BAGUIO CITY—The thrill in her voice was evident when asked how she felt graduating on top of her class—the Mabalasik Class of 2019, Philippine Military Academy.
“Tutungtong ulit nanay ko sa entablado [My mom will once again come up the stage],” declared Cdt. 1Cl Dionne Mae Apolog Umalla. She is the fifth female graduating No. 1 since a law allowed the admission of women to the premier military academy in 1993.
The batch she leads this year counts five women like her among the top 10 graduates of the PMA.
Umalla was a consistent valedictorian throughout her academic years. She finished her elementary in her Alilem hometown in Ilocos Sur and high school at St. Louis College in La Union; and finished two years of college majoring in BS Education Mathematics at First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities in Batangas as a scholar.
Despite being the only girl in a family of four siblings, her mother, a schoolteacher and single parent, prodded her to enter the PMA. She was also encouraged by her brothers, the eldest a major at the La Union police force. Her mother liked PMA so she can see her daughter often—PMA is only a three-hour journey from Ilocos. “I love my mother so much not to obey her wish,” Umalla said.
“I wanted to quit many times because I was not physically prepared,” she said, adding that she prayed every night for endurance. She wanted at first to be a doctor, then a teacher like her mother. “In the end, I feel fulfilled because in a way I perform those tasks as a soldier,” she mused.
This is also the first time the academy is turning out an equal number of male and female top graduates. “It’s not a matter of gender but of performance. It also shows that while males have the advantage of physical strength, females can be just as good,” is how Umalla put it.
She will be awarded the Presidential Saber, Philippine Navy Saber among the 14 awards come commencement day on May 26, with the President as traditional guest of honor.
Besides Umalla, several graduating female cadets are among this year’s top graduates.
Finishing third is Cdt. 1st Cl Jahziel Gumapac Tandoc who hails from La Trinidad, Benguet. She will be joining the army as she believes it is here where she can really lead the men. She is also drawn to field artillery because it relates to her course BS Physics which she took at the University of the Philippines Baguio. Tandoc comes from a family of all girls, with their eldest Tyra, now a 2nd Lt. who graduated from PMA last year.
“PMA is where I grew up,” she said, and added, “They say you enter the academy a child and graduate an adult.” She attributes this to the discipline ingrained in them at the academy. “Imagine, for the past four years, I had to get up at 4:30 a.m,” she said.
Tandoc will be getting the Philippine Army Saber among her other distinctions.
Cdt. 1st Cl Marnel Dinihay Fundales will be finishing seventh in her class. She hails from Iloilo and got a taste of military life from her father Alfredo Fundales Jr., an enlisted personnel at the Army. She studied Political Science at the University of the Philippines Visayas before entering the PMA. She was Alfa Company Commander and 1st Batallion Adjutant in her batch.
Ranked eighth is Cdt. 1st Cl Glyn Elinor Buansi Marapao from Buguias, Benguet. Marapao, 22, will be joining the army and will be awarded the Navy Professional Courses Plaque. The military is also not new to her as her father, Edgar Marapao, is a retired AFP sergeant.
Cdt. 1Cl Ruth Angelique Ricardo Pasos completes the circle of five female top graduates, finishing No. 9. She went to Pasig City Science High School with honors and finished a year of college studying Psychology. She is the daughter of salesman Arturo and midwife Visitacion Pasos. Pasos was Bravo Company academic officer, was Third Platoon leader and class treasurer.
Coming from the Cordillera is Cdt. 1st Cl Richard Balabag Lonogan, a Kankanaey from Antadao, Sagada, Mountain Province. Lonogan first finished a year of studies in Criminology at the University of Cordilleras in Baguio City before deciding to enter the military world, and ranking sixth among the PMA graduates now. He was intelligence officer and commander of the Delta Company. The 22-year-old cadet is the son of Lito Lonogan and Victoria Balabag.
Ranking fourth is another highlander from Barlig, Mountain Province. Cdt. 1st Cl Daniel Heinz Bugnosen Lucas, 25, is a cum laude Mathematics graduate from St. Louis University. He will receive the Air Force Professional Courses Plaque.
The rest of the top 10 graduates are:
■ Cdt. 1st Cl Jonathan Eslao Mendoza, ranking second, from Sangley Point, Cavite. He will be awarded the Vice Presidential Saber, the Philippine Air Force Saber, Aguinaldo Saber and the Australian Defense Best Overall Performance;
■ Cdt. 1st Cl Aldren Maambong Altamero, ranking fifth, from Kidapawan, North Cotobato. He earned an industrial management degree from the University of Southern Mindanao. He will receive the Gen. Antonio Luna award; and
■ Cdt. 1st Cl Daryl James Jalgalado Ligutan, from Santa Mesa, Manila. He is the son of retired police officer Domingo Ligutan and Shirley Ligutan. He studied Mechanical Engineering at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He was Brigade Operations Officer.
A special Athletic Saber Awardee goes to Cdt. 1 Cl Kimberly Joy Saliw-an Baculi.
Another Athletic Saber Awardee is Cdt. 1st Cl Nicolas Crisanto Raguine Guysayko from Naga City.
Cdt. 1st Cl Geoffrey Ortega Valdez gets the Journalism Award as editor in chief of the Corps Magazine.
Cdt. 1Cl Jesriel Alvendia Calimag will be getting the Chief of Staff Saber Award.
Class Mabalasik stands for Mandirigma ng Bayan Lakas at Sarili Iaalay para sa Kapayapaan (Warrior for country; offering strength and self for peace).
The PMA Superintendent is Lt. Gen. Ronnie S. Evangelista.