BAGUIO CITY – After working as a housemaid for 5 years, Meriam Libongcogon will be facing a whole new life as a 2nd lieutenant, after graduating from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) on Sunday.
Libongcogon, 25-years old, is the second child of Florida and Mario Libongcogon. Her parents and six siblings live in Bambalan, Cebu.
Her father is a farmer and carpenter, while her mother stays at home to take care of their family.
Her father's income was not enough to sustain their family, so she and her siblings helped him farm rice. She started helping him out when she was 6-years old.
"Madalas wala pong makain. Pero minsan ang kinakain na lang po namin, kamote o saging. Kung ano pong meron," Libongcogon said.
(We often had no food to eat. But sometimes we ate sweet potatoes or bananas. Whatever was available.)
By the age of 9, she started collecting and selling coconut shells, wood, and sand, as construction supplies to workers. She earned P20 every week.
"Ang ginagawa po namin, naghahanap po kami ng coconut shells para ibenta. Tapos minsan may nagpapahakot po ng tubig…Iyong kinikita po namin, ilalagay po namin sa alkansiya tapos yung maiipon po namin, ginagamit po naming pangtahi ng damit namin," she said.
(What we did was, we searched for coconut shells to sell. Then we fetched water...We put what we earned in a piggy bank, then we used our savings to sew our clothes.)
Despite working at a young age to help her parents, she still managed to finish as valedictorian in her elementary school.
She then entered a Catholic school in Cebu City as a full scholar, and finished her high school at the age of 15.
She started working as a housemaid in order to fund her college studies in computer engineering.
"Dahil po sa karanasan na iyon...Parang nag-graduate po ako ng grade 6 na valedictorian. Iyon po ang gift ko sa parents ko, na kahit mahirap po kami, kaya ko po silang pasayahin," she said.
(Because of that experience...I graduated a valedictorian at grade 6. That was my gift to my parents, even though we were poor, I could make them happy.)
However, she was not able to finish her degree because of her health—she could not juggle her studies and work as a housemaid, because she was also expected to care for her employers’ children.
"Mahirap po kasi iyong mga bata, maliliit pa po. Iyong parang pasaway pa po sila, tapos kailangan ko gumising ng maaga para paliguan iyong mga bata [at] pakainin. Tapos ihahatid ko muna sila sa paaralan bago ako pumasok sa paaralan ko," she said.
(It was tough because the kids were still very young. They were stubborn, and I had to wake up early to bathe and feed them. Then I had to take them to school before I could go to my own school.)
After being a housemaid in Cebu for three years, she transferred to Baguio City, where she met foster parent Nanay Rose.
Nanay Rose encouraged her to join the PMA, and helped her enroll in the academy.
"Ginamit po ni Lord yung mga nakilala ko sa pagkakatulong para makapag-aral dito sa PMA. Tinanong po nila kung ano yung grade ko. Tapos tumulong po sila na kunin yung credentials ko sa Cebu," she said.
(God used the people I met when I was a maid to help me study at the PMA. They asked me if my grades were good, and helped me get my credentials from Cebu.)
The hardships she overcame before enrolling at the PMA gave her the strength of mind and body to finish her schooling at the academy.
"Hindi ko naisipang mag-resign kasi sanay na po [ako] sa hirap. At saka lagi po akong nagdarasal sa Panginoon na tulungan niya po ako," she said.
(Resigning from the PMA never crossed my mind, because I was used to hardship. I also prayed to God for help.)
Libongcogon is set to enter the Philippine Navy, and said she plans to build a house for her parents.