First-time Filipino international winners were aplenty in 2021, from the Volvi Cup at the Venice Film Festival to the Nobel Peace Prize.
Despite the challenging year that has been 2021, when variants like Delta caused the worst surge in COVID-19 cases, when there’s record-high unemployment, and when the world’s longest lockdown in the world continued, there are still Filipinos who have made a positive impact in the world.
Meet the 21 Filipinos who shaped 2021 through their inspiring tales, laudable efforts, passion projects, and unique triumphs.
8. Alice Eduardo
Though she’s one of the country’s best- dressed, Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corp. president and CEO Alice Eduardo often trades her outfit for a hardhat, safety vest, and working shoes. The “Woman of Steel” built ports and airports, power plants, and houses of prayer, highways and Skyways even during the pandemic.
But what many find more laudable are her philanthropic efforts, the most recent of which is the Bahay Silungan at the Philippine General Hospital. This was made for medical frontliners and patients. “Every day, I count my blessings, and I try to make my blessings count,” she shares. “So that sense of contributing ingrained something in me and has become a part of me. With all the breaks that have come my way, there is also that instinctive desire to pay it forward.”
9. John Arcilla
As a veteran actor, Arcilla has played a number of iconic roles throughout his career: Hagorn in the fantasy drama television series Encantadia, Renato Hipolito in the action drama television series FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano, and General Antonio Luna in the historical drama film Heneral Luna.
His most recent performance in the Erik Matti-directed film, On The Job: Missing 8, however, is most likely his most memorable yet. The role, where he portrays Sisoy Salas, a seasoned radio journalist who investigates the disappearance of his colleagues, has earned Arcilla the prestigious Volpi Cup for Best Actor Award at the 78th Venice Film Festival. This makes him the first Filipino to win the award, along with previous winners like Brad Pitt, Liam Neeson, Javier Bardem, and Joaquin Phoenix.
10. Maria Ressa
Ressa is the first Filipino to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In a press release, the Norwegian Nobel Committee says Ressa and Nobel Peace Prize co- winner, Russia’s Dmitry Muratov, were given the award “for their courageous fight’ and “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” The committee also considers the two as “representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.”
For Ressa, the fight continues even in 2022. She is currently in the final stretch of writing her upcoming book, How To Stand Up To A Dictator: The Fight For Our Future. The book, which is expected to “pull out and look for solutions to the existential problems we face,” is due for release in April.
11. EJ Obiena
Though his appearance at the Olympics did not produce a medal, Ernest John “EJ” Obiena has proven that he’s capable of doing bigger and better things in pole vaulting. In fact, he’s been breaking records as early as 2014. This year is no different for the 25-year-old athlete from Tondo, Manila. In September, Obiena also smashed the 23-year-old Asian record of 5.92 meters and cleared 5.93 meters to win gold at the International Golden Roof Challenge in Austria.
What got many people talking about the University of Sto. Tomas graduate recently was his row against Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA), his sports’ local governing body over “malicious public accusations” made against the athlete. This push back led to the PATAFA head being declared persona non-grata by the Philippine Olympic Committee, and vindication for Obiena and any athlete fighting against corruption.
12. Alex Eala
The 16-year-old tennis player continued to make great strides in her career this year. Eala opened 2021 by bagging her first women’s pro title at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) W15 Manacor in Spain. In May, she reached her first final for ITF doubles with Russian tennis player Oksana Selekhmeteva in the W25 Platja D’Aro in Spain.
Last August, she reached career- best ranking when she captured her second juniors doubles Grand Slam in the 2021 French Open, along with a twin-title in Milan. The following month, she made a quarterfinals appearance in the girls singles tournament, along with a semifinal finish in the girls doubles. Next year, Eala sets her sights on competing at the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Vietnam and the Asian Games in China.
13. Atty. Chel Diokno
As a human rights lawyer, Diokno has offered his services in the long-running Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the nationwide organization of human rights lawyers co-founded by his father. The group offers free legal services to victims of human rights abuses. Being a member of FLAG and its current chairman, Diokno has represented activists, journalists, and fisherfolks.
Dubbed as the “Woke Lolo,” Diokno is also known for his progressive stance on issues like same-sex marriage and divorce. To open up his free legal assistance and share his insights to more Filipinos, he has begun accepting messages on Facebook, and has created a Youtube channel and a Tiktok account.
14. Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat
In a year that proved to be challenging for the tourism industry, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Romulo-Puyat has been leading the sector to recovery. She ensured that tourism workers will be among the priority recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine, stressing that the immunization of the said workforce will help in bringing back jobs and livelihood that are dependent on tourism.
She has also led the safe reopening of tourist destinations, putting in place necessary precautions like mandatory negative test results. Romulo-Puyat is keen on continuing the recovery efforts to 2022. The recently unveiled tourism response and recovery plans of DOT reiterated “sustainability, resiliency, and inclusivity of the industry.”
This story originally came out in the December 2021-January 2022 issue of Lifestyle Asia.