ANTIQUE, Philippines – While her college professors describe her as “feisty,” 2014 Bar topnotcher Irene Mae Alcobilla is also remembered in her alma mater as the magna cum laude who rose above the tragedy of Typhoon Frank.
Alcobilla was a graduating student of West Visayas State University (WVSU) in 2009 when the typhoon washed away her home in San Remigio town, Antique. Her mother and brother did not survive.
WVSU Social Science Department professor Ephraim Areño recalled how Alcobilla had to miss about 5 weeks of classes during her senior year because of the disaster.
Alcobilla’s home was carried by floods from her village to Sibalom, about 26 kilometers away. One of her family member's body was not recovered along with some of their neighbors'.
Her father, who clung to a tree for hours during the typhoon, was already in the hospital when the then senior student finally returned to her province, Areño said.
“[The incident] made her even stronger. It made her resolve that despite this setback, she would help herself,” the professor said.
Areño was the adviser of the Political Science Student Organization, one of the university's most outstanding student organizations, when Alcobilla was its chairman in 2009.
"She was very vocal and straight-to-the-point. She has a very strong personality," he said.
Alcobilla was also a debater since her freshman year. In 2008, she was part of the team, which won for WVSU the championship in the centennial debating competition participated in by various schools from Western Visayas.
Meanwhile, WVSU Social Science Department assistant professor Voltaire Jacinto, who had Alcobilla in his political science classes for 3 years, described her as “very studious,” “conservative,” and “formal.”
But Jacinto clarified that Alcobilla was neither a nerd nor a popular student.
“She deserves [it] because ever since she was very diligent and very focused on her studies. She was not the kind of person who would waste her time,” he said in a mix of Hiligaynon and English.
Of the 3 magna cum laudes from the political science program in 2009, Alcobilla was said to have had the highest grade point average.
In the 2014 bar exam, Alcobilla scored 85.5% and was one of the 3 graduates of San Beda College of Law who made it to the top 10.
Both professors expressed pride and happiness that, for the first time, a graduate of WVSU made it to the top 10 – and was the topnotcher at that – in one of the hardest and most prestigious licensure exams in the country.
They hope that other students will be inspired by the tale of Alcobilla – a probinsyana and a survivor who is on her way to becoming one of the most sought-after lawyers in the Philippines. – Rappler.com