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MANILA, Philippines – When Colonel Francel Margareth Padilla speaks of her 2023 achievements, she is quick to use the pronoun “we,” as if winning Global Security Woman Leader of the Year is an endeavor you can attribute to any and all Filipino.
Padilla, a military officer with a career spanning nearly three decades, is the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s new spokesperson – the first woman to hold the post in over 88 years of its existence.
“It underscores the thrust of the AFP to embrace diversity and promote inclusivity,” said Padilla in an interview with state-run PTV4’s Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon.
Padilla’s new role comes at a crucial time for the military. It’s just beginning to shift its focus from internal security to external threats, as a nation in the middle of “the most complicated geopolitical situation in the world right now,” according to its commander-in-chief, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Her previous experience will also come in handy, as the Philippines works to beef up its cyber and info-security infrastructure.
Padilla, the ‘ethical hacker’
Technology is the throughline of Padilla’s career.
In 2023, she won Global Cybersecurity Woman Leader of the Year, besting nominees from 62 countries. Years prior, she was recognized as among the Top 30 Women in Security in ASEAN for 2021, having been among the Top 10 Women in Cyber Security in the Philippines in 2020.
She’ also been recognized as an “Epic Woman in Cyber” and a “Wonder Woman in Tech,” according to her official profile.
Speaking to PTV4, Padilla said it was during her time in the Presidential Security Group under the late Benigno Aquino III that she first dove deep into the world of cyber security.
“During the time of [Aquino], we greatly enhanced the digitization of the PSG,” recalled Padilla, who said they worked on setting up server farms and enhancing the cyber security wing of the group tasked to secure the President, top government officials, and visiting dignitaries.
Her PSG stint wasn’t her first interaction with the Philippines’ chief executive. During the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Padilla was among her uniformed aides.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Padilla was designated the information system officer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, according to a Philippine Information Agency report.
Padilla refers to herself as a “certified ethical hacker,” among other designations. She’s also conducted lectures abroad, and served as mentor to other cybersecurity-focused soldiers.
In a predominantly male organization, Padilla has other firsts under her belt.
She was the first woman battalion commander of the Philippine Army, when she was appointed commander of the 7th Signal Battalion in the Northern Luzon Area of Operations. As 7th Signal Battalion chief, Padilla oversaw the entire NOLCOM’s command, control, communications, and cyber systems.
The newly-minted spokesperson says her NOLCOM experience will be key in her new role as spokesperson. “I have first-hand connections to all these commanders,” she said. NOLCOM covers Northern and Central Luzon.
Her cybersecurity experience will come in handy, as the AFP reconfigures Horizon 3 – or its modernization plan for the coming years. Padilla said the details of Horizon 3 have yet to be finalized and approved, but it will definitely include ship and aircraft upgrades, as well as improvements in the military’s communications.
Class of 2000
Padilla is a pistol expert, a VVIP or very, very important person protector, and a judoka.
In her profile, she puts a premium on her role as a “devoted mother of two wonderful sons.” Her two children are now adults, said Padilla, with at least one done with formal education.
Padilla is the widow of the late Felicisimo Esteban Taborlupa Jr., who was also her mistah from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 2000. Taborlupa, who retired early from the military to join the Philippine Coast Guard, died in a helicopter crash in Batangas that also claimed the life of businessman Angelo King.
Asked how her late husband would have reacted to her pioneering post as the first woman spokesperson of the AFP, Padilla did not take long to consider. “Full support by the looks of it,” she said.
Padilla is concurrently the Group Commander of the Media and Civil Affairs Group of the Civil Relations Service of the AFP. – Rappler.com