63-member Gabay Laya smallest PMA class to graduate in 40 years
FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City—Cadet First Class Christine Mae Calima said her mother never wanted her to join the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), but she defied her and ended up the lone female in this year’s top 10 graduates of the premier military school.
Calima, who hails from Bolinao, Pangasinan province, ranked second among 63 graduating cadets of PMA “Gabay Laya” Class of 2016, the last class to be commissioned as junior officers by President Aquino on March 13.
Gabay Laya is also the smallest PMA class to graduate in 40 years. It includes seven female cadets and a top achiever, who was named Joseph Stalin after the Soviet Union leader, whom his father admired.
The top 10 cadets were presented on Monday, the eve of the commemoration of International Women’s Day.
Cadet First Class Kristian Daeve Abiqui, an Ybanag of San Pablo, Isabela province, topped the class. He was turned back from a previous class due to an ailment but was designated class president.
Ranking third was Cadet First Class Arby Jurist Cabrera of Cauayan, Isabela. He was followed by Cadets First Class Joseph Stalin Fagsao (fourth) of Maddela, Quirino province; Jayson Jess Tumitit (fifth) of Baguio City; Mark Joseph Daria (sixth) of Bangar, La Union province; Ace Clarianes (seventh) of Libmanan, Camarines Sur province; Prince Aday (eighth) of Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur province; George Bernard Garcia (ninth) of Labrador, Pangasinan; and Gerald Gasacao (10th) of the City of Meycauayan, Bulacan province.
Gabay Laya stands for “Gintong Anak ng Bayan, Alay sa Buhay Para sa Kalayaan (Golden children of the nation, who offer their lives for freedom).”
Abiqui said he had not taken part in naming the class, but the members “wanted to stick to that name [to express their desire] to protect our democracy.”
Maj. Gen. Donato San Juan II, PMA superintendent, said only 123 members joined the class in 2012, but 50 completed the course. The surviving members were joined by 13 “turnbacks,” a PMA term for cadets belonging to previous classes.
Abiqui was a turnback of PMA “Sinag Lahi” Class of 2015 because he had to recover from an ailment common to athletes.
San Juan said the PMA was allowed to take in as many as 350 cadets each year. He has recommended an increase of this number for April 1 when new cadets are accepted.
Like the first seven women cadets to join the academy in 1997, Gabay Laya’s female cadets dropped from the original 21 to seven.
But the class would have lost another cadet had Calima heeded her mother, Mariela, principal of Bolinao School of Fisheries (BSF).
Mariela said she tried to dissuade her daughter from joining the PMA. “She is our eldest [of three children], so we were quite worried about her joining the PMA. But she wanted to be [a cadet] so we supported her,” she said.
As a girl, Calima loved wearing military uniforms and had told her father, Edward, that she wanted to fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer. Edward, now a BSF teacher, is a former plebe of the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA).
“We are very happy, of course,” Mariela said of Calima, who was BSF high school valedictorian in 2010.
Calima took up accountancy at Saint Louis University in Baguio, where she was a consistent honor student. She was in her second year in college when she took the PMA entrance examination.
“We saw that she was determined to graduate from PMA, and now she had proven it,” Mariela said.
In Isabela, Abiqui’s father, Efren, was equally proud. A laboratory technician of the Department of Public Works and Highways’ Cagayan office in Tuguegarao City, Efren said the family gave Abiqui all their support during his stay at the academy.
“We have been both tense and overjoyed [upon learning about his success]. Imagine, he topped the class as valedictorian,” Efren told the Inquirer.
Abiqui, who turned 23 on March 4, was a third year civil engineering student at the University of the Philippines when he passed the PMA test.
“I joined the activities of the LFS (League of Filipino Students) in my first year. I was very idealistic then. I joined the PMA because I found it a stable institution where I could make changes,” he said.
Mr. Aquino, the guest of honor in the PMA graduation ceremony on March 13, will award the Presidential Saber to Abiqui.
Abiqui will also receive the Philippine Navy Saber, Australian Defense Best Overall Performance Award, and Gen. Antonio Luna Award. He will receive plaques for being the best student in humanities, mathematics, natural sciences and Navy professional courses.
An orphan, Fagsao lost his father, a member of the now defunct Philippine Constabulary, to a lingering disease when he was in Grade 3. His mother, Delia, brought him up but she died in 2011.
“The day she died was also the day the results of the PMA entrance examination were released,” Fagsao said. “I wanted to take up computer engineering but my mother said it was her dream that I join the PMA.”
Before he took the PMA test, Fagsao failed the entrance examination of the PNPA.
“I asked my father why I was named after a Soviet Union communist leader, and he replied that Stalin was a good leader,” Fagsao said.
In Pangasinan, Garcia’s mother, Melvina, said all her sons were now in the military.
Garcia’s oldest brother, John Melvin, also graduated from the PMA in 2012 and is now a Philippine Air Force officer. Another brother, Jerson, serves as an Army officer after graduating from the PMA in 2013.
“He followed in the footsteps of his older siblings,” said Melvina, an overseas Filipino worker for 11 years. She returned from abroad in 2008. Reports from Vincent Cabreza, Gabriel Cardinoza, Frank Cimatu and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon
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