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When scholars bloom

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Ateneo de Manila University may have a reputation as an elite school for the higher classes. Not many know that the university has been aggressive in providing scholarships to deserving students. In 2021-2022 alone, 204 students from the bottom 50% of household income were given full scholarships. There are other scholarships of different variety — academic, merit, athletic, gender, etc. — and reportedly, one of four Ateneans have some form of scholarship and financial aid.

It was in 1975 when the university deliberately increased the number of scholars to admit from public and private high schools throughout the country. With the diversity anticipated, then Dean Fr. Ben Nebres, S.J. saw the need to monitor the progress of the intakes. A key guidance counselor then, Ms. Chit Concepcion, was tasked the responsibility to assist the scholars in the academic, social and psychological adjustment in their new environment. Concepcion saw the need to organize the scholars and recruited a committed group of upper-class students for the scholars to bond themselves into a self-help support community.

Thus was born GABAY, which developed big brother/sister-small brother/sister support schemes to smoothen the adjustment process. GABAY provided tutorials, workshops, counseling, bonding sessions and even caroling activities to raise funds for ancillary needs of the members.

That was almost 50 years ago, and it is interesting to share where the GABAY pioneers are today. This first set of scholars have bloomed to be key contributors to the country and to society. This piece is being written to hopefully inspire those who might still be grinding in their studies.

The first GABAY President Filomeno Aguilar, Jr. graduated in the elite Management Engineering class of 1977, earned a Master’s degree from the University of Wales and acquired his PhD from Cornell University. He is a well published educator and scholar who became Dean of the Social Sciences in Ateneo. His vice-president was Mario Jose “Jong” Sereno, who is a corporate executive in a diversified trading company, TransWorld Trading Co., Inc. But his friends identify him more as the supportive husband of another member, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Maria Lourdes Sereno. Jong says he continues to work to support Atty. Sereno’s “Bawat Isa Mahalaga” movement.

Grace Camacho-De Jesus, the first GABAY secretary, had a storied (39 years) banking career specializing in corporate credit, and she stayed longest in Bank of the Philippine Islands. The GABAY pioneer group produced other bankers who rose to top positions. Ed Soriano became executive vice-president (EVP) in charge of the Corporate Banking Group at BDO Unibank, Inc., as well as EVP and Deputy Group Head of Institutional Banking Group for Financial Institutions. He likewise became president of FINEX in 2014 and chairman of FINEX Foundation in 2015. He married Chil Soriano, the first lady valedictorian of the Ateneo de Manila and former undersecretary at the Department of Finance.

Other bankers include Ogeng Panlasigui with 40 years of experience in all aspects of banking at major commercial banks. Today, he heads a subsidiary of Philippine Veterans Bank following his retirement from the bank proper. Noel Dela Paz rose in the commercial and investment banking field to be deputy country head of Bankers Trust Co. and is now M&A Director for Metro Pacific Health.

In other fields, Allan Cueva was in manufacturing and handled a company among the Ramcar group and was in charge of capital acquisition. Rudy Estioko had a colorful career, starting at the Presidential Management Staff, worked overseas, was into general management of a few enterprises, and handled strategic planning and assessment in a large savings bank. Sunny David got into construction and is an entrepreneur with his own contractor company.

Joey Quimbo took his MBA at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Illinois. He worked for 36 years handling sales and marketing positions in Nestlé Philippines. Pit Laquian worked for 23 years in government and in the last 13 years as Agricultural Attaché of the Department of Agriculture, with his final posting in Japan. He started his career as a Manila-based worker at the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forest. Elmar Gomez served in the board of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority and was CEO of one of its subsidiaries.

GABAY also had some of the first female students at the school, including Atty. Lina de Guzman-Ferrer, who was admitted to the Philippine Bar in 1983. She was an officer of the student council in college and became the infamous when, during the Martial Law years, her name was broadcast by the former President on national television. Today, she has an active private law practice and splits her time between Manila and Seattle.

Among the female cohorts, several psychology graduates stand out for their altruistic endeavors. Ruby Garcia was HR director for multinational companies and then became an HR consultant for SMEs. Alma Villegas was a Jesuit volunteer after graduation and now works in a US hospital as a neurodevelopmental psychologist working with children and mothers living with HIV/AIDS, and helping Filipino human trafficking survivors in a consortium with Fordham University.

Francesca Oyet Bustamante works with the Emmaus Center for Psycho-Spiritual Formation and Accompaniment, a ministry of the Society of Jesus. It serves the human and spiritual formation needs of candidates for priesthood and religion life.

This pioneer group has set the stage. Today, GABAY remains an active benefit and support organization, which aims to facilitate the scholars’ academic and social adjustment in the Loyola Schools. Its services include lending books, mock exams, tutorials and formation services. Deserving students have the right to top notch education. And inevitably, these scholars pay forward to society in their own ways.

The views expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of his office as well as FINEX.

Benel Dela Paz Lagua was previously EVP and chief development officer at the Development Bank of the Philippines.  He is an active FINEX member and an advocate of risk-based lending for SMEs. Today, he is independent director in progressive banks and in some NGOs.

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