Baguio City, March 9, 2003 -- A woman again topped the list of cadets graduating from the male-dominated Philippine Military Academy (PMA) here this year.

Cadet First Class Tara Jaime Velazco, 21, is the second female cadet to best her "mistahs" at the PMA since the elite military school in Baguio City started accepting female cadets in 1993.

Former University of the Philippines-Baguio student, now Navy Ensign Arlene de la Cruz, graduated in 1997 as the first female PMA topnotcher.

While women protesters marched on the streets of Baguio City yesterday, Velazco was tongue-tied as journalists swarmed around her when she and other top 10 PMA graduates were presented to the press by PMA superintendent Maj. Gen. Edilberto Adan.

Velazco, a native of Camiling town in Tarlac, said she "really (doesn't) want to make an issue" of the differences between men and women.

"I am very happy and proud, I'm actually tongue-tied at present. (But) I am very proud that a woman made it again," she said.

Adan, on the other hand, said Velazco's achievements prove that female cadets are now on equal footing with their male classmates.

Velazco said she never dreamed of becoming a soldier she wanted to become a commercial pilot but will nevertheless join the Philippine Army.

Women on top?

Aside from Velazco, another female cadet was among the top 10 PMA graduates this year. Cadet First Class Michelle Cruz of Batasan Hills, Quezon City ranked fourth among 102 cadets in the graduation order of merit of "Mandarangan" (Mandirigmang May Karangalan) Class of 2003.

Both Velazco and Cruz said they are willing to be deployed to wherever the country needs them, as are the men who were among the top 10 graduates this year.

"We have been prepared to face challenges," they said.

Velazco will receive the Presidential Saber and the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Achievement Award for Academic Excellence, to be awarded by President Arroyo herself.

The President will be the guest of honor and speaker during the graduation rites here on March 20.

Velazco will also receive the Philippine Army Saber award for topping her class in the Army branch. Cadets are divided into branches, depending on which arm of the military the Navy, Army or Air Force they choose to serve.

Velazco, born June 20, 1981, is the eldest of three siblings from a poor family in Tarlac. Her father, Rodel, is currently jobless while her mother, Helen, is a nurse working in Israel for the past eight years.

She said it was her faith in God, her strong determination and proper time management that made her succeed. Full time service Velazco said she will devote herself to her career full-time and has no plans to marry yet, unlike Class Baron and 15th in rank Cadet First Class Filemon Tan and several others, who will tie the knot right after graduation rites are held.

"Full time in service," she reiterated.

Velazco declined to answer if she had a boyfriend, chuckling, but vowed she won't be a spinster.

"Amorous relationships in the Academy are absolutely not authorized," she said. "Besides, it's too early."

Velazco said positive thinking helped her make her frustrations into a driving force to hurdle challenges sent her way a perspective shared by last year's PMA topnotcher, now 2 Lt. Charles Domingo, who is now a Marine.

Top ten PMA grads

Ranking second after Velazco is Noel Stephen Marzan of Baguio City; third, Reynante Ma-ao of La Trinidad, Benguet; fourth, Michelle Cruz of Batasan Hills, Quezon city; fifth, Christian Barela of Basa Air Base, Floridablanca, Pampanga; sixth, Jerry Jaucian of Guinobatan, Albay; seventh, Raymond de Leon of Balanga, Bataan; eighth, Matt Lawrence of Mandaluyong City; ninth, Frederick Emil Tapawan of Makati City; and tenth is Mark Anthony Ruby of Maguindanao.

Four female cadets are graduating this year.

Fifty-two out of the 102 graduating cadets will go into the Army, 22 to the Navy and 28 to the Air Force.

PMA Class of 2003 was originally composed of 314 cadets, including 21 females. Others will not march due to academic deficiencies and demerits.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved