The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) held its 5th Triennial Awards at the ballroom of Marco Polo Plaza Hotel. The awards are granted every three years to an exemplary individual and an outstanding institution in the Visayas and Mindanao. Intense research and deliberation are involved to come up with five finalists.
Dominica Chua, Rafi’s chief operating officer, says the awards were launched in 1996, to recognized those committed to building a more humane, equitable and caring society. Honored are men and women who, through their abnegation, bring about change and improve the lives of the less privileged.
Essentially, they reflect the philanthropic and humanitarian ideals and values of the late Ramon Aboitiz and his son, the late Eduardo Aboitiz.
On stage to welcome everyone was Rafi president Roberto “Bobby” Aboitiz who gave the rationale of the awards, specially significant this year when Rafi celebrates its 40th anniversary. He recognized the presence of Cebu Vice Governor Agnes Magpale among the many prominent guests.
Bobby Aboitiz and his wife, Ma. Christina “Marian” Cabarrus de Aboitiz, presented the search committee: chairperson Margarita de la Cruz; businessman Jonathan Aldeguer; journalist Valeriano Avila; Bro. Crispin Betita, FMS (from the academe); and Leonardo Moneva (NGO sector).
Well-documented Powerpoint presentation features the five finalists of each category. All were most deserving but just one in each would be the winner. Chosen for the Don Eduardo Aboitiz Most Outstanding Institution Award was the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation, represented by Manuel Margate, who quipped, “Yes, I am a man!”
The foundation has moved women from poverty to financial independence. It follows the precepts of microfinancing and has gone beyond the boundaries of Negros Island.
The other finalists: Agri-Aqua Development Coalition of Mindanao, spurring sustainable development through coalitions; Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, pump priming growth in rural communities, with 184 sites in Visayas, Mindanao and other parts of the Philippines; SOS Children’s Village Philippines, nurturing abandoned and/or orphaned children through family and home care, a concept originating in Austria but well-adapted to the Philippines; and the Great Physician Rehabilitation Foundation. It champions the disabled who may be in wheelchairs but are mostly useful in Oroqueta City, Misamis Occidental, and beyond.
After a beautiful performance by University of the Visayas Chorale, it was time for the Don Ramon Aboitiz Exemplary Individual Award. It went to most of everyone’s favorite among the finalists: Rene Vendiola.
He used to be a slash-and-burn farmer destroying precious woodlands. He had a change of heart and, for over 20 years now, he has advocated the protection of the environment through intensive tree planting.
A one-hectare property of his in Negros Oriental has been turned into a veritable rain forest. Among the plants at his Liptong Woodland is the endemic and endangered Magnificent Maiden flower, which he propagates.
Other exemplary individual finalists were as follows:
Fr. Angelo Benavides, who is based in the Diocese of Marbel in Mindanao. He has opened lines of communication between the T’Bolis, the Christians, the Muslims and even the military.
Professor Estrella Cantallopez of Notre Dame University in Cotabato City. She was stunned by witnessing war carnage and has dedicated her life to the attainment of peace.
Apolinario Leyson, abandoned at the age of 6, and a street child at Cebu’s Carbon Market, he ended up working at the canteen of nearby University of San José Recoletos. Scouting transformed him and made his career.
Fr. Dennis Tamayo, a missionary assigned in Basilan under Claret Foundation. He has uplifted the living condition of the Bajaus, heretofore considered marginalized and lowly. The transformation has been short of miraculous.
As it has become a tradition of the Rafi awards, Marian Aboitiz was on stage to recite the poem “A Future Not Our Own,” whose words are attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero, martyred in El Salvador in 1980. Marian recited the first part while the rest was read by her daughter Amaya Aboitiz, a deputy director at Rafi.
Before the program ended, Rafi vice president Jon Aboitiz announced that everyone would get a booklet about the finalists of the 5th Triennial Awards. As he said, it is an excellent documentation, capturing the spirit behind the noble work of the finalists, all worthy of emulation.
Among those present were Jon and Bobby’s mother Paqui Aboitiz; their aunt Quina Melendeze; Fr. Ernesto Javier; lawyer Manuel Go; and Dr. Jocelyn Gerra, who is with the Rafi cultural program of Casa Gorordo Museum.
Joy said this year’s “Gabii sa Kabilin” will be on May 25, a Friday. That’s Heritage Night in Cebu, with 75 museums and historical sites designated for nocturnal visitation. There are so many this year they may have to use up the whole weekend.