Following the publication in 2015 of her highly acclaimed first book, In the Country, Fil-Am writer Mia Alvar soared to the top of the global literary scene with a string of “best book” accolades from The New York Times, the American Library Association, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers’ Weekly, Amazon, Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, among others. In the Country, a collection of nine luminous, unforgettable short stories about the Filipino diaspora, won the 2015 Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers Award. This year, Alvar was given the 2016 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction.
When 302,532 high school students worldwide took the Advanced Placement calculus exam administered by the nonprofit College Board in May 2015, Cedrick Argueta, a 17-year-old senior at Los Angeles’ Abraham Lincoln High School, was one of them. When the results were announced in February 2016, Cedrick was one of only 12 who got a perfect score. Cedrick, who also eventually garnered perfect scores in ACT’s English and Math exams, is the son of hardworking immigrant parents: his Filipino mother, Lillian, is a nurse; his El Salvadoran father, Marcos, is a maintenance worker. He is now a college freshman in Stanford University.
Jupel Bato-bato, a 12-year-old boy from the Mangyan tribe of Baco, Oriental Mindoro, makes rough but perfectly proportioned toy vehicles from discarded flip-flops. A student at the Casillon Elementary School in Baco, Jupel wanted to sell his toys to raise funds so that his school could have a rest room. When his teacher recognized Jupel’s skill, he shared the boy’s story on Facebook, which became a hit. GMA News featured Jupel, and TopGear Philippines responded with funds to construct the school’s toilet facilities. In an interview, Jupel revealed that his dream is to acquire a jeepney and a tricycle so he wouldn’t have to walk too far to go to school.
RAQUEL C. BONO
President Barack Obama nominated U.S. Navy admiral and surgeon Raquel Bono for promotion from Rear Admiral in charge of the National Capital Region Medical Directorate (NCRMD) to Vice Admiral and director of the Defense Health Agency (DHA). Her promotion was confirmed before 2015 ended. For the next three years, all branches of the military will benefit from knowledge she acquired through nearly 33 years of active duty as both a clinician and medical administrator.
Vice Admiral Bono comes from a military family. Her father Dr. Anatolio Cruz Jr., also a surgeon, served in the U.S. Navy Reserve, while her brother, Anatolio Cruz III, was a Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy. Until her brother retired in 2013, Vice Admiral Raquel Bono was for a time half of the Navy’s only brother and sister admiral pair. – Anthony Maddela
Filipino-Australian Jason Day continues to be #1 in the World Golf Ranking, despite not playing since September 2016 when he withdrew from the Deutsche Bank tournament due to a bad back. Day, whose mother, Deling, hails from Leyte, won three tournaments this year: the Arnold Palmer invitational in March; the WGC-Dell Match Play a week later; and the 2016 The Players Championship in May. He has held the #1 rank since 2015.
Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz handed the Philippines its first medal in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Diaz, who was competing in her third straight Olympics, took the silver medal in the women's 53-kg division won by Chinese Taipei's Hsu Shu-Ching. Her silver is the Philippines' first Olympic medal since 1996. Diaz comes from a family of weightlifters. Outside of the sport, the Zamboanga City native is an Airwoman First Class with the Philippine Air Force. With her Olympic incentive prize, she plans to set up a gym to train future Olympians.
The Filipino actress won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival – a first for the country – for her lead role in Brillante Mendoza’s film “Ma’ Rosa.” Jaclyn played a mother forced to sell drugs to support her children, a role that’s not far from her real life as a single mother who raised two children. Her daughter with Mark Gil, the actress Andi Eigenmann, played her daughter in “Ma’ Rosa.”
Determination and perseverance allowed Roy Lagawan to achieve his ambition to become a lawyer. Now a legal officer of the Bureau of Customs, Lagawan’s inspiring story became national conversation when he passed the bar exam in 2015. He was a full-time law student at St. Louis University in Baguio while working a 12-hour graveyard shift as a security guard for the Baguio cemetery.
The Philippines’ second medal in this year’s Olympics was won by Josephine Medina in the women’s individual table tennis Class 8 in the Rio Paralympics. Medina bagged the bronze, besting her fourth place finish in the London Paralympics in 2012. A polio victim, Medina proved that disability is no hindrance to Olympic glory.
RODALLIE S. MOSENDE
Rodallie Mosende was a homeless girl whose family eked out a living as sidewalk vendors in the gritty commercial district of Quiapo in Manila. Documentary photographer Rick Rocamora found her hard at her studies as a high school student. He recorded her efforts at a better life, and a benefactor who was moved by Rocamora's photos of her struggle endowed her with a college scholarship. She triumphantly finished college and now has full time job in an engineering firm. Her family is no longer homeless.
Rocamora has published a coffee table book, Quiapo: Blood, Sweat, Hope and Rodallie S. Mosende’s Story.
A security guard at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Danny Namion became a momentary celebrity when he found a backpack with $10,800 (about P500,000) in cash and turned it over to the airport’s lost and found where the owner, an OFW, was able to reclaim it. Namion’s honesty is noteworthy because his job earns him only P12,000 and he often had to borrow P100 from his colleagues to be able to buy lunch. The grateful OFW, identified as Jessie Amor, gave Namion a tip of $300. Namion opted to pocket only $100; the $200 he distributed to his colleagues.
[Ed’s Note: While Namion’s singular act happened in 2015, we included him in this 2016 list as a representative of those nameless folks who may or may not have been recognized for exemplary honesty and integrity.]
THE PHILIPPINE TEAM AT THE MATH OLYMPIAD
At the 57th International Mathematical Olympiad in Hong Kong in July 2016, the Philippine team of high school students won two gold medals, two silver and two honorable mentions. It was the first gold medal for the country in this most prestigious of International Science Olympiads.
The team was composed of Clyde Wesley S. Ang (Chiang Kai Shek College), Kyle Patrick F. Dulay (Philippine Science High School – Main), Albert John L. Patupat (De La Salle University Integrated School), Shaquille Wyan T. Que (Grace Christian College), Vince Jan F. Torres (Sta. Rosa Science and Technology High School), and Farrell Eldrian S. Wu (MGC New Life Christian Academy). Richard Eden is the country’s Team Leader and Louie John Vallejo the Deputy Team Leader.
New York-based set and costume designer Clint Ramos won the 2016 Tony Award for costume design for “Eclipsed,” an all-women production starring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. The play, which ran until June this year, was set in the Liberian Civil War, thus requiring Ramos to research and innovate for the costumes to emerge authentic. Ramos began his costume design career as a theater arts major of the University of the Philippines where he became the costume designer for Dulaang UP. He has a Master of Fine Arts in Design for Stage and Film at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Geraldine Roman broke cultural and religious barriers when she was elected the first transgender representative to the Philippine Congress. As congresswoman of the First District of Bataan, Roman succeeds her mother, Herminia, who had to vacate the seat due to term limits. Aside from her political pedigree, Roman was an accomplished journalist in Spain where she worked as senior editor for the Spanish News Agency after getting two master’s degrees at the University of Basque Country.
After winning the London Chess Classic and the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, Missouri, this year Wesley So is now ranked fourth in the world and considered one of two most likely to compete for the world chess championship against World Champion Magnus Carlsen. More importantly, the Fil-Am chess grandmaster’s international chess rating has surpassed the 2800 level, a barrier that even the legendary Bobby Fischer never broke. Only 11 players have exceeded this standard. With his wins this year, So was easily declared the winner of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour, “a circuit of four prestigious tournaments with a $100,000 grand prize going to the player who had the best results throughout the series,” according to the Minnesotta’s Star Tribune. So’s total haul this year: $295,000.