In March 2016, 400 plebes entered the Philippine Military Academy to become members of the PMA Class of 2020. They were comprised of 366 males and only 34 women.
When they graduate on Friday, May 22, the PMA Masidlawin (Mandirigmang Isinilang na may Dangal at Lakas Upang Maging Tanglaw ng Inang Bayan) Class of 2020 will number only 196 or an attrition rate of almost 50%. Of this number, 23 are women, meaning that 68% of the female cadets made it.
But since 2017, there were 3 women valedictorians. That year, Navy Ensign Rovi Mariel Valino Martinez topped the PMA Salaknib Class of 2017. Seven other women made it to the top 10.
Last year, 2nd Lieutenant Dionne Mae Apolog Umalla of Alilem, Ilocos Sur, topped the Mabalasik Class of 2019. Four other women made it to the top 10.
Like Umalla, Sugui’s mother is a teacher while her father is a farmer. Although from Isabela, Sugui identifies herself as an Ilongga like her father who is from Pavia, Iloilo.
Sugui said that she was enamored whenever she sees people in uniform, which attracted her to PMA.
“Whenever I see uniformed personnel, na-a-amaze ako. Part of me wants to be a part of the military,” she said.
Sugui was already about to finish her Management Economics Course at University of the Philippines Baguio when she passed the PMA entrance examinations. She wisely postponed her entry to PMA to graduate in UP Baguio.
Sugui is only the second UP Baguio alumna to become PMA valedictorian. The first-ever woman valedictorian was Navy Lieutenant Arlene dela Cruz who topped her class in 1999. Dela Cruz – who died in a road accident in 2008 – also finished BS Mathematics at UP Baguio.
One of Sugui’s major influences in life, however, is Lieutenant Colonel Leah Lorenzo-Santiago, who belongs to the mythical Magnificent Seven of 1997. Although Santiago was not the valedictorian, she finished as summa cum laude and was the first woman to command a field artillery battalion in the Philippine Army. (FAST FACTS: Meet the woman mistahs)
A father's dream
The second-highest ranking female in the Masidlawin Class is Rojes Gaile Bacud Jamandre of Lamut, Ifugao. Like Sugui, Jamandre is also a farmer’s daughter and will also join the Army.
Although she reached second year in her Civil Engineering course, Jamandre said that she was meant to be a PMA cadet.
“It was the dream of my father but he didn’t pass. Also my aunt,” she said.
“I have no idea about incorporation, reception. It was my father who prodded me,” Jamandre said. “I had self-doubts but in the PMA, I learned to stand on my own feet.”
Number 7 is Vanelyn Angel Zipagan Tabao of Tuguegarao City. At 21, Tabao is one of the youngest in her batch. She was a freshman in UP Diliman taking up Mathematics when she entered the PMA.
Like Jamandre, she was already primed by her cousins to join the military academy. Some were graduates of PMA and the Philippine National Police Academy and they wanted her to follow their path, she said. Her parents are both government employees.
Tabao said that when she was on her 2nd and 3rd year at PMA, she was offered to go to a foreign military school but she refused.
“Was I right in refusing? I asked myself. And then when I made it to the top 10, maybe that was a right decision indeed,” she said.
Graduating 8th is CFC June Giel Anne Lacuesta Factor from Piddig, Ilocos Norte. She will join the Philippine Air Force.
Factor took up Accounting at the Mariano Marcos Memorial University before transferring to Saint Louis University in Baguio to take up Biology.
Her father is a serviceman and her elder brother is also with the Army, so joining the PMA was natural for her.
“I never joined the CAT or ROTC, so the transition was still hard,” she said.
Factor said that her faith in God made her survive her 4 years at PMA.
Rounding up the top 10 is CFC Dencel Aina Mendoza Bayaca, a Kapampangan from Floridablanca.
She was taking up Business Economics at the UP Diliman Extension in Pampanga when she passed the PMA exams.
She said that her father, an OFW in Qatar, dreamed to be a PMA graduate and passed on his dream to her.
Bayaca said that she was determined to make it to the top 10 and studied hard for it.
CFC Shaira Luz Bernardo of Iriga City in Camarines Sur will receive the Aguinaldo Saber for being the deputy brigade commander of her class, second only to Class Baron CFC Marion Dale Torres Cordova of Nagcarlan, Laguna.
Other female cadets graduating with citations are the following: