BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Her relatives didn't want her to become a soldier because it's too dangerous a profession. But Meriam Libongcogon, who was forced to become a housemaid at a young age to help her family, saw it as an opportunity to improve their lives.
Growing up in Cebu, she did not know about the opportunities at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in Baguio City. The military school does not only offer college education for free, it also gives monthly allowances that cadets coming from poor families usually send back home.
"Ayaw po ng mama ko noong una kasi natakot siya kasi military. Pero nagpursige po ako. Hindi ako nakinig sa kanila. Marami po silang umayaw, pati po mga mga tiyahin ko at tiyuhin. Hindi po ako nakinig kasi alam ko pong opportunity ko na po 'yun," Libongcogon told reporters.
(My mom didn't want it for me at first because was afraid of what joining the military entails. But I persevered. I didn't listen to them. A lot of my relatives opposed my decision. But I didn't listen because I knew it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.)
On Sunday morning, March 12, she will graduate alongwith her mistahs in the PMA Salaknib Class of 2017.
She recalled the time she reached Baguio City for the first time in 2013. Her only worry then was making sure she didn't get lost here. She began building her dreams and never once entertained quitting PMA despite the challenges, she said.
The school regularly tests cadets for their mental, physical and emotional skills to prepare them to become the country's top military officers.
A valedictorian when she graduated elementary school and a scholar in high school, Libongcogon was forced to take jobs at a young age to help support her family.
She took a job to become a housemaid in Cebu hoping that she could juggle work and college education. But taking care of her bosses' children took so much of her time. It didn't work out.
Luckily she met a PMA instructor visiting Cebu who encouraged her to take the exam in 2012. She worked as housemaid for the PMA instructor in Baguio City while waiting for the results of the entrance exams. When she made the cut, her life changed forever.
"Ang paghihirap hindi sagabal para matupad ang mga pangarap. Mag-persevere ka lang (Poverty doesn't not prevent us from fulfilling our dreams. We only need to persevere)," she said.
Libongcogon sees her dreams coming true. As she joins the Philippine Navy, she's looking forward to being able to build a house for her family in Cebu. – Marga Deona/Rappler.com