By Mary Angela Barlongay
Since 1974, The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) has been awarding women who have greatly contributed in strengthening national capability and shaping the nation’s future and served as catalysts for economic, social, and cultural development, national security, and national unity.
This year, eight exceptional women from various fields are joining the ranks of past recipients including Leticia Ramos-Shahani, Karen Davila, Esperanza Cabral, Lilia de Lima, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Boots Anson Roa, Teresita Ang See, Nieves Confesor, Cheche Lazaro, Lea Salonga, and chief justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno.
Meet the 2016’s outstanding women of Towns:
Cherrie De Erit Atilano (Social Development)
At a young age of 12, Cherrie has already been teaching farmers around her community how to grow vegetables to further save on food expenses. For her, farming is our ticket in reaching food security and food sovereignty.
“I am a culprit of making farming glamorous—when people see dirt and soil, I see gold,” she said. According to Cherrie, “In the Philippines, farmers are endangered species with an average age of 57 and educational attainment of grade four. And it is also a crime that we allow it to happen that the producers of the food chain, the farmers and the fishermen, are the poorest and the hungriest and we are just enjoying the food on our tables. This award is a very good push for me to continue cultivating the minds of our farmers and the young people that farming matters.”
She continues to help improve the lives of Filipino farmers with her most recent work, the AGREQA Agricultural System International, Inc, an agri-social enterprise in Marinduque that builds sustainable farming communities through sustainable organic agriculture and fair trade practices.
Hidilyn Francisco Diaz (Sports)
Before bagging medals from different international competitions, Hidilyn Diaz had to walk 50 meters from her home and carry two big buckets of water for her family to use when she was younger. Now, Hidilyn has made Filipinos proud by bagging the silver medal during the women’s 53-kg weightlifting division of the 2016 Rio Olympics. She became the first Filipina to win an Olympic medal after years of drought.
“Winning a silver medal during the Olympics, I showed them that even women can excel in sports and compete in other countries,” she said. “They belittle women in sports, so I showed them women can do it, too.”
Hidilyn plans to promote sports and plans to build a proper gym with her prize money for young Filipino athletes.
Patricia Chanco Evangelista (Media)
“I am a trauma reporter. It means that my job is to see the unspeakable and to speak on it,” said Patricia. This fearless journalist became the first Filipino to win the London-based annual International Public Speaking Championships at the age of 18 with her speech that become part of the K to 12 curriculum.
“I used to believe that journalism was like a magic wand. You wave it over brutality, corruption, and misogyny and ineptitude and things will change and wars will end and policies will be different and people will be buried where they’re supposed to be buried.”
Over the years, Patricia Evangelista continues to be a top notch in her field winning various awards in three fields of media—print, video, and photography.
“My commitment to TOWNS is to bear witness. I don’t pretend that what we do changes anything but our job is to see it so that other people can see through us,” she ends.
Luisa Mercedes Paez Lorenzo (Arts)
Despite earning a degree in Medicine and passing the licensure exams for doctors, Luisa still pursued her passion for arts. She went back to school and went to New School University in New York to compete her Masters in Media Studies and Photography.
“Art experiences change lives. Art is a cultural marker of history, of identity, of pride. We need art now, more than ever. Not the art that we can’t afford but the art, the stuff that makes us better people” said Luisa.
In 2004, she established Silverlens, the first photography gallery in Southeast Asia. It manages 22 artists both from the Philippines and parts of Southeast Asia and produces 30 local exhibitions a year.
Marissa Arlene Andres Martinez (Government Service)
Marissa became the first female graduate of the Philippine Military Academy. Now, she’s a commissioned officer in the Philippine Navy patrolling the area and joins military operations with the AFP in Western Mindanao against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf. In a work place that is usually dominated by men, Marissa excels in her work in training officers and sailors, making them proficient to their duties and responsibilities.
“I was given the opportunity to handle significant roles in the AFP, thus, breaking gender barriers in a male dominated world. The military is not only about guns, not about being strong, it is having a heart to serve,” she said.
Aisa Alvarez Mijeno (Social Enterprise)
Earning a degree in Computer Engineering at De La Salle University- Lipa, Aisa quit her high-paying job to continue her voluntary work as a direct dialogue campaigner firm at Greenpeace Philippines. Seeing the struggles of the Buscalan tribe with their light source, she invented an alternative lighting system that can last up to eight hours by mixing two tablespoon of salt and a glass of tap water. In November 2015, she shared the stage with US President Barack Obama and Alibaba’s Jack Ma during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) here in the Philippines because of her start-up social enterprise called Sustainable Alternative Lighting Corporation (SALt Corp.).
“The Filipinos are very creative and we are naturally innovative. We just need a platform and a support system for us to enable these people,” she said.
Lou Sabrina Saavedra Ongkiko (Education)
Sabrina is an advocate of teacher empowerment. Having a Masters degree in Education from the University of Melbourne, finishing a Post Graduate degree from the National Institute of Education in Singapore, and being a BS Biology graduate from Ateneo de Manila University, Sabrina can teach in any country where she can earn much more. But despite the possible opportunities, she prefers to stay in her country and teach as a public school teacher.
“My contribution as a teacher is to mold the minds and heart of the young Filipino. That’s my promise and pledge, that someday, our children will not only excel in their fields but also learn respect and love for the country. They should know how to seek out truth and stand for it. That’s my promise, pledge, and my determination.”
Jocelle Batapa Sigue (Information and Communications Technology)
Aside from being a lawyer, Jocelle led the creation of a multi-stakeholder body, composed of government, academe, and industry to develop strategies to bring ICT-enabled jobs and opportunities to the countryside.
“I realized, a community needs to generate jobs, so people can be able to lift themselves up from poverty,” she said.
Jocelle created Bacolod-Negros Occidental Federation for ICT back in 2007 and became the co-founder, former president, and current trustee of the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines. She led numerous campaigns and projects to help government units develop their ICT ecosystem for job and investment generation. “Our wish was simple, to bring all the IT conventions held in Manila to the countryside,” she said. Jocelle dedicates the award to everyone who believes that inclusive growth can only happen when we look beyond Metro Manila and Urban Cities. “I believe in the potential of the countryside.”