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Future-proofing in Kuwait:  Ilonggo OFW ranks 3rd in special LET 2023

Gizelle Amour Tagabi, Hazel P. Villa

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Future-proofing in Kuwait:  Ilonggo OFW ranks 3rd in special LET 2023

FOR LOVE. Maricel Manalo-Panes, third placer in the 2023 Special Professional Licensure Examination (SPLE) for Professional Teachers, bids goodbye to husband, Harold; son, Mel Francis; and mother, Segundina, at the Iloilo International Airport in September 2022 before she leaving for Kuwait.

Maricel Manalo-Panes

The Ilongga child of OFW parents is the first topnotcher of the West Visayas State University (WVSU) - Distance Education Program

ILOILO CITY, Philippines — How far can you go for your family?

For Maricel Manalo-Panes, a 38-year-old overseas Filipino worker (OFW), it meant heading to faraway Kuwait to secure her family’s survival. 

While many Filipinos work overseas, Panes, the training coordinator for a Kuwaiti company, focused on the long game.

As she labored at two jobs, Panes enrolled in a distance education program to get her teaching degree. Then she took the Special Professional Licensure Examination (SPLE) for Professional Teachers, held from April 22 to 24 in Al Ahmadi, Kuwait, emerging at third rank with a rating of 87.80%.

Panes took the SPLE in Kuwait a month after the March 2023 Licensure Examination for Teachers in the Philippines.

The results of both exams were released on the same day, May 19.

The SPLE is a yearly special licensure board examination conducted by the Professional Regulation Commission for qualified OFWs abroad. It provides OFWs the opportunity to be licensed without the need of returning to the Philippines for their exams.

Executive Order No. 835, s. 2009 gave rise to the SPLE. Implementation started in Middle East countries and it is now also offered in Singapore. 

Distance education trailblazer

This Ilongga child of OFW parents is the first topnotcher produced by the West Visayas State University (WVSU) – Distance Education Program.

The program started in 2002 and went thoroughly online in 2011. 

But this is more than just an academic achievement for Panes. 

For this OFW, a professional license guarantees that after coming home, she can still find work to fulfill career aspirations as well as sustain her family.

“Wala man ako nag-expect nga mangin topnotcher kay ang ginapangamuyo ko lang is ‘Lord, tani makapasa lang ako’ because it would mean a big thing sa family ko if makapuli ako nga may stability,” said the 38-year-old 2005 graduate of Bachelor of Science in Information Technology.

(I did not expect to be a topnotcher because all that I prayed for is, Lord, I hope I pass, because it would mean a big thing for my family if I come home with some stability).


Panes, born in Libya, is the child of OFWs.

Her mother, Segundina Lusaya Supeda, a nurse from Cabatuan, Iloilo worked at Tripoli Central Hospital in the country’s capital. Her father, Francisco Manalo, was a mechanic in a Korean construction company. 

They all lived together in Libya for six years until Francisco died in 1991 because of a workplace accident.

Segundina brought back her daughter to the Philippines. But she had to earn a living and so returned abroad — this time to Saudi Arabia.

An aunt living in Passi City, Iloilo province, took care of Maricel. Living with her cousins, she graduated from Passi I Central School in 1997 and Passi City National High School in 2001 in the Special Science Class. 

After graduating completing her bachelor’s degree, she got married to seafarer Harold Panes. They had a son, Mel Francis Angelo. Maricel then worked at USSC (Western Union) in Iloilo for nine years, where she worked her way up to becoming branch head.

Maricel deeply loves her family and has always loathed being apart from them.

But increasing competition made it difficult for her husband to get back to work, so she decided to go abroad herself in 2015.

From teller to teacher

She first worked as a teller at Al Muzaini Exchange Co., a remittance company in Kuwait. 

After eight months, the company promoted Maricel to training coordinator.

Aside from her training work, she also works part-time at the International Institute of Computer Science & Administration (ICSA). There, she is an administrative assistant and an instructor in a short course called “Office Management,” mostly for Filipino adult learners. 

OVERSEAS WORK. Maricel Manalo-Panes at work in Kuwait. Maricel Manalo-Panes

Her work experiences made her fall in love with teaching, so she decided to pursue that new career trajectory.

Always methodical, she laid out a plan to increase her chances of getting hired in the Philippines and avoid starting from scratch when it is time to return.

“We will go home one day. If we go home, can we find a stable job?” asked Maricel.

She searched for online courses offering teaching degrees and stumbled upon her tertiary alma mater’s University Distance Education Program (UDEP).

She earned her Diploma in Teaching within two years in 2020. 

The coronavirus pandemic delayed her application for the SPLE for three years but she still vowed to take it once it resumed in Kuwait.

Being topnotcher

Maricel and other OFWs share a joke: While homesickness is strong, bayarin (bills to be paid) is stronger. 

Her son, Mel, is now a Grade 11 student at Pavia National High School and will be off to college soon.

“Daw kanami lang nga mabatian from him na (It’s so good to hear from him that…) ‘I’m so proud of you, Ma, and I truly admire you,’” shared Maricel. Accolades have also poured in from kin and peers in the OFW community in Kuwait.

She will be coming home in June 2024 for a short vacation and most importantly, to be present at her son’s high school graduation.

With the new major milestone she has achieved, Maricel is one giant step closer to the place she longs for the most — home.


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