Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya received the Gawad Mabini, with the rank of Grand Cross (Dakilang Kamanong), from President Benigno S. Aquino III and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Rene Almendras at ceremonies held on June 23 in line with the commemoration of the founding of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Ambassador Malaya was bestowed the honor for the embassy’s exemplary work in the establishment of and continuing support to six Filipino community-run alternative learning centers which now provide basic literacy to some 2,500 Filipino children who otherwise have no access to the local formal schools.
Also bestowed the Gawad Mabini, with the rank of Kasugo (Member) was Embassy Attaché Atty. Norren Joy Calip, who assisted the Ambassador on the ALC project.
Similarly, the Embassy’s DSWD Attaché Bernard Bonina received the Gawad Mabini, with rank of Dakilang Kasugo (Distinguished Member), for his dedicated service in the rescue of and extending assistance to Filipinas who became victims of trafficking, as well as for other assistance-to-nationals work.
Other recipients of the Gawad Mabini, Dakilang Kamanong, were: Maria Zenaida Angara Collinson, Ambassador to Austria; Jesus S. Domingo, Ambassador to New Zealand; Maria Theresa S. Lazaro, Ambassador to France; Domingo P. Nolasco, Ambassador to Italy; Wlfredo C. Santos, Ambassador to Qatar; and Carlos D. Sorreta, Ambassador to Russia.
Others receiving the Gawad Mabini, Dakilang Kasugo category, were Dennis John Briones of the DFA Office of American Affairs; Donna Celeste Feliciano-Gatmaytan of the DFA Office of United Nations and International Organizations, and Siegfred Masangkay of the Philippine Embassy in Syria. Receiving the Gawad Mabini, Kasugo, also were Anika A. Fernandez of the DFA Cebu Regional Office and Gladys O. Perey of the Embassy in Lebanon.
The Gawad Mabini is conferred on Filipinos who have rendered distinguished foreign service, or helped promote the interests and prestige of the Philippines abroad. It was established by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 490, s. 1974 in honor of Apolinario Mabini, the first Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the First Philippine Republic.
Children of undocumented migrant families in Sabah have limited access to local public schools, including thousands of Filipino children. Through the Embassy’s efforts and in partnership with Filipino community groups, new ALCs were organized and the capabilities of existing ones enhanced to provide basic literacy to undocumented children. Classes are typically held three afternoons a week, focusing on reading, writing, arithmetic and life skills.
The six ALCs are the Stairway to Hope Learning Center in Kota Kinabalu, Stairway to Success Learning Center in Sandakan, Persatuan Kebajikan Pendidikan Kanak-Kanak Miskin (The Society for Education of Underprivileged Children) in Lahad Datu and Semporna, and Learning Translation and Review Centre, Vision of Hope Learning Center, and Sekolah Sukarela Persatuan MAFIL-KOFA, all located in Keningau. These centers are staffed by volunteers and financed by donations and community fund-raising.
In August 2014, the Embassy facilitated the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Overseas Filipinos (CFO) and the ALCs to enhance the ALCs through capacity-building activities; professional, technical and administrative advice, and the provision of learning and instructional materials, among others.
A joint team from the DepEd and CFO led by DepEd Undersecretary Mario Derequito and Secretary Mely Nicolas conducted a two-week teacher training workshop in November 2014 for 65 volunteer teachers to equip them with the needed skills. DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro FSC also met the ALC managers in Sabah and visited two ALCs in October 2015.
Filipino community members and Malaysian friends have also significantly assisted in raising funds for the ALCs. Malaysian benefactor Tan Sri Othman Merican and Filipina wife Puan Sri Sylvia Merican hosted two dinner-fundraisers, in May 2015 and again in June 2016, which funded the putting up of a ceiling to a classroom, the purchase of some computers and also school supplies for the children.
The Philippines and Malaysia signed a MOU on Cooperation in Education in February 2014, and one of the agenda items for its technical working group meeting is support for alternative learning for migrant communities in Sabah.
“Filipino children in Sabah are in a precarious situation, and our initiatives are mere first steps in a long journey, but we are hopeful that with the support of all stakeholders, we will be able to improve their lives through education, one child at a time, Ambassador Malaya said. END