Cadet First Class Gemalyn Sugui, Philippine Military Academy (PMA) class 2020 valedictorian, uses the word “amazed” to describe how she has always felt whenever she sees a person in uniform.
When she was studying at the University of the Philippines-Baguio, Sugui would be drawn to parading cadets at the Panagbenga Festival. “Parang meron sa part ko na gusto ko talaga maging part ng militar,” she says in a video interview produced by the PMA. Dressed in her clean-cut uniform, a barrette clasping her hair in place, the 25-year-old graduate speaks with confidence, and with the eagerness of a young girl filled to the brim with ideals.
Sugui is determined to get better at serving her country, and it is this persistence that got her through the toughest challenges that life threw her way.
The girl from Isabela
When Sugui, the youngest in a brood of four, told her parents that she wanted to join the military academy, her mother, Selma, a public school teacher, was understandably hesitant to give her support. Her father, George, a farmer, had no qualms about her decision. When it was time for her to enroll, both her parents were by her side as she was completing her requirements.
Joining the PMA didn’t come without a few obstacles along the way. In 2015, as Sugui was about to graduate from UP Baguio with a degree in Management Economics, the opportunity she has always wanted came her way. But her UP graduation was set in June and the start of the PMA class of 2015 was a couple of months before it in April.
After much thought, the girl from Isabela realized that it may not have been right time to enter the academy yet. “Naisip ko, sayang ’yong four years ko sa college kung hindi ko lang din tatapusin, kasi two months na lang,” she recalls.
After graduation, she knew she had to enroll immediately because the academy had an age limit: the candidate must not be more than 22 years old on April 1 of the year of admission. After two tries, she finally made it.
She may have also gotten her tenacity from her parents, who were able to send all of their children to college.
During her plebe year at the PMA, she had to complete a set of grueling training known as the Beast Barracks, under the New Cadet Battalion (NCBN). Sugui, who didn’t even attend a single Citizens Army Training (CAT) or Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) class, reveals that it may have been the most challenging two months of her stay at the PMA.
She was also not allowed to see her family, which made the situation even more testing. “Wala akong communication sa family ko…walang text, tawag, letter. Hindi ko man lang sila nakausap for two months,” she says.
But through all of these hurdles, she never thought about quitting—not even for a second. She says, “Naisip ko, ’yong pagka-college ko nga, na sinimulan ko, kahit nahirapan ako, tinapos ko. Paano pa ’yong [pagiging cadet], gusto ko talaga ang pagiging cadet.”
A better citizen
The military academy, Sugui says, strengthened her relationship with her family. “No’ng naging cadet ako, vina-value ko na ’yong time ko with my family kasi minsan ko lang sila makausap,” she says.
She admits that this graduation, where no visitors were allowed due to the pandemic, was bittersweet for her.
“Malungkot talaga ako,” she says. “Kasi eto talaga ’yong inaantay ng family ko na masaksihan. Sa lahat ng event ng PMA na pinuntahan nila, ito ’yong pinaka-importante kasi ito na ’yong pagtatapos ng paghihirap ko dito sa academy.” It was also supposed to be the time when she would go home and be with her family to celebrate. But if the academy had taught her anything, it was that she needs to learn to work with other people’s decisions. And the effect of her decisions, too, can affect everyone around her: “Tatanggapin ko na lang.”
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Through innate intelligence and sheer will, Sugui bested 196 of her “Masidlawin” batchmates, becoming only the sixth female valedictorian in the male-dominated school. It was another banner year for women in uniform. Four other female cadets made it to the top 10 of the graduating class, including Rojes Gaile Bacud Jamandre (Lamut, Ifugao), Vanelyn Angel Zipagan Tabao (Tuguegarao City), June Giel Anne Lacuesta Factor (Piddig, Ilocos Norte), and Dencel Aina Mendoza Bayaca (Floridablanca, Pampanga).
Zamboangueña Lei Anne Banico Palermo became Sugui counterpart over at the Philippine National Police Academy’s recent graduating class. As valedictorians, Sugui and Banico both received a house and lot each from President Rodrigo Duterte.
Sugui says she didn’t pray for the distinction. When unexpected moments like these happen, Sugui leans on to her faith for guidance. “Kung ano man ’yong dahilan kung bakit Niya binigay ’to, tatanggapin ko,” she affirms. “At paninindigan ko kung bakit ako nandito.”
Sugui is now on her next phase of training with the Philippine Army as a junior officer.