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Albay farmer’s son tops PMA class

PMA’S FINEST. The top 10 graduates of PMA Class 2014, led by Cadet First Class Jheorge Llona (left, first row), pose for the cameras at Fort Del Pilar in Baguio City on Tuesday. EV ESPIRITU/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City—A son of a farmer from Albay province on Tuesday was named the valedictorian of this year’s Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Siklab Diwa” Class.

But like many of the graduating class members, Cadet First Class Jheorge Llona said he hoped history would remember his class for its merits—and not for its controversies.

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Maj. Gen. Oscar Lopez, PMA superintendent, announced this year’s top 10 cadets but more attention was given to the cadet who would not be joining them: dismissed Cadet First Class Aldrin Jeff Cudia

The 22-year-old Llona, born to a farming clan in the remote village of Maopi in Daraga, Albay, will lead the 223-strong Siklab Diwa Class on March 16 when President Aquino formally commissions them as first lieutenants and ensigns of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

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Llona graduated from elementary school with honors and was a full college scholar taking up Bachelor of Science in Accountancy before he took the PMA entrance examination. He will be assigned to the Air Force.

Most attention

Llona will receive the Presidential Saber, the Philippine Air Force Saber, the Academic Group Award, the Management Plaque, the Air Force Professional Courses Plaque, the Jusmag Award, the Gen. Antonio Luna Award and the Australian Defense Best Overall Performance Award.

Cadet First Class Liza Dango of Marawi City is the class salutatorian and the cadet who drew the most attention from the media—not only because she is the only female in the Top 10 but because of the controversy surrounding Cudia, whose supporters claim he deserved to be the salutatorian.

Dango, 25, said she had to prepare for the questions that would come from people who believed she benefited from Cudia’s bad luck.

“We deserve the [honor we earned],” Dango said, adding that Cudia’s predicament had saddened the whole class.

Dango completed an education course in Cagayan de Oro City before she joined the PMA. She is the daughter of a soldier who served in different places as she was growing up.

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Dango, who is joining the Army, will receive the Vice Presidential Saber, the Philippine Army Saber, the Humanities Plaque, and the Australian Defense Best Overall Performance Award.

Almost discharged

Cadet First Class Billy Codiam of Tanudan town in Kalinga province, took the third spot. Cudia’s grades before he was separated from the academy had made him eligible for at least the third top cadet ranking.

A member of the Lubo-Pangol tribe, Codiam, 25, took a degree in political science before joining the PMA.

PHOTOS BY EV ESPIRITU/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

In a written profile he wrote, Codiam said he was almost required to repeat a year, or at one point, was almost discharged from the PMA because his demerits were too many but he managed to turn things around.

He is joining the Army, and is receiving the Secretary of National Defense Saber, the Social Sciences Plaque and the Spanish Armed Forces Saber.

Also in Top 10

Cadet First Class Leo Mac Tuliao, an Itawis from Malibagbag village in Peñablanca, Cagayan province, is the top fourth graduate while Cadet First Class Noel Raguindin, 24, from Dagupan City is in fifth place.

Tuliao is joining the Air Force and Raguindin, the Navy.

Rounding up the Top 10 are Cadets First Class Carlito Christopher Agustin of Tuguegarao City, sixth; Frank Anzale, from Babatngon, Leyte province, seventh; King Kristian Dennis Argoso from Gumaca, Quezon province, eighth; Greg Philip Monsalud from Cagayan de Oro City, ninth; and Alvin Balangcod, a Kankana-ey from Kapangan town in Benguet province, 10th.

Scandals downplayed

Lopez said the class’ achievements should not be darkened by the scandals that came out in the social media.

Lopez said the PMA now thrived in a modern world and it had not considered cracking down on the use of social media by the cadets, despite the Cudia controversy.

“We are now modern,” he said, adding that the PMA would not prevent cadets from engaging in social media.

PROUD PAPA. Nelson Llona holds a photo of his son, PMA Cadet First Class Jheorge Llona, who graduated at the top of his class. He was interviewed by the Inquirer in his home in Barangay Maopi, Daraga, Albay province, on Tuesday. MARK ALVIC ESPLANA/INQUIRER SOUTHERN LUZON

Llona said he was encouraged to join the PMA by his brother, who wanted to join the academy in 2005 but decided instead to join the police.

‘Like a sissy’

Dango said she was inspired to join the PMA by her father. “Becoming an Army officer was my dream since I was a kid,” she said.

In Daraga, rice farmer Nelson Llona, 60, initially could not fully absorb the news that his son Jheorge, the sixth of his seven children, is this year’s PMA class valedictorian.

Only one of Nelson’s children, Maria Rochelle, 14, is still studying—at Anislag National High School, where Jheorge also studied and finished as one of its top 10 students.

Nelson recalled how Jheorge, while in high school, was being teased by his classmates for being “malamya” (acting like a sissy).

“Parang bading (Like a gay),” the father added. But Jheorge also played basketball during his free time.

A homebody

By his description, Jheorge was a “homebody” who helped in household chores, including fetching water from an artesian well.

“My son has always been studious, kind and obedient,” Nelson said in Filipino. He remembered his son walking two kilometers to school from Barangay (village) Maopi, where the family owns a quarter of a hectare of riceland.

“I have readied my calf when Jheorge returns home,” the father added.

The calf is what remains of the numerous cows Nelson used to take care of, aside from the quarter of a hectare of land that yields him 20 to 30 sacks of palay harvest in this upland village.

He said Jheorge helped him take care of the farm before leaving to study at the PMA.

Richard, 37, Jheorge’s elder brother, an insurance agent working in Manila, convinced Jheorge that a career in the military would suit him best.

Jheorge’s other brother, Reynan, 30, is a policeman, while his three other sisters—Christy, 33; Jennifer, 28, and Cheryl, 22—are married, with families of their own.

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TAGS: Education, Graduation, Jheorge Llona, Military, Philippines, PMA, Siklab Diwa, top graduate
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