reunion to my family. We’ve been separated,” he said in a phone interview.
At age 12, he lost his father Sofrino Altamero, a farmer, due to illness. His mother Anita, 54, who worked as school janitor, had since remarried.
He said his graduation would be an occasion for his mother to reunite with his sister, Annie Fe, who had been living in Bicol for more than eight years now.
“This is also the first time, my mother will set foot in Baguio,” he said. “Since I entered the Philippine Military Academy, she has not been able to see me here. We are so hard up when it comes to money,” Altamero said.
Also receiving awards are Cadets First Class Nicolas Crisanto Raguine Guysayko of Naga City, athletic award; Geoffrey Ortega Valdez of Davao City, journalism award; and class baron Jesriel Alvendia Calimag, the AFP chief of staff Saber.
A total of 134 members of the class will join the Army, 63 the Air Force, and 66 the Navy.