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Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo

Aug 27, 2018

Ten outstanding students

Last week, I was invited to speak and award the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines-Calabarzon Regional Awardees. I could still remember how a few years back, we found ourselves sitting at the same chair, anxiously waiting for our name to be called. There’s prestige in being part of a network of individuals who share the same passion for nation building. Allow me to share my speech:

In 2012, a few months before I was awarded one of the Ten Outstanding Students for Region IV-A — I decided to visit the indigenous people of Tagbanua in Sitio Calauit. For about five days, we lived without electricity, cellphone signal, and internet connection. While it was surrounded by sea, clean, potable water was scarce. Everyone was provided one pail of water for his consumption for two days.

But what struck me the most was how we survived the incident on our way to Palawan. I could still remember it clearly — at about 10 pm, our boat capsized. There were twelve people. Only three knew how to swim. There was only one life vest — a plastic container more commonly used as a water dispenser. For almost an hour, we clung to a bamboo pole in the middle of the sea to survive. At first, we tried to save everything we could — we clung to our bags but when we realized we were too heavy for the “katig” to maintain — we untied them and let them loose. Our flashlight then was more important that anything we ever saved.

That day was no different than the days prior — no one could have foreseen it — until we found ourselves in the middle of the sea, shouting for rescue.

What I learned that evening changed me. It taught me the value of time, chances and opportunity. At that instant— nothing was more important than survival. In those few difficult minutes, the things I’ve always wanted to do was finally worth the risk I’ve constantly debated on.

Maybe, life is not wasted, lost in death but rather in minutes, hours, days, months and years of reluctance, procrastination, and doubt. Maybe, life is lost, little by little, every time we shelve a dream, break a promise, or stop trying.


At times — in trying to understand the monologue in our head, the intricacies of our brain — we forget what matters the most. Sometimes, the things we take for granted, the things we set aside — in our quest for “success” — are the things that are most important. Taking breaks and functioning at your own pace is as important as hard work and persistence.

When I was working for United Nations’ Development Program (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO), I saw the extensive damage caused by Category 5-Supertyphoon Haiyan, or more popularly known as Yolanda’s across nine of the Philippines’s poorest provinces. At 23, I have visited all the regions of my country, and I have seen it at its worst. The first time I saw Tacloban, I was crying. Cadavers were in black plastic bags and the streets smelled of death and decay. In several barangays, not a single house survived. People lost their livelihoods in a matter of hours. Families mourned the sudden death of many of their loved ones.

In one of our visits, I met a fourth-year high-school student, who was three months shy from graduation. Before Yolanda hit, he was studying for his exams with his girlfriend. It was supposed to be the last Christmas they would be dependent on their allowances. They dreamt of traveling together after college. It was going to be their first time. They never had money to spare before. But in three months, they thought, everything will be allright. It can wait. After all, they had already waited for four years.

What he didn't expect was the fact that the storm would be so strong, he would have to choose between saving his girlfriend and her one-year-old niece. For months, he would stare longingly at the sea, at the exact same spot he found his girlfriend, with a piece of galvanized iron used for roofing that had pierced her stomach.

It could have been any of us. She was not even twenty. Youth does not guarantee time. In reality, what we’re only assured of is today. And so let me remind you, that this life, you owe to no one but yourself. Life should never be a rat race. Certain days, allow yourselves to rest, discern on things that are most mundane, and appreciate the little things that we often take for granted. But for most part, please, fight for what you think is important. Fight, so that the Philippines may realize its full potential. We are so close to achieving this reality.

Allow me, to congratulate Patricia Alcala, John Carlo Borja, Ckiana Calaycay, Alyssa De Torres, Erlyn Gamil, Frances Gumapac, Darla Hasan, Glenn Lambino, John Magtibay, Georjhia Malaluan, Kristel Miranda, Ramon Santiaago, Steven Torralba, Enrico Vergara, and Darren Zamudio.

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