Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Mt. Diwalwal honor students get 14-k gold medals

By Frinston Lim
Inquirer Mindanao

MONKAYO, COMPOSTELA VALLEY—A fidgety Era Jane Rivera was beaming as the names of the honor students were being called out.

The 12-year-old was among the Top 10 students (all valedictorians from Grade 1 to fourth year high school) of Mt. Diwalwal village, who each received a 10-gram gold medal in this year’s commencement exercises.

The local government of Compostela Valley’s richest mountain barangay has made the giving of gold-minted medals to the brightest of its some 2,000 schoolchildren a tradition “as an incentive for them to make good in school.”

Motivating children

“This is not to brag about Diwalwal’s gold. This is about motivating the children to study and for the parents to support them,” Francisco Tito, village chief, told parents, students and visitors at Monday’s ceremony at the village covered court.

Started in 2003, the gold-medal program was approved through a local ordinance. It quickly drew support from mining tunnel operators, businesses and even ordinary miners who regularly contribute a gram or two of gold nuggets to form each medal, the size of a 5-peso coin.

Aside from Rivera, those who received the gold medal were Bernadette Silvaro, Grade 1; Ruchel Jane Magallanes, Grade 2; Marigold Elayron, Grade 3; Somerado Racman, Grade 4; and Reymart Galamiton, Grade 5.

Four other valedictorians in high school, each from every year level, will also get the medal.

Politicians not invited

The graduation rites were simple and unaffected by the election season. Local politicians were conspicuously absent.

“We want the affair to be a celebration of the accomplishment of parents, teachers and the children, and not be a venue for politicking. So, we did not invite politicians,” Tito said in an earlier interview.

This year’s awarding came a year after a catastrophic landslide suspended the medal-giving activity amid talk of ending the practice.

“Economic hardships because of the landslide that hit some parts of the village took a huge toll on the property and businesses of some of our perennial donors. So, we decided to hold off the giving of the medals (last year),” said Mesael Gerbolingo, a village councilor.

But officials were hoping the practice would go on uninterrupted.

Tito said the local council had already institutionalized the practice and stopping it might adversely affect the state of education in Mt. Diwalwal, a village of 40,000 people.

Pawnshop scene

He said he thought about the program when, sometime in 1996, he saw a woman pleading tearfully to a pawnshop attendant in Panabo City in Davao del Norte to accept her child’s gold-plated medal so she could have money to pay for the medicine of another child who was sick.

“I pitied her but couldn’t do anything. I didn’t have spare cash. So I thought then that if only that gold medal was real she could have pawned or sold it,” Tito said.

He said that when he became a barangay chair he revived the idea. “The province is rich with gold, anyway, so now this is it,” Tito said.

14 carats

Each medal is 70-percent gold and 30-percent silver, making it a 14-carat metal. It is worth at least P11,850, as the prevailing price of unrefined gold in Diwalwal is P1,185 a gram.

“It’s a fortune and not just a token,” said Daniel Basaca, a high school teacher, whose top students were to receive their medals during separate graduation rites Thursday.

“The award has really a practical worth, a reward for the students’ hard work and diligence,” Basaca said.

The gold-medal incentive helped boost the village’s elementary and high-school enrollment, according to officials.

Basaca said the luster of the medal even lured students from lowland barangays to transfer to Diwalwal.

Tito said he urged his councilors to have faith in the program and help continue it for the sake of the children.

College expenses

For high school valedictorian Normina Malindato, her gold medal would be used to pay off part of her expenses when she goes to college this June. She intends to take up a teaching course at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City.

Rivera, a daughter of an ore-crusher operator, was a consistent honor pupil and has received a total of five gold medals since Grade 1.

“I kept her medals in preparation for college,” said Rivera’s mother, 41-year-old Cornelia.

The elder Rivera said only one of Era Jane’s medals remains. “We had one smelted for (Era Jane’s) necklace while two others I had lost and became the reason for a big quarrel between me and my husband.”

Village’s debt

She said her daughter had yet to receive a medal for last year, just like the other awardees. Cornelia said the family was waiting.

Local officials said they would try to collect more gold donations so the village’s “debt” to last year’s honor students could be paid.

“I’m happy my efforts had paid off,” said the young Rivera, who also received 14 “common” medals. “Maybe we can aim for another [gold] medal next year. I’ll try,” she said.

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