Stargate People Asia’s People of the Year Awardees

Six out of the ten people selected by Stargate People Asia as People of the Year 2021, including two special awardees, are alumni of the University of the Philippines (UP). This was announced last December 12.

The UP alumni selected as People of the Year 2021 are: UP Philippine General Hospital director, Dr. Gerardo D. Legaspi; Philippine Star Editor-in-Chief Ana Marie Pamintuan, who graduated from the UP Diliman College of Mass Communication; President, CEO and Director of Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. Cesar Grospe Romero, who earned his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, cum laude, from UP Diliman; and Cavite Governor Juanito Victor “Jonvic” Catibayan Remulla Jr., who earned his undergraduate degree in Philosophy from UP Diliman. The two chosen as Special Awardees are: Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo and Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, both of whom earned their undergraduate degrees in Economics from UP Diliman.

According to Stargate People Asia’s caption on Facebook: “From battling the pandemic to uplifting others in the face of calamities, to bringing opportunities to countless Filipinos in search for greener pastures, these ‘People of the Year’ awardees continue to spread a contagion of hope.”

Source: UP System FB Page

A great ride: Edward Hernandez

Locals hitching a ride on a restored military truck after WWII was the catalyst to launching one of the largest bus companies in the Philippines. Today, the locals are still hopping on board, but travelling in far more comfort.

It was September 1945, the end of World War II. The Philippines had been liberated from Japanese occupation, and mechanic Jose Hernandez was scrounging spare parts from abandoned US military vehicles to restore an old truck he needed to transport merchandise for the family business.

However, within days of the Chevy hitting the road, locals were hopping on board, wedging themselves among the bags of rice, fish sauce and laundry soap, to hitch a ride.

Quickly establishing that the unsolicited passengers would provide a more profitable business, Jose installed wooden planks at the back of the open-sided truck to accommodate them. His wife, Marta, became the treasurer, and he set off on his first run along the 200-kilometre return route from Batangas Pier to Divisoria, with his ‘conductor’ brother-in-law Leonardo hanging onto the side collecting fares Victory Liner was born.

Jose’s grandson and the company’s vice president of operations, Edward Hernandez, describes the stories surrounding those early days as legendary. They are retold many times, particularly at company events, when Victory Liner’s fleet of nearly 1,000 vehicles, 25 passenger terminals and routes that traverse most of central and northern Luzon and Metro Manila, are celebrated.

Edward remembers his grandfather as a formidable character, instilling the virtue of hard work and discipline into his children and extended family right up until his death in 2001. “He was very strict and really tough, and my uncles tell me they were disciplined harshly,” Edward says. “But all the things he taught us about commitment, sacrifice and discipline were important and I believe that’s why we’re what we are today.”

“Everyone in the family was encouraged to help with the business, even when we, all the cousins, were very young. We were pulled into the shop during the school holidays to do our fair share and to learn directly from him or the managers. We’d rotate too. One time I’d be at the overhauling shops, learning how to overhaul an engine, at another I’d be working in the electrical department.”

Victory Liner is based in Caloocan, northern Metro Manila. Most executives and members of the company’s board are family members. Edward’s father, Johnny T Hernandez, is president and his cousin, Marivic Del Pilar, is vice president for treasury and marketing. Edward says that being family does not automatically entitle anyone to a position within the company, nor are there jobs for the in-laws. More of his grandfather’s scrupulous rules.

“We need to get outside experience working somewhere else before we can formally join the company,” Edward explains. “I studied hotel and restaurant administration at the University of the Philippines and worked with some hotel and restaurant chains here in the Philippines, as well as in America. After that, my father called me in to help with the company. We do have a choice, but personally I wanted to contribute my share.”

Edward uses airline and rail transport service as the company’s benchmark, with levels of comfort varying, from regular air-conditioned transport with free wi-fi, to super deluxe coaches offering onboard toilets, free snacks and steward service. “We offer first-class service on our longer routes taking 10 hours or more. It’s the same concept as business class on airlines, with wider seats, more leg room, food and service,” he explains.

Most bus companies throughout the Philippines are privately operated, so the transport system is not subsidised by the government. In fact, most of the regulations and policies governing the bus industry stem from the lengthy experience and lessons learned by Victory Liner itself.

“Our safety record is unmatched in the country, and the government has heeded this,” Edward says. “GPS, speed limits, safety protocols, inspections – all these things were non-existent in the Philippines until we implemented them. Scheduling isn’t mandated by the government, either. We are unique because we introduced specific schedules.”

“GPS, speed limits, safety protocols, inspections – all these things were non-existent in the Philippines until we implemented them.”

“Also, in the Philippines, most operations in ticketing, accounting and HR are still manual. Our goal is to automate, and we’ve been visiting companies overseas to determine the best systems for us. We’ve introduced some already. It’s a process, but we’re getting there.”

Victory Liner drivers are heavily screened and undergo extensive training, not only on the road, but in workshops detailing defensive driving, economical driving
and customer service. Once accepted into the company, they undergo a six-month probationary service on easier routes before being upgraded to longer and harder journeys.

However, Edward stresses, while skills are vital, personality and commitment are regarded as just as important. “We’re in the service industry, primarily there to help others, so our customers are paramount to us,” Edward says. “While we understand transport is a basic need, we also realise it’s not as simple as just getting people on a bus and driving them somewhere.”

“We want to make all our journeys, from the lowest to the highest fare, memorable and provide the customer satisfaction they all deserve. The motivation to serve is ingrained in each of our drivers while they transport passengers from one destination to another.”

Edward, who has also completed a Masters in Strategic Business Economics, says he’s adopted a different leadership style from that of his grandfather. Rather than enforcing strict rules with little opportunity for negotiation, Edward prefers a more participative approach.

“I am a bit different,” he admits. “My grandfather’s demanding rules were followed, no matter what, whereas I believe in the capability of our managers and prefer to give them the independence to develop their own management style. Of course, we have metrics in place to ensure the company is heading where we want it to, but as more of a results-oriented person, I’m happy to give managers a free hand to use their own style of management. For me, a manager can deviate, as long as we reach the goal together.”

“For me, a manager can deviate, as long as we reach the goal together.”

“I also like to employ professionals at the top of their field,” he adds. “We have managers ranging from those tenured in the company to new blood; a good mix of people who rose up through the ranks and those from outside the industry.”

For Edward, however, the company’s real success is measured by the loyalty of its customers, many of whom have relied on Victory Liner for getting around for generations. “I see grandparents and parents encouraging their children to ride with us, just as they did,” he says. “Our service is going right down the line and that’s testament to the fact that we’ve been doing something right. What really makes me proud is when I read comments on social media from people saying how happy they are with our service.”

“We also have third-generation employees whose grandparents worked with my grandfather. That is very special. They are proud to work with us and to help us serve the country.”

These exceptional relationships extend to Victory Liner’s suppliers too, in particular, RYCO IncBridgestone and MACC, with whom the company has enjoyed decades of partnership. Edward describes their association as going beyond purely business. “These companies are very important,” Edward says. “Just like our passengers and staff, we have multi-generational suppliers from families who interacted and did business with my parents and grandparents. We are on to our third generation with RYCO, and second for MACC.”

“Sometimes our families lived in the same rural city, and as children we went to the same high schools. We get together, not only because of business, but to go out just to have fun or join in family gatherings. Actually, it’s really one big family. That’s how it is here in the Philippines.”

Twice a year, the Hernandez family gets together to celebrate summer holidays and the new year. Extraordinarily, Edward knows everyone, about 100 of them, by name, from matriarch and chair of the board, Gerarda H Villa, to the tiniest toddlers.

“It’s not so extraordinary, really, because I am in charge of keeping the family tree,” he laughs. “I am the custodian and have to maintain all the records. And yes, it’s getting difficult because we are up to the fifth generation and, like many other families, we are scattered all around the world.”

Edward, who has two children of his own, admits the family company is a paradise for the youngest members of the Hernandez family. His young son, Kiro, like most little boys, loves buses, and a trip to the office is a treat.

“He has lots of fun exploring the garage, having a look underneath the buses or peering at their engines. And, of course, he loves going for a ride.”
Edward still occasionally hops on one of his buses, particularly the Manila to Baguio route, and while he’d prefer to travel incognito, without fuss, that’s becoming more difficult.

“They do find out,” he laughs. “But I like it because it’s often so much more convenient than driving and parking my own car. I hop on, sit comfortably, don’t have to find a car park, and then I’m fresh and ready for a meeting. That’s what I tell my friends too – why take the car when you can hop on a Victory Liner bus? Efficient, safe and relaxed.”


2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos Named: P1 Million Awaits Each Awardee

This year’s Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos have been presented during a press conference held on August 8 in Taguig City. As a career-service award for Filipino exemplars in the academe, military, and police sectors—ten (10) Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos were presented, composed of 4 teachers, 3 soldiers, and 3 police officersto the members of the media. Each awardee will be awarded with a cash prize of PhP 1 million each (net of tax), a golden medallion, and “The Flame” trophy during the formal conferment ceremonies on September 4 at the Metrobank Plaza in Makati City as part of Metrobank’s 57th anniversary celebration.

A Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino is steered by the value of “Beyond Excellence”, raising the bar of excellence in their respective fields. Their contributions speak of service beyond one’s self — but to their sectors and in the larger community, inspiring their peers. Their service and community involvements have helped shape better communities and created a lasting positive impact upon the people.

Recipients of the 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos – Award for Teachers (L-R): Dorothy S. Tarol, Ph.D; Ricardo T. Jose, Ph.D.; Eva Maria C. Cutiongco-dela Paz, M.D.; Cristina B. Cristobal, Ph.D.

Recipients of the 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino Award for Teachers are : (1) Dorothy S. Tarol, Ph.D., Master Teacher II, Special Education-Integrated School for Exceptional Children (SPED-ISEC) (Iloilo City); (2) Cristina B. Cristobal, Ph.D., Special Science Teacher 5, Philippine Science High School Main Campus (Quezon City); (3) Ricardo T. Jose, Ph.D. Professor 12, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines Diliman (Quezon City); (4) Eva Maria C. Cutiongco-Dela Paz, M.D., Professor 10, College of Medicine, University of the Philippines Manila (City of Manila).

Recipients of the 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos – Award for Soldiers and Police Officers (L-R)(L-R); MSgt. Ramil A. Caporas PA; Major Romulo G. Dimayuga II PN (M); Lt. Col. John Paul D. Baldomar PA; PCol. Edwin A. Quilates; PMaj. Robert A. Reyes, and PCMS. Marsha T. Agustin, RSW.

Recipients of the 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino Award for Soldiers are: (5)Master Sergeant Ramil A. Caporas PA, Team Supervisor, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion, Army Support Command, Philippine Army, Camp Servillano Aquino (Tarlac City); (6) Major Romulo G. Dimayuga II PN (M), Former Operations and Training Officer, Force Reconnaissance Group (formerly Marine Special Operations Group), Headquarters Philippine Marine Corps, Fort Bonifacio (Taguig City); (7) Lieutenant Colonel John Paul D. Baldomar PA, Chief, Current Operations Branch, Internal Security Operations Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Camp Aguinaldo (Quezon City).

Recipients of the 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino Award for Police Officers are: (8) Police Chief Master Sergeant Marsha T. Agustin, RSW, Investigator, Women and Children Protection Center, Philippine National Police Headquarters, Camp Crame (Quezon City); (9) Police Major Robert A. Reyes, Technical Support Officer, Counter Intelligence Task Force, Philippine National Police Headquarters, Camp Brigadier General Rafael T. Crame, Quezon City; (10) Police Colonel Edwin A. Quilates, Provincial Director, Batangas Police Provincial Office, Camp Miguel C. Malvar (Batangas City).

“We believe that the call to recognize excellence resonates truer than ever as we celebrate Metrobank Foundation’s 40th year founding anniversary this year. We sustain our commitment to honor exemplary servants from the academe, military, and police sectors whose stories inspire action and whose contributions to society represent the best in our people,” said Metrobank Foundation president Aniceto Sobrepeña.

The awardees underwent a rigorous selection process and were chosen from hundreds of nominations. A Board of Assessors, composed of members from the government, academe, military, and NGO sectors, identified semi-finalists through a review of documents submitted. Eighteen (18) finalists were chosen whose accomplishments in service and community underwent the field validation process spearheaded by third-party organizations–the Philippine Social Science Council (PSSC) and the Career Executive Service Board (CESB). This process verified the significant contributions of the finalists to their respective fields and communities of influence.

The 18 finalists were interviewed by a multi-sectoral Final Board of Judges chaired by Senator Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian and co-chaired by Supreme Court of the Philippines associate justice Alexander Gesmundo. The members include: Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development secretary and Task Force Bangon Marawi chairman Eduardo Del Rosario; University of Asia & the Pacific president Dr. Winston Conrad Padojinog; Military Ordinariate of the Philippines bishop Most Reverend Oscar Jaime Florencio, D.D; PHINMA Corporation president and vice chairman and Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) chairman Ramon Del Rosario, Jr.; Tan Yan Kee Foundation, Inc. treasurer Jaime Bautista; Management Association of the Philippines president and Sun Life Financial Philippine Holding Company chairman Rizalina Mantaring; and GMA Network, Inc. vice president for professional development and broadcast journalist Horacio “Howie” Severino.

Dr. Tarol is cited for championing inclusive education especially through her action research designed to enhance basic literacy skills of learners with hearing impairment. Dr. Cristobal is honored for promoting Philippine history among her students through an approach that encourages hands-on experience with the use of primary sources. Dr. Jose is acclaimed for being the country’s foremost scholar on the World War II in the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific. Dr. Cutiongco-Dela Paz is cited for her prolific work on clinical genetics and shedding light on genetic disorders.

Meanwhile, MSgt. Caporas is lauded for developing an improvised explosive instrumental to the successful operations during the Marawi siege. Maj. Dimayuga is feted for his role in the successful counter-communist insurgency efforts in areas formerly associated with high insurgency rate. Lt. Col. Baldomar is recognized for his leadership in his organization’s transformation journey.

PCMS. Agustin integrated social work in her profession and co-authored the manual widely used by the country’s police forces when handling human trafficking cases. PMaj. Reyes is credited for his expertise in cybercrime investigation and his efforts to equip his peers with the knowledge on trafficking in person intelligence and investigation. PCol. Quilates initiated a strategy that effectively mobilizes local forces, leading to the successful arrests of notorious criminals and resulting to lower crime rate in his province.

Since 1985, the Metrobank Foundation has honored a total of 665 Outstanding Filipinos. The program is held in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), PSBank, Rotary Club of Makati Metro, and the Rotary Club of New Manila East.


Former UP president Emil Javier named national scientist

Former UP president Emil Javier. PHOTO from UP Los Baños Twitter

By: Nestor Corrales

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has named former University of the Philippines president Emil Javier as the nation’s latest national scientist.

Duterte conferred Javier the Order of National Scientist through Proclamation No. 781 released on Thursday.

“[T]he works of Emil Q. Javier, Ph.D., in the field of agriculture, through spearheading the Institute of Plant Breeding which popularized high-yielding crops and disease -resistant varieties in the country and in Asia, evinces his outstanding contributions to the progress of science and technology in the Philippines and the world,” the proclamation read.

The proclamation added that Javier “led and promoted sound agricultural policies and programs, massive utilization of climate- resilient and environment- friendly agricultural innovations, and improved governance and management system to help improve the livelihood of Filipino farmers and fisherfolk.”

It said Javier, “in the pursuit of his lifelong mission to look after the needs of the poor by capitalizing on the resources of modern science, played an active role in the efforts to inform the public about the nature of science and its potential to improve people’s access to food and health, and to emphasize the need for high safety standards in both research and production of biotechnological innovations.”

Javier served as the 17th UP president from 1993 to 1999.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, earned his master’s degree from the University of Illinois and a doctorate degree in Plant Breeding and Genetics from Cornell University. 


PAL board appoints veteran in BPO management and corporate turnarounds as president and COO

File Photo

By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo

PIONEERING flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) has a new chief pilot on the seat.

PAL made the formal announcement of its new leader at 3 pm, saying the 15-man PAL Board had “unanimously approved” the choice of Gilbert Santa Maria, a “handpicked nominee of PAL Chairman and CEO Dr. Lucio C. Tan,”
as president and chief operating officer.

Earlier, two separate sources on the PAL board of directors confirmed that Santa Maria, a veteran in establishing and managing business process outsource (BPOs) companies, is the new president and chief operating officer of the airline.

“[He starts work] today,” said one source who requested not to be identified as he was not authorized to speak on the matter. Another source, who requested anonymity, said “there were other candidates [but Santa Maria seems] more experienced in management. He came highly recommended. And he looks more confident.”

Both sources declined to say who were, and how many other candidates were considered by the board. But one source underscored, “it’s a 10-man Corporate Governance Committee [who went over the candidates’ qualifications], to ensure maximum compliance.”

Other sources also averred that Santa Maria was recommended by a headhunter with a note on his massive “corporate turnaround experiences from PepsiCo [which he used to manage in the Philippines], and other companies. He also has extensive experience in corporate communications/marketing.”

Prior to joining PAL, Santa Maria was in the information technology and services industry, having been COO of the US-based Ibex Global Solutions, and was also responsible for driving business of eTelecare, both BPOs.


The board of directors of Philippine Airlines (PAL) today (July 29, 2019) confirmed the appointment of Gilbert F. Santa Maria as the flag carrier’s new President and Chief Operating Officer.

The 15-man PAL board, in its regular meeting at the Century Park Hotel – Manila unanimously approved Santa Maria, a handpicked nominee of PAL Chairman and CEO Dr. Lucio C. Tan.

In a brief message, Dr. Tan enjoined the PAL team to support Santa Maria as he embarks on his new role as president and COO.

“I call on all PAL executives and staff to support Gilbert Santa Maria. Let’s work together and help him face PAL’s many challenges,” the taipan said.

For his part, Santa Maria said he considers it a privilege to serve the country’s flag carrier. He urged his fellow PAL workers to help him achieve Dr. Tan’s vision of making Philippine Airlines the airline of choice across all markets it serves.

“PAL is the airline that meets the needs of local and global travelers by showcasing our brand’s main strength — the passion for safety and service. Maintaining the current level of service is important and of course, profitability. Let us do our share to make PAL reach greater heights. I will be with you every step of the way,” he added.

PAL EVP and Chief Administrative Officer Vivienne K. Tan said, “It is important for my father’s vision to be translated into PAL providing consistent quality service to our customers and also, the flag carrier serving as a means to contribute to nation-building. With this new leadership, we will accomplish this further.” 

The new airline President has three decades of executive management and leadership experience gained across multiple industries in companies around the world.

For the last 15 years, he was a key leader and contributor in the Philippines’ highly successful BPO industry. Until early 2018 he was COO of Washington, DC-based BPO company Ibex Global and was responsible for its 18,000 employees around the World.  Before IBEX, he was COO and CFO of IQ BackOffice, a California-based Finance & Accounting outsourcer that was an investee company of LiveIt Investments, Ayala Corporation’s BPO holding company.

He supported the governance of LiveIt’s investee companies as a member of the boards of IQ BackOffice; Integreon, a London-based KPO; and Stream, a leading Massachusetts-based global Call Center company. Before this, he led Corporate Development for Stream, having joined its leadership after its 2009 merger with Arizona-based eTelecare Global Solutions, where he led Corporate Development and eTelecare’s 11,000-employee Philippine Operations through the integration of the two companies. He joined the startup eTelecare in 2004.

Prior to joining the BPO industry, Santa Maria helped lead a Singapore-based internet 1.0 startup called He was Executive Director of Argosy Partners, which was organized by Filipino business leaders in the wake of the Asian Currency Crisis in 1998 to be the Philippine affiliate of global Private Equity funds like Warburg Pincus, Chase Capital and GE Investments. He was one of the youngest General Managers of Pepsi Cola Products Philippines’ Manila Operations.

He was also a management consultant at Booz Allen & Hamilton in New York where he led various strategy and operations consulting engagements for global clients like P&G, J&J, BOC of the UK and BHP of Australia. He started his career as a management trainee in production and engineering at Unilever in Manila.

Santa Maria is leaving his Los Angeles-based advisory firm to join Philippine Airlines in Manila. He has a Master’s in Public and Private Management from the Yale University School of Management and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of the Philippines in Diliman. He was born and raised in Mindanao.

With a report from Lorenz S. Marasigan

Image Credits: Nonie Reyes


Recto conferred UAP highest architecture award

Noted architect Philip H. Recto (BS Arch ’70) was conferred the Likha Gold Medal Award by the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) last April 11, 2019. This is the highest UAP architecture award and is given to illustrious architects in recognition of their impeccable moral character, highest standard of professional and ethical conduct, excellence and prestige in the practice of the architectural profession, and distinguished contribution and service to the UAP, the community, government and country. As of 2019 only 14 architects have been conferred this prestigious award out of more than 44,000 Filipino architects.

Arch. Philip H. Recto

Previously, Arch. Recto was also bestowed the 20008 PFPA Professional Excellence Award by the Philippine Federation of professional Associations which is affiliated with the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC). He was chosen from among nominees of 43 professional organizations representing more than one million registered professionals in the country. Earlier, he was presented the 1998 Outstanding Architect of the Year Award by the PRC and 1999 “Araw ng Maynila” Mayor’s Award of Honor for Art and Culture.

Arch. Recto was also bestowed the 2012 UPAA Distinguished Alumni Award in the field of Architecture and the 1999 UPAA Professional Award in Architecture. In 2000, the Philip H. Recto Design Excellence Award was established at the UP College of Architecture in order to recognize outstanding thesis. To date, it has 176 awardees, 33 of whom were facilitated to undergo a 2-year post baccalaureate training at prestigious architectural firms in Singapore, Hongkong and Shenzhen, China.

At present, he is the Principal of Philip H. Recto Architects, responsible for many landmark buildings in the country such as the 61-story Corporate Finance Plaza and the 54-story One Corporate Centre in Ortigas Center, the One San Miguel Avenue office building and The Avantgarde Residence in Ortigas Center, the 20-story De La Salle University-Br. Andrew Gonzales Hall in Manila, St. Paul College in Pasig, the Manuel M. Lopez Development Center (now known as First Pacific Leadership Academy) in Antipolo City, the PNOC head office bldg.. in BGC and many others.

Arch. Recto is also the board member of The Museum at De La Salle University-Manila since 2006.

Source: Philip H. Recto Architects

Pic source:—-arch._philip_h._recto.jpg

Japan Confers Decoration on Ambassador Delia Domingo Albert

The Government of Japan announced on May 21, 2019 the conferment of The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star on Ambassador Delia Domingo Albert, former foreign secretary, in recognition of her contribution to strengthening the economic relations between Japan and the Philippines.

Ambassador Delia Domingo Albert

When she was foreign secretary in 2003 to 2004, she took an initiative of the negotiation of Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), which later greatly contributed to the enhancement of the economic relationship between the Philippines and Japan, especially in the area of people exchange.

She also contributed to the promotion of inviting Japanese private sectors in the Philippines in mining industry when she served as Presidential Advisor for Multilateral Cooperation and Development in 2004 to 2005.

Furthermore, as a senior advisor of Sycip Gorres Velayo & Co., she has being supporting the Japanese companies in the Philippines in a various ways.

The government of Japan extends its sincere congratulations to Ambassador Albert, and hopes that he will continue to take an active role in further strengthening the close relations between our two nations.


Karla Bautista-Siao: From beauty queen to lawyer

Cebu City, Philippines—When she was a kid, Cebuana beauty queen Karla Bautista-Siao dreamt of becoming a lawyer.

Karla Bautista-Siao: From beauty queen to lawyer. | contributed photos

“I am fascinated about law and I wanted to be the voice for the voiceless,” she told Cebu Daily News Digital.

Twenty-six years later, that childhood dream came true.

Last May 3, 2019, Karla’s name came out as among the 1,800 examinees who passed the recent Bar Examination.

The 1,800 examinees are equivalent to 22.07 percent of the 8,158 examinees who took the examination which was done in four Sundays in November 2018.

The big day 

According to the  34-year-old beauty-queen-turned-lawyer, she already saw signs that she would pass the Bar Examination.

She shared that prior to the release of the results,  she saw Mama Mary in her dreams last April 28, Sunday. 

The second sign came a day before the results were released, when her her 7-year-old daughter handed her a plastic rose. Siao believed that the rose was a symbol of intercession from Saint Padre Pio and Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.

“That (rose) was an assurance na dili ko mag doubt (the results of the examination),” she added.

(That rose was an assurance for me not to doubt the results of the examinations.)

Siao learned that she became a lawyer while she accompanied her 7 seven-year-old daughter for an ear check-up in a clinic.

She received a photo from her friend which was sent via Messenger. She had no idea that it was a screenshot of the results. 

Dili pa mo load ang photo (The photo did not load). After my friend congratulated me, I assumed that I passed the examination,” she said. 

It did not sink in first that she passed the Bar Examination since she had to focus on her daughter at the clinic.

Everything sinked in when she went back home after her daughter’s check-up. 

The journey to her dream 

It took Siao seven years to finish Mass Communication at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu since she had to stop going to school twice. 

First, when she lost her mother in 2002 and second when she fulfilled her dream to become a beauty queen and was crowned Miss Cebu in 2003.

Siao had to join Miss Cebu 2003 since she also wanted to fulfill her mother’s dream to become a beauty queen. 

She then joined Binibining Pilipinas 2004 and became the country’s official representative in Miss World 2004 in Sanya, China. 

Before competing for Miss World 2004, she underwent surgery because of an ovarian cyst. 

Siao brought pride to the country after finishing Top 5 and earned the title Miss World 2004 Queen of Asia and Oceana.

After that, she continued to pursue her dream to become a lawyer.

“The dream was still there to become a lawyer,” Siao said after the height of her pageant career. 

She earned her degree in Mass Communication in 2008 and later on worked as a flight attendant in an international airline. 

It was part of the plan to work since she had to help her family and at the same time a chance for her to save up for Law School.

In 2011 or three years after working as a flight attendant, she went back to Cebu and married Merrick Siao.

The couple is blessed with two daughters, aged 7 and 3 years old. Currently, she is six months pregnant to a baby boy. 

After marriage, she helped her husband, Merrick, run a spa business in Cebu. 

In 2013, she continued her childhood dream and enrolled for Law School at the University of San Carlos (USC) and graduated in 2018.

Law school was not an easy journey for her. 

She had to undergo a major operation on her first year because of adhesion of intestine. In 2014, her father passed away. 

The law school also had to wait on her third year when she got pregnant and underwent another surgery for adhesion during the cesarean delivery of her second child.

Siao started reviewing for the Bar around August 2018. She had to balance her time between reviewing in Manila and coming back to Cebu to attend to her daughters. 

Women with substance

After passing the Bar Examination, Siao wants to practice being a lawyer.

“I want to find an opportunity where I can expand public service,” she said.

Siao was not the only beauty queen who passed the recent Bar Examination.

Patricia Magtanong, one of the Binibining Pilipinas 2019 candidates, also made it as part of the 22.07 percent passing population. 

Siao said that there is now a paradigm shift to beauty queens.

“Not just their physical looks but people are now looking to beauty queens as women with substance,” she said. 

Siao advised the beauty queens to pursue their advocacy.

“It has become a challenge. Beauty queens should not just have pretty faces but also serve their purpose,” she said. /bmjo