Stories of passion and resiliency from everyday Filipinos

MANILA, Philippines — As the saying goes, not all heroes wear capes.

Modern heroes are the unassuming people you encounter everyday. But beneath their ordinary exterior lie extraordinary passion and strength.

With compassion and selflessness, each Filipino has the potential to be someone’s — even a whole community’s — hero.

In honor of everyday Filipino heroes, Ginebra San Miguel launched its inaugural Ginebra Ako Awards Night last December 18 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Little Theater. Pinky Webb and Andre Felix hosted the event. Singer Quest capped off the evening with his song, “Tagay.”

Read on for the Ginebra Ako awardees’ stories!

Ginebra Ako Awardee para sa Kabataan

Photos by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Mark Espesor was born with cerebral palsy. It was this very disability which shaped him into the hero he is today — an advocate for persons with disability (PWD).

Mark, the president of Federation of Persons with Disability Association in Iloilo City, began his advocacy in 2006. He educates families of PWDs on being more supportive and creates curriculums for PWDs on becoming functional individuals.

His dream is for PWDs to be recognized and treated as normal members of society. He admits changing traditional thinking when it comes to PWDs is challenging. “But if you are afraid, if you are not willing to give yourself to fight the system, who will?”

He is hopeful that more people will join the advocacy. “Maybe God chose me to have this award so I can be an example of a leader of persons with disability. I’m striving to provide good and honest service.”

Ginebra Ako Awardee para sa Entablado 

For Sipat Lawin Ensemble creative director JK Anicoche, a performance isn’t just something to watch — it’s something to participate in.

JK uses active participatory theater to create programs that support and empower communities, particularly kids. He organizes leadership trainings via different interactive performances. This educates children on issues such as mental health and HIV/AIDS, while simultaneously helping them gain confidence.

Noreen Parafina (pictured), a friend of JK’s who accepted the Ginebra Ako reward on his behalf, adds, “It’s incorporated in the modules to make them express their feelings, emotions, what they think. Being able to get them to move according to how they feel is already a sign na they’re opening up to possibilities of healing.”

Ginebra Ako Awardee para sa Palakasan

You wouldn’t know it from his mild-mannered demeanor, but Mark Sangiao was a star during the early days of Philippine MMA. However, the accomplished fighter found his true calling in helping young athletes win their own medals.

Coach Mark founded the globally renowned Team Lakay in Cordillera. One of his goals was to change people’s perception of sports as violent. But the ultimate dream was to help young aspiring athletes.

“Galing din naman ako sa hirap. Pero dahil sa sports, nakaahon ako, nakapagtapos ako sa pag-aaral. Then tinuloy ko yung career ko sa sports, naging professional ako. Yun yung way na nakatulong sakin. Yun din yung way na gusto kong ma-impart sa mga kabataan natin,” he says.

[I experienced hardships too. But thanks to sports, I was able to rise from that and finish my studies. Then I continued my career in sports, and I became a professional. That’s what helped me. That’s what I want to happen to the Filipino youth too.]

Ginebra Ako Awardee para sa Kalikasan

Teodoro Canda lives in the waterside barangay of Tigao in Surigao del Sur. Throughout the years, he has seen how fishermen harm their very source of livelihood — the sea.

He founded Nagpapakabanang Mananagat sa Tigao, which advocated for the protection and preservation of marine areas, mango forests, and mountains. Local government finally listened, but fishermen were none too pleased that they were forbidden to fish in marine protected areas. Fortunately, after 3-5 years, marine life began to thrive again.

“Pinakamahalaga talaga na panawagan natin na ang lahat ng mga coastal province ng ating bayan. ‘Di pa huli ang lahat. Talagang bumabalik ang yamang kalikasan. Tayong lahat ay dapat may responsilidad sa pangangalaga, he says.

[It’s important for us to call on coastal provinces. It’s not too late. Nature always finds a way to heal. We all have a responsibility to take care of it.]

What does it take to be ‘Ginebra Ako’?

With Ginebra Ako, Ginebra San Miguel recognizes the hero in every Filipino. General Manager Ron Molina says, “It’s not being matapang [brave] for its own sake. It’s the bravery of a hero. You’re being fearless for others, be it for your family, friend, community, or country.”

Being a hero means inspiring others to become heroes in their own right. “It’s also tibay, husay — not settling for just good or average, but saying I wanna do more,” he adds.

Who’s your hero? -