123rd Philippine Independence Day: Seven Filipinos receive Dakilang Bayani award in Dubai

From left: Angel Tesorero, Fevie Laurilla, Josie Conlu, Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi, Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes and wife, Yasmin Balajadia-Cortes, Michael Cinco, Lalaine Chu-Benitez and Ace Lester Quijada. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Seven exemplary Filipinos were bestowed Dakilang Bayani (Noble Hero) Awards by the Philippine Consulate in Dubai on the occasion of the 123rd Philippine Independence Day on Saturday.

According to the consulate, the recipient of Dakilang Bayani “is an outstanding achiever, a hero or an extraordinary person who is always eager to do his/her best without paying attention to difficulties. A person who is brave and courageous and is admired not only by his/her family but also by many people here in the UAE, the Philippines and the world. He/she is a person who is a great inspiration to many, aspiring to reach the peak of success no matter what challenges lie ahead.”

The annual recognition is the highest award given by the Philippine Consulate in Dubai to extraordinary Filipino expats in the UAE. Honourees this year include internationally renowned fashion designer Michael Cinco; Dr Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi, Group CEO of Prime Group of Companies; Fevie Laurilla, entrepreneur; Ace Quijada, financial consultant; Josie Conlu, community organiser; Lalaine Chu-Benitez, founder of Illustrado Magazine; and Angel Tesorero, Gulf News senior reporter.

Five other Filipino community leaders made it to the final list, including Francisco Boton, Emelina Parcia, Richard Zulueta, Ion Gonzaga and Lou Parroco.

Rigorous evaluation

Dr Rommel Sergio from Abu Dhabi School of Management, who is also the selection committee chair, told Gulf News: “This year’s selection process was the most rigorous in view of the huge number of equally notable nominations submitted to the committee. We balanced the applicant’s profile and contribution to the community. Dakilang Bayani is the highest recognition given to Filipino expats by the Philippine Consulate and is truly sought-after ever since it started in 2016.”

Aside from Sergio, three more academicians were designated by Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes to spearhead the selection process. They were Dr Rex Bacarra, campus academic head and director for administrative services at Southville-RAK, the first Filipino college in the UAE; Dr Ben Lebig, Jr. and Dr Niño Decenorio of Bath Spa University.

Meet the honourees in their own words

Lalaine Chu-Benitez, Illustrado Magazine founder

Lalaine Chu-Benitez, Illustrado Magazine founder. Image Credit: Supplied

“From the simple desire for a more progressive representation for Filipinos in the media, my team and I created Illustrado Magazine in 2006. For the last 15 years, we have been championing the world-class Filipino through aspirational and empowering content. We have not only supported thousands of talents, but also inspired millions of our compatriots across the globe to aspire for advancement. Most importantly, we have elevated the way our community is seen, while setting the gold standard for Filipino communications in the region. We have done this despite many sacrifices, commercial challenges, and limited resources — because this is our calling.”

Michael Cinco, Dubai-based internationally acclaimed fashion designer

Michael Cinco, Dubai-based internationally acclaimed fashion designer. Image Credit: Supplied

“Dakilang Bayani is a Filipino who inspires the community not just locally but also in the international scene. It has been my passion to elevate our identity and redefine how Filipinos are known in the global fashion industry by the creations impalpably seen through my eyes. I have created and transformed the Filipino aesthetics by dressing up known celebrities, royalties, beauty queens and supported worthy causes that propel who we are: Filipinos who are proud of our artistic heritage and unfettered by challenges. It is with great humility and transparency that I am able to say that what I have done in the fashion industry and will continue to do, inspired and will inspire generations of young designers to follow their impalpable dreams.”

Dr. Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi, Group CEO of Prime Group of Companies

Dr. Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi, Group CEO of Prime Group of Companies

“To be a Dakilang Bayani means creating a difference, making invaluable contributions to society and to helping other people realise their worth. Receiving a recognition from a reputed institution means a validation of one’s works. I’m honoured and I vow to continue to take responsibility for every choice and decision I make, and commit to continually improve myself to do more.”

Fevie Laurilla, volunteer and entrepreneur

Fevie Laurilla, volunteer and entrepreneur Image Credit: Supplied

“I am an ordinary Filipina who consistently helps my kababayans (compatriots) in my own little way. Others may think it’s a cliché, but when I help my kababayans who are in need, I also feel blessed. Helping others bring me joy and blessings come back a hundred-fold. And when you do good with a clean heart and sincere intention, I think that qualifies you to become an exemplary Dakilang Bayani.”

Ace Quijada, financial consultant

Ace Quijada, financial consultant Image Credit: Supplied

“Helping anyone without any reservation, willing to take risks to fight for what is right, preserving integrity and personal values at any circumstance, being determined and committed to accomplish an endeavour for a good cause; even at the expense of sacrificing own time, goals and personal priorities. These have been my guiding principles over the years, and if these were the same parameters used in the evaluation for Dakilang Bayani, then perhaps these were the primary reasons why I was considered for the award by the selection committee and our beloved consul-general.”

Josie Conlu, community leader

Josie Conlu, community leader Image Credit: Supplied

“I’ve served the Filipino community by organising various community outreach programmes, medical missions, job fairs, and others. I’ve also showcased the strength of every successful Filipino in various social media platforms and spent time helping distressed overseas Filipinos by seeking assistance from government, semi-government and private organisations.”

Angel Tesorero, Gulf News senior reporter

Angel tesorero
Angel Tesorero, Gulf News senior reporter

“As a journalist, I deliver the news to my kababayans (compatriots) truthfully and with urgency. The pandemic has brought disinformation in mass media and I would like to believe I did my role in battling the ‘infodemic’ by providing the public — through Gulf News — with accurate information they needed to make informed decisions.”

Tribute to Cortes

Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymun Cortes-1623501114330
Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymun Cortes speaks at the awards ceremony. Image Credit: Supplied

Meanwhile, members of the selection committee also paid tribute to Cortes, who is finishing his tour of duty as the top Filipino diplomat in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. Bacarra said: “Everyone who knows the consul-general would agree that he is a man of great character. It is his character that impacts others and it is his hard-core service that differentiates him from others. In fact, no one is more deserving of the Dakilang Bayani award than he himself.

“Under Consul-General Cortes’ leadership, the Consulate was awarded by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs with: Best organisation in 2017; Best Assistance-to-Nationals Unit in 2018; and One of the Best Performing Units in 2019. The consul-general was also conferred by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte the Gawad Mabini Award with the rank of Dakilang Kamanong (Grand Cross) in 2018 for his meritorious service,” Bacarra noted.