education in the Philippines

Iloilo summa cum laude credits two women for guiding him out of the dark

Roger Sibag Jr., Gabrielle Faye Tolentino, Hazel P. Villa

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Iloilo summa cum laude credits two women for guiding him out of the dark

FOR MAMANG NORMA. Yancy Aubrey Panugon, a summa cum laude graduate of West Visayas State University with a degree in BSED Mathematics, poses with his grandmother who served as his mother and father in childhood – during his graduation photoshoot.

Yancy Aubrey Panugon

Yancy Aubrey Panugon's grandmother works in her 70s as laundry woman and cook to give him an education, and college teacher Anne Cortez 'adopts' the scholar

ILOILO CITY, Philippines – As a teenager, Yancy Aubrey Panugon would always light a candle at dusk, just before darkness takes over the day. 

That light would be his companion in the later hours while he finished school assignments.

It was a habit honed by circumstance until Panugon reached second-year college. 

Living without electricity, in a house with a leaking roof, and with no parents did not deter his dreams and academic performance. 

On June 6, Panugon will graduate summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Secondary Education (BSED) major in Mathematics from the West Visayas State University (WVSU) in Iloilo City.

Editor’s note: The original text said Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (BSED). This has been changed.

Panugon tops his class with a near-perfect weighted average of 1.10.

Growing up in congested Barangay Duran, Panugon keenly felt the disadvantages of not having access to the support systems most urban students take for granted.

Intelligence being equal, the more privileged students get a natural push ahead.

“May mga times nga ga-pasa ko output may tulo gid na sang kandila,” he recounted his high school years in an interview with a local radio station.  (Sometimes, I would submit work wth wax drips from the candle.)

The challenges did not stop him from graduating as salutatorian of his Iloilo National High School class in 2019.

Panugon grew up without his biological parents. The father left them when he found Panugon’s mother was pregnant with him. 

His mother later left for greener pastures, leaving him with his grandmother Mamang Norma, who is blind in one eye, and an uncle who is deaf. 

Both became parental figures to him as they helped him weather life’s storms,

“The person I am today is because of my experiences with my grandmother,” Panugon said in his commencement speech for the College of Education (COE) on Friday, June 2.

HEALING. An emotional Yancy Aubrey Panugon pledges to use his skills and talent to help guide other youth struggling with ‘structural violence’ so they make the most of their potential. Ma. Ella Nicole Untaran of SILAK Media

Mamang Norma would go around Brgy. Duran, looking for a flat iron to borrow so she could make her grandson look decent.

Then in her early 70’s when Panugon was in his elementary years, Mamang Norma supported his education by accepting laundry and being a cook. 

She also often played the game tong-its to get some cash to give to her grandson.

“We were so poor that my pocket money during elementary days depended on whether my Lola, age 73 at that time, won in the game tong-its,” Panugon recalled.

The young boy adopted Lola’s habits. 

“I would usually ditch school to play Tetris Battle and card games involving money,” said Panugon, now 21 years old. 

Investing time in games of chance did not stop him from graduating as valedictorian of A. Montes Elementary School near Brgy. Duran.

Panugon honed his survival savvy in high school.

“I joined quiz bees not for the love of competition but for the cash prizes because these were my only sources of income. However, this was not a steady income and when those cash prizes ran out, I would go to school with only ten pesos – something that happened several times and made me cry buckets of tears.”

Second mother 

Panugon embarked on a new journey when he enrolled for a BSED Math degree at the WVSU College of Education (WVSU-COE).

He appreciated that the school was the only regional Center of Excellence for Teacher Education in Western Visayas under the Commission on Higher Education.

The young man enrolled full of uncertainties. He was sure only about one thing: the passion to complete his education.

That fire caught the attention of Antoniette Cortez, his freshman teacher, who read through his series of essays.

Cortez saw his determination and potential, as well as his need for belongingness.

Having her own mother, who is also a COE alumna, “adopted” by a caring family in her younger years, Cortez bore the same attitude of  “giving back.” 

She also took in other “foster children” from WVSU and other schools if she saw them in need of support and care.

The 42-year-old “Ma’am Anne”, who teaches English and Professional Education subjects, opened her home to Panugon when he was in his first year. 

She helped provide his basic needs like food, allowance, and even a laptop.

This was a great help even though Panugon had bagged the Department of Science and Technology scholarship with a monthly allowance of P7,000.

He, in turn, shared some of his funds with the extended family he used to live with.

“I also reiterated that he has to focus on being content with what he can and what he loves to do, and do his best always so that there will be no regrets,” said Cortez. “But most importantly, take care of his health.”

The youth finally had light in the dark. 

SECOND MOTHER. Yancy Aubrey Panugon smiles with Professor Antoniette Cortez, his college teacher who acted as his foster parent at the West Visayas State University College of Education. Liezel Rivera

The young scholar earned the admiration of his peers.

He amassed over 5,000 Facebook reactions when he posted a screenshot of his “straight-uno” GWA for the second semester of his third year.

He was also one of the finalists in the search for Most Outstanding Practice Teacher, gaining media attention for using gamified pedagogy in his math class as a student teacher at Pavia National High School.

Gamified pedagogy is an innovative teaching approach that incorporates games to enhance students’ motivation and engagement during discussions. 

In Panugon’s teaching methodology, he employed games such as quiz bees, “bet or risk”, and other popular activities inspired by Filipino game shows.

“I wanted to bring my childhood experience to the classroom setup because, through this, we can also create a bond as a class,” Panugon explained his methods.

CRAFT OF TEACHING. Preservice teacher Yancy Aubrey Panugon delivers a class discussion on mathematics using gamified pedagogy during the screening process for the Search for the Most Outstanding Practice Teacher (MOPT) of the West Visayas State University College of Education. Shenette Lape of SILAK Media

Having witnessed the death of the dreams of many children in Brgy. Duran due to poverty and hopelessness, Panugon now plans to teach in a school near the community and be an inspiration to the young people there.

As Panugon reaches the culmination of his four-year hard work in college, Cortez is a proud “mother.” 

“[I hope] that he will continue to be a person with a purpose who not only thinks of himself and his achievements but is compassionate to heed the call of the needy and thinks critically for the betterment of his community,” said Cortez, a graduate of the Philippine Normal University.

His Mamang Norma is equally proud.

Now in a wheelchair, she insisted on attending his college recognition program.

“Nalipay gid ko. Halin sang una, nagatinguha ako para makatuon sya. Ang kabudlay ko ginbuslan sang Ginoo. Madamo gid nga salamat,” she said at the commencement rites. (I am overjoyed. I have always tried my best to give him an education. Our efforts have been blessed by God and I am thankful.)

GRATITUDE. Yancy Aubrey Panugon hands over his trophy for his “Dr. Reynaldo Gacho Segumpan Award 2023” to his Mamang Norma on stage during the WVSU College of Education recognition program. (From left to right: Dr. Jonathan Glorial, college faculty representing Dr. Segumpan;  Dr. Alona Belarga, Director of Instruction; Mamang Norma; and Yancy) Ma. Ella Nicole Untaran of SILAK Media

Having conquered all the hardships, and showered with love by two women who cared about his future, Panugon believes that he is now “healing.” 

He encouraged everyone to never compare their own struggles to anyone.

“We are all victims of structural violence; we don’t know who is the actual perpetrator.”

Our only way to escape this harsh reality is to educate ourselves,” said Panugon in his message to youth who grope around as their life’s light dims due to circumstances they see as traps. –

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