FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City, Philippines — A 21-year-old native Ilocana leads the 263-strong graduating class of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2019 on Sunday.
Dionne Mae Apolog Umalla, of Alilem town in Ilocos Sur, will get the Presidential Saber for topping this year’s PMA “Mabalasik” (Mandirigma ng Bayan Lakas at Sarili Iaalay para sa Kapayapaan) Class.
“I offer (this feat) to God,” said Umalla, who chose the Philippine Navy for her military service.
Umalla said she drew inspiration from her mother Dionisia, a retired schoolteacher, who despite the odds single-handedly brought up all four of her siblings to become professionals.
She recalled their father Reuben, a retired Marine, had left them when she was around eight years old.
“But when he shows up (on Sunday) he will be welcomed,” she added.
Umalla said she had no regrets or hard feelings towards her father. “(I had) had good memories of him when he was still with the (family). I think he became a master sergeant,” she said.
Umalla is the youngest and only girl in the brood.
“All of my life, my only wish was to make my mother happy. I hope my mother is proud of me. Ma, tatayo ka na naman sa entablado (anyway you will join me on stage),” she said.
“My mother is the reason why I joined the PMA,” she added.
She learned from her mother the value of discipline. “At an early age, I learned to become independent,” she said.
Umalla will be the fifth female cadet topping the graduating class of the country’s premier military training institution. In 1999, Arlene dela Cruz bested her “mistahs” topping that year’s graduates. Other female top graduates are Tara Velasco in 2003; Andrelee Mojica in 2007 and Rovi Mariel Martinez in 2017.
Umalla was class valedictorian in her high school at the Saint Louis College in San Fernando, La Union and even landed in the President’s List when she momentarily enrolled at the First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities in Batangas for a degree of Education, major in Mathematics.
Aside from the Presidential Saber, Umalla gets 12 other awards on Sunday: the Philippine Navy Saber; Distinguished Cadet Award as Starman; Academic Group Award; Humanities Plaque; Management Plaque; Social Sciences Plaque; Natural Science Plaque; Computing and Information Sciences Plaque; Department of Leadership Plaque; JUSMAG Award; Australian Defense Best Overall Performance; Spanish Armed Forces Award and the AGFO Award.
“It is how one strives for excellence and how to perform,” Umalla explain her achievements. “Never on the male-female thing.”
Four of Umalla’s female “mistahs” also landed in the top 10: third placer is 21-year-old Jahziel Gumapac Tandoc from La Trinidad, Benguet; seventh placer is 21-year-old Marnel Dihinay Fundales from Iloilo; eighth placer is 22-year-old Glyn Elinor Buansi Marapao from Buguias, Benguet; and ninth placer is 22-year-old Ruth Angelique Ricardo Pasos from Pasig City.
Another female “mistah,” 25-year-old Kimberly Joy Saliw-an Baculi from Tanudan, Kalinga will receive the Athletic Saber Award for being the best in sports in their class.
In 2017, eight female cadets dominated the graduating class, including then third placer, now Ensign Glis Buansi Marapao, older sister of 2019’s eight placer Glyn Marapao.
“She was my inspiration,” this year’s eighth placer said.
This year’s second placer is Jonathan Eslao Mendoza from Cavite City; fourth is Daniel Bugnosen Lucas from Barlig, Mountain Province; fifth placer is Aldren Maamong Altamero from North Cotabato; sixth is Richard Balabag Lonogan from Sagada, Mountain Province; and tenth is Daryl James Jalgalado Ligutan from Sta. Mesa, Manila.
PMA superintendent Lt. Gen. Ronnie Evangelista said the stringent process of determining the number of females coming in the PMA is more tedious compared to the males because they have to compete for 80 slots, equivalent to 20 percent of the incoming cadets.
“It is (even) more competitive,” Evangelista said.
He said the PMA is molding “the best of the best” young female future officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Of the 263 members of the graduating class, 73 are females while 190 are males.
Most of the graduates will go to the Philippine Army at 110, 59 others will go to the Philippine Air Force and 53 graduates, including Umalla, chose the Philippine Navy. ((The Philippine Star)