(Copyright @ 2015 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved)
The Philippines is a game-changer in many fronts this year. 2015 solemnly started when His Holiness Pope Francis blessed the predominantly Catholic nation in Asia. In between the country has graced the world with sweet beam as the phenomenal love team of ‘AlDub’ skyrockets in Twitterverse holding a world record while the Philippines ascended on the center stage as it successfully hosts for the second time the multilateral trade forum of APEC summit attended by 21 world economic leaders. It happily ends the year of the wooden sheep with the crowning of the most beautiful Filipino woman in the universe.
This year, Filipinos survive many political hullabaloos with a miscalculated strategy on a Mamasapano debacle that brought the elusive peace in Mindanao another challenge. This operational mishap perpetually highlights the heroism of the Special Action Force, a highly-trained elite police corps, as we mystify the so-called fallen “SAF44”.
On the external front, legal luminaries and our international law experts under the aegis of foreign affairs aid the Philippines win the first round of our case against a giant civilization-state as the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Peace Palace at The Hague held that the Philippine case has jurisdiction. The rule of law has prevailed as the tribunal is expected to decide on the second round of the legal bout on the merits of our petition against the aggressive neighbor as early as next year.
Filipinos have also shown the world their multi-faceted potentials in business, economics, performing arts and film, international law, academia, and more other professional networks courtesy of our expanding diasporic communities worldwide and the nanosecond viral clout of transborder social media.
Celebrating Filipino top thinkers today since its inception seven years ago is in itself a milestone as we see young and promising thinkers in the Philippines. This gives us more hope that our great country is a producer of knowledge in the knowledge economy of the twenty-first century.
Below is the gallery of thinkers and newsmakers who continuously contribute to the intellectual tradition and cultural transformation of the Philippines. Some of them rise as an ensemble as they outwit others despite pressures and odds with their clever talents while many of them single-handedly share their words of wisdom and expertise in their own respective fields.
AlDub Cast (best entertainers, twitter record-holder) – the accidental hit kalyeserye (street series) of the noontime show Eat Bulaga surprised millions of Filipino fans or the AlDub nation across the globe that paved way for giant international media and foreign celebrities to digest and comprehend the popularity of the phenomenal love team of Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza or "Yaya Dub" supported by wacky and witty grandmothers acted by Wally Bayola, Paolo Ballesteros, and Jose Manalo. They changed the landscape of online and television advertising as they embraced the totality of a new genre of entertainment of the 21st century combining social media’s apps like dabsmash and a fusion of their own live and situational antics of romantic comedy, dramedy, parody, and positivism. They have cemented their presence on Twitter with their record-breaking 41 million tweets during the climax of the kalyserye’s “Tamang Panahon” episode. Their movie is certainly a top-grosser in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. The multi-awarded and bankable AlDub cast is also hailed by the powerful Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for spreading commendable Filipino values.
Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa (Ramon Magsaysay awardee) – as she gracefully dances her style called pangalay in the tune of ‘Twerk it like Miley’ in the primetime news to connect with the millennial crowd, this year’s Ramon Magsaysay winner earns the respect of the world as the keeper of living traditions of dance movements of the Sulu archipelago and the country’s link to the ancient and classical dance traditions in maritime Southeast Asia. In the RMA website, she has been recognized in “her single-minded crusade in preserving the endangered artistic heritage of southern Philippines and in creatively propagating a dance form that celebrates and deepens the sense of shared cultural identity among Asians.” This Tagalog ethnic dancer who deeply embraced her husband’s southern roots creates a healing power through her gift and craft as she advocates cultural empowerment amidst ethnic and religious strife in a plural society of the Philippines. Keeping culture alive through dance is her way of saying “a dance must be repeated, or else it vanishes.”
John Arcilla (actor, thespian) – the rebirth of General Antonio Luna in film is also the rebirth of best actor John Arcilla. As a character actor in mainstream movies he rarely plays a lead role. Underrated for his holistic talent in theater, television and film until Jerrold Tarog’s game-changer indie film and highest grossing historical movie Heneral Luna paved way for John Arcilla to be recognized as one of the smart actors in the country as he cements his presence in the volatile world of tinseltown. Although, known for his award-winning supporting acting roles in the 90s and bags minor roles in Hollywood movies, his iconic and transformative acting in Heneral Luna inspired students and history aficionados alike to rethink and review the role of Antonio Luna and other national heroes during the Spanish-American period in the Philippines. He has carried the film with confidence and in character, and he excellently plays the lunatic and ‘renaissance man’ persona of General Luna. With his sterling performance, the historical biopic has been picked as the Philippine entry to the 2016 Oscar’s foreign film up against 80 entries in Hollywood.
Christopher Ian Cabalza (multi-awarded physician) – he has traveled the continents of Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Europe to study and practice medicine. His never-ending search for knowledge and sense of volunteerism for the United Nations and other organizations earned him several local and international awards and distinctions. He received commendations like the Epic Award for Community Service and the Medallion and Certificate as Diplomate and Fellow of the Philippine Academy of Medical Specialists, Inc; TOYM 2015 nominee by the JCI, Inc; Dr Jose P Rizal Memorial Award for Filipino Physician with distinction for Community Leadership by the PMA; a Higher Career Ambassador by Commission on Higher Education Region II; and a Dangal ng Bayan and Asian Achiever Honoree. He is one of the editors of the International Institute of Ageing and outstanding blood donor in Guyana, South America. This multi-awarded young gerontologist and physician studied in Malta, Europe and Saint Louis University at Baguio City whose expertise is sought of by radio and television medical programs. He also lectures in medical schools in Region II for his wide-ranging knowledge and experience in community service which is lacking among many medical doctors today.
Antonio Carpio (senior associate justice) – “equalizer” becomes his proverbial word as the Philippines legally battles with a big and strong country. “Intergenerational” summons his word of wisdom in describing our longstanding legal issue in the West Philippine Sea. He consistently cements his strong presence several times in this gallery of thinkers as long as we have not patched up our political and strategic difference with China over our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. His pioneering archival research on ancient maps can be used as one of our “prima facie” pieces of evidence in our will to win in the arbitration case for the second round. However, The UP College of Law class valedictorian’s legal opinion over presidential candidate Grace Poe’s flaws in SET ruling by stating that she is not a natural born under international customary law irked the lady presidential aspirant. Despite the legal opinion, he remains credible and respected in the legal community while his voice sounds powerful in shaping international law and maritime legal history.
Lav Diaz (award-winning indie filmmaker) – he is the elder statesmen of the New Philippine cinema and his films are haunted by his country’s past, describes http://www.filmlinc.org. He has become famous over the last decade for his works lasting six, seven and eleven hours, almost shot in black-and-white in small towns and countryside of the Philippines, writes http://hcl.harvard.edu. This award-winning filmmaker from Mindanao is known for his extensive films such as Batang West Side; Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family); Kagadanan sa Banwaan ning mga Engkanto (Death in the Land of Encantos); Melancholia; and Norte, the End of History. His full-length films have been shown in the biggest, most respected, and oldest film festivals around the world as he consistently brings home laurels of honor for the country from the Independent Film Festival of Brussels, Cannes Film Festival, Cinemanila International Film Festival, Fribourg International Film Festival, International Locarno International Film Festival, Singapore International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and Venice International Film Festival. He is also a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010 and the Prince Claus Award of the Netherlands in 2014.
El Gamma Penumbra (shadow play genius) – they wowed the world with their genuine and unique talent with such an impeccable class. The group’s name was derived from Latin words meaning “the ray of light behind a man’s shadow”. The ensemble talents from Batangas popularized the human shadow play with just a tarpaulin and a halogen light as an improvisation during their humble beginnings. From a simple stage in a basketball court back in Tanauan to a sophisticated glistening world-class stage at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, they brought home honor for the Philippines tagged as the first Grand Winner of Asia’s Got Talent. Their winning numbers are well-thought of and heartfelt performances showing a masterful Filipino artistry and ingenuity in performing arts that does not deviate from social realism. In the world’s talent search, it is no wonder that our country proves that we are the land of many talents or a land that has its own league of God-given talents. This has been evident during the final's night of Asia’s Got Talent when four Filipino acts out of eight finalists competed in the contest. El Gamma Penumbra’s world-class talent has made them one of the tourism ambassadors of the country as they perform for “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” brand and they also shared their talent during the dinner hosted by President Aquino for world economic leaders during the APEC Summit in Mall of Asia.
Filipino Small Medium Entrepreneurs (Apec superstars) – the buzz word for “inclusive growth” has become a big question mark during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation as the host Philippines paves way for world leaders to expound in their speeches the bigger role of small and medium entrepreneurs. With the striving and expanding economic growth in the Philippines, Filipino small and medium entrepreneurs are key partners to enlarging a pool of middle class to fuel a booming economy. This unprecedented entrepreneurial culture among Filipinos must be mustered and honed more to compete in a globalizing world. Microentrepreneurs must engage with the globalizing world and to open freely their small and medium businesses that boost uniqueness and quality. Definitely to become big time one must start from scratch.
Gilas Pilipinas (FIBA Asian silver medalist) – in Europe football players are the gods but in the Philippines Gilas Pilipinas are the sports superstars. Despite the looming political relations between the Philippines and China, first they competed to host for this year’s International Federation of Basketball, with the Philippines boasting the Philippine Arena as venue being the world’s largest indoor arena while China’s emerging economy boasts spectacular infrastructures for the event. Secondly, in the championship game, the Philippines and China draw close fight again for the top post with Chinese coach quips in jest by saying that it will give away the Spartlys Islands in case they will lose the game. With many technical glitches and hullabaloos, notwithstanding the obvious maneuvering in favor of the host country, many basketball fans deem that the Philippines truly deserve to win the gold. Nonetheless Gilas Pilipinas’ FIBA Asian silver medal is truly an honor placing the Philippines up to number 28 in world basketball standing, it jumps three notches higher after their breathtaking and intense game in FIBA Asia.
Doris Magsaysay-Ho (Apec business advisory council chairperson) – the shipping heiress wonderfully chairs the APEC Business Advisory Council in the recently concluded APEC Summit in Manila. As the daughter of a successful businessman father and award-winning artist-painter mother, she carries with her a rare breed of philanthropic endeavors with a degree in Industrial Design. As the Entrepreneur of the Year Awardee in 2004 and Socially Responsible Entrepreneur Awardee in 2003, she deems that women entrepreneurs should be empowered and stresses the importance of adopting government policies that promote MSME’s growth and trade.
Richard Javad Heydarian (rising young academic) – turn on to news channels and you would watch him live or listen to his incisive commentaries on various international issues. Surf the net and you may read his articles and stories on the South China Sea disputes, Asian and Philippines current affairs, the Middle East politics, and international political economic issues. This young academic is uber energetic as he thinks, writes, and speaks clearly with credibility. He reads and presents his papers in various international conferences and is sought of for his comments and perspectives in various academic and business engagements. He is the author of “How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Arab Uprisings; and Asia’s New Battelfield: US, China and the Struggle for Western Pacific State. This University of the Philippines Diliman alumnus and De La Salle University faculty member has written for and/or interviewed by leading news agencies, local and international, according to his brief biography. As a rising young academic, his brilliant mind will definitely open more doors for him and the country needs this kind of caliber.
Florin Hilbay (solicitor general) – the 1999 bar topnotcher became the Solicitor General only this year but he authored a book entitled “Unplugging the Constitution” published by the UP Press covering theoretical, adjudication and legal hermeneutics on Constitutional Law and Family Relations. He obtained a Masters of Law from Yale University and became a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Boston College. He received Fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, Germany and the Asian Law Institute for Comparative Public Law in the National University of Singapore. He is a proud alumnus of the University of Santo Tomas and the UP College of Law who also teaches Advance Constitutional Litigation in the premier law school. He handled several high profile cases including the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), both are considered pork barrels. He was also the principal lawyer for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Ramon Jimenez Jr (tourism secretary) – call him the genius behind the phenomenal hit brand of “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”. As the catchy tag hits social media, it was a certified viral and every town and city around the country carry their own memes of “it’s more fun”. Tourism is one of the sunrise industries in the Philippines. We got plenty to offer beginning with our picturesque natural wonders, tasty food, customs and traditions, and the hospitable people. And the lacking ingredient to make the Philippines more fun would be Mon J, popularly known in the advertising world as a guru for his effortless ideas and successful brand campaigns. Because of this, tourism receipts and visits from foreign lands have increased. The land of the most social media savvy used the internet and spread their inherent wit, creativity and humor on the brand. Looks like every Filipino around the world enjoyed the brand and participated in its success. The success of the online campaign fits for Jimenez as he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts major in Visual Communication from the UP College of Fine Arts and received the Gawad Alagad ng Sining from his alma mater. He was also awarded the Achievement Award from the Creative Guild of the Philippines and Pilak Award for the Mavericks of Marketing in the Philippines from Adboard.
Ricky Lee (prime scriptwriter) – this year’s Gawad Plaridel Awardee is unassuming and grounded despite his big name and reputation. He is recognized by his alma mater, the University of the Philippines Diliman, as he exhibits the highest level of professional integrity in the interest of public service. He is the noted scriptwriter of multi-awarded and influential films such as Himala, Jaguar, Salome, Moral, and Karnal that tackled various taboos and modern moralities in Philippine cinema. As a prime screenwriter, journalist, novelist, and playwright – he is still at the pinnacle of his career receiving left and right awards from local and international award-giving bodies. As a grandmaster of storytelling, he mentors young and budding scriptwriters and filmmakers by conducting scriptwriting workshops for free at his home. He joins his students in their immersion to Quiapo, Ermita, Luneta and other interesting places as refuge for creativity. His supreme writings are well-studied in film schools and he has significantly contributed to Philippine literature and popular culture through his filmography and fiction, according to UP CMC. Nevertheless, time will come he will be bestowed with the National Artist Award in the coming years.
Ricardo Marquez (police chief) – as the police force is quite painted with dreadful image, we need a police chief that is charismatic, thinking, and clean. The farmer’s son is a product of public schools and graduated from the Philippine Military Academy Class ’82. Marquez is a bemedalled Constabulary and police official receiving 29 PNP commendation medals, four campaign medals and ribbon, two presidential unit citation badges and one honor graduate award. He was lauded for his hard work and work ethics who headed the PNP’s Directorate for Operations and led the Special Task Force “Papal Visit 2015” and under him about 25,000 police men and women were mobilized during the holy visit of Pope Francis, early January. As part of his training and qualifications as the new police director, he was assigned before in several PNP directorates including the Directorate for Human Resource and Doctrines Development, Directorate for Research and Development, Directorate for Intelligence, and Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force. Perhaps one of his challenges would be the looming crises in Metro Manila that is to ease the monstrous traffic courtesy of his uniformed men of the PNP Highway Patrol Group (HPG) who received mix reviews from irate commuters. As the new PNP chief, he has to prove that he can manage the hullabaloos of the upcoming presidential election next year and elevate public safety among Filipinos.
Aisa Mijano (engineer, scientist) – the salt lamp inventor shines during the APEC Summit in Manila. Her only wish is to power an entire island using just ocean or saline water. But to her surprise, even the most powerful man in the world made her shine and both thinkers enlightened the minds of world entrepreneurs and inventors. In sharing the center stage with US president Barrack Obama and billionaire Jack Ma, she wanted to emphasize the reality of climate change that scientists like her need to get funding for grants to make their inventions viable for all, especially those sectors in need of their masterpiece. As a former Greenpeace Philippines volunteer, she thought of a Sustainable Alternative Lighting lamp that is innovative and environment-friendly light source that may be suitable to those living in coastal areas. The SALt lamp is made of improved chemical compounds, catalysts, and metal alloys that when submerged in electrolytes will generate electricity. Mijano’s ground-breaking experiment received various commendations and awards in Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea. Despite the luster of world economic leaders during the APEC summit, Aisa Mijano came out to be the most promising star that young thinkers must emulate.
Pinoy Young Math Wizards (over-all champion) – from the land of the best English speakers in Asia courtesy of our lead in call centers of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), it is not a big surprise that Filipinos may also excel in mathematics. This is real and not a myth as the Philippine mathematics team bagged the overall champion award in the Singapore International Math Competition (SIMC). They won over Asia’s mathematics powerhouse including China and Taiwan. The young Filipino aces won 31 gold, 60 silver, and 125 bronze medals out of 216 medals. Then came another five young math wizards who took home gold medals in two tough math Olympiad held in China. This only proves that Filipinos are problem solvers and numeric with mathematical inclinations.
Enrique Razon (casino magnate, industrialist) – his luxurious casino resort has become the Pandora’s box for the mushrooming casino havens in Manila’s own Las Vegas strip at Entertainment City with the newly constructed City of Dreams and soon to be completed Manila Bay Resorts and Resorts World Bayshore. Imagine the thousands of local employment it could generate because of these big and plush projects. In 2013, Razon was listed as one of the country’s top thinkers in my gallery as ports tycoon and casino magnate. Wilson Lee Flores described this young accomplished industrialist as visionary, risk-taker, passionate, hard-working, traveler, perfectionist, straightforward, flexible, health buff, sports-minded, avid reader, charismatic, self-confident, good listener, globally-competitive and decisive leader. The third richest man in the Philippines is a street-smart as he left school at age 17 to take a blue collar job at the family’s cargo-loading business and toiled harder and worked his way through the ranks to become the chairman of ICTSI, their family business. His port empire now extends from Asia to Africa and Latin America.
Howie Severino (multi-awarded broadcast journalist) – documentarist Severino is named as Journalist of the Year by the Metrobank Foundation, Inc. From an award-winning newspaper reporter to an editor-in-chief of GMA News Online and as the first blogger on GMA’s web platform, he is best known for his documentaries on i-Witness and GMA News anchor of the morning television show News to Go. Known as one of the pillars of GMA-7’s news and public affairs, this award-winning journalist has a History degree (magna cum laude) from Tufts University in Massachusetts, USA and a Master’s degree in Environment, Development and Policy from the University of Sussex, UK. He has received several awards including the Neil Davis Award, CMMA, Jaime Ongpin Grand Prize, Rotary Club of Manila, UPLB Gandingan Awards, Titus Brandsma Award, PUP Maringal na Pantas Award, PMA Rizal Award, Adamson Media Award, and La Sallian Scholarium Award. In 2007, he was named as the Broadcast Journalist of the Year and Investigative Journalist of the Year. He was also considered as one of the most trusted Filipinos by Reader’s Digest and Men Who Matter by the People Asia Magazine. He is the son of ASEAN’s former Secretary General, Ambassador Rodolfo Severino. He is married to a TOYM awardee and environmental lawyer Ipat Luna.
Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach (miss universe 2015) – she stands very tall in her confidently beautiful with a heart answer in the Miss Universe beauty pageant. Amidst the twists, surprises, and mistakes during the coronation night, her wit and poise outshines other beautiful contestants from all over the world. Her controversial answer in the first round and the substantive response in the second round of Q&A have made her the supreme queen of the universe and the darling of the crowd. Beauty and brains plus a va-va-voom figure pave way for wonderful opportunities for this stunning Filipina with a German-sounding surname. Although her road to the Miss Universe 2015 is filled with extra mile challenges and rough roads, by attempting thrice to represent the country in the local franchise of this international pageant; her long wait has paid off and her proverbial tweet to become the reigning queen has come true after a 42-year drought to reclaim the coveted crown for the Philippines. She turns out to be the brightest star in the universe for 2015.