By Federico V. Magdalena, PhD
It sounds like a “Triumvirate,” or a “Gang of Three,” one female and two other male professionals from Hawaii will receive top honors from the Supreme Council of the Order of the Knights of Rizal (KOR) based in Manila following a decision made by the Council on March 21. An official from the Manila Council will be presenting the awards.
Dr. Belinda Aquino will receive the Teodora Alonso Medal Award, named after the distinguished mother of Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine National Hero. It is the “Highest Award given to a woman in recognition of her outstanding contributions in the promotion of Rizalian ideas, principles, and services to the Filipino people.” It will be conferred to Dr. Aquino on August 24 on the occasion of the First Rizal International Conference in Honolulu and the 9th Jose P. Rizal Award for Peace and Social Justice Gala.
Dr. Serafin Colmenares, Jr. and Dr. Raymund Ll. Liongston, both KOR Hawaii officers, will be elevated to the Knight Grand Cross 5th Degree Rank. The Rank is the highest that can be conferred to outstanding officers of a KOR chapter.
All three awardees have pursued distinguished careers in academia and professional fields since their arrival in Honolulu as immigrants from the Philippines. They are actively involved in various programs and projects designed to promote and perpetuate Filipino culture and values in the larger community. At least two common denominators they all share include these: they are regular contributors to Hawaii Filipino Chronicle, and were appointed in 2006 by Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano as Commissioners of the Hawaii Filipino Centennial Celebration to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of 15 sakada workers from the Philippines.
The awards will be formally bestowed upon these honorees by Sir Lutgardo Barbo, Deputy Supreme Commander of KOR during the 9th Dr. Jose P. Rizal Award Gala on August 24, 2019 at Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu.
KOR is an international fraternal organization that aims to promote and propagate the ideals and teachings of Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. It is a “civic, patriotic, cultural, non-partisan, non-sectarian and non-profit organization.” Based in Manila, it was founded in 1911 and chartered under Republic Act 646. Since the beginning, the Order, as KOR is also known, has expanded with the formation of chapters in the Philippines, in Asia, Europe, Middle East, Australia, Canada and the United States
The Teodora Alonso Medal is the highest award given to women by KOR. It is named after Teodoro Realonda Alonso, the mother of the Philippines’ national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. Among its recipients are former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and other outstanding Filipino women leaders, educators, and scientists.
For those not inclined to reading Philippine history, Teodora Alonso (sometimes spelled as Alonzo) was born on November 9, 1827 from well-to-do parents in Laguna but later resided permanently in Binondo, Manila. She was a disciplinarian, and was Rizal’s first teacher. Unusual for women of her time, Teodora studied at Colegio de Sta. Rosa in Manila. From her, Rizal imbibed values and attitudes that molded his character leading him to become a scholar. A victim of Spanish injustice, she was imprisoned for more than two years. In 1906, the American government offered her a life-time pension as a token of gratitude for services rendered by her family to the country. She refused, saying: “My family has never been patriotic for the money.” The Teodora Alonso Award is therefore given to women who exhibit Teodora Alonso’s passion for education, hard work, family, and love of country.
The first awardee from Hawaii is Dr. Belinda A. Aquino. She is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawai’i at M?noa, where she served as professor of Political Science and Asian Studies, and was founding director of the Center for Philippine Studies (1975-2009). She was also the first recipient of Dr. Jose P. Rizal Award for Peace and Social Justice given by the Knights of Rizal-Hawaii Chapter (KOR-Hawaii).
Dr. Aquino holds a PhD in Government with a minor in Southeast Asian Studies from Cornell University under a Ford Foundation fellowship, and an MA in the same field from UH M?noa as an East-West Center scholar.
Lindy, as her friends call her, is well-known and respected in the academe for her writings especially on the deposed Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos, who had lived and died in Hawaii as an exile. She has written books, notably the Politics of Plunder: The Philippines Under Marcos, (translated in Japanese by Professor Minako Ito under a Toyota Foundation grant) which narrates Marcos’s deeds (and misdeeds), and hundreds of articles on Philippine politics, women, and Ilokanos, among other topics. She has also testified in Hawaii court against Marcos, and in favor of human rights victims for damages suffered during Martial Law era.
Herself an “exile” in Hawaii during Martial Law, she returned to the Manila to serve as UP Vice-President for Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science/Public Administration in 1989-1991 under Dr. Jose V. Abueva, president. Lindy was in the faculty of this prestigious university before she joined UH M?noa.
But these are not all that Lindy did to shine and earn the Teodora Alonso Award. She is currently Chair of the Rizalian Women Council, an integral organization of KOR-Hawaii. Her scholarly achievements include publications of numerous articles in international journals. She also served in editorial boards from local and international publishers.
Her academic pursuits left behind two important legacies: the UH Center for Philippine Studies which she founded, and an endowment known as the Belinda A. Aquino International Philippine Studies Endowment, to benefit UH students and faculty with interest in the Philippines or Filipinos in the diaspora. (This is on top of a Professorial Chair that she put up at UP College of Nursing in honor of her mother, who studied there before World War II.) At least three generations of Filipino Americans in Hawaii and other places are beneficiaries of these legacies. They now appreciate their cultural heritage, identify with their fellow kababayan in the homeland, and have pursued research on the Philippines with support.
The two other honorees are Dr. Serafin S. Colmenares and Dr. Raymund Ll. Liongson. They are the first from Hawaii to receive this much coveted rank as Knight Grand Cross of Rizal (KGCR), the highest (5th Degree) rank within the Order. It is bestowed on all male Philippine Presidents, Supreme Commanders of KOR, and other individuals who have outstanding achievements for, or rendered exemplary service to, the Philippines or the Order in the advancement of Rizalian values and principles.
Dr. Colmenares, or Sir Jun, is rising to the rank of KGCR in recognition of his years of service and achievements as Knight of Rizal, and as community leader. A member of KOR for 20 years, he is now Knight Grand Officer of Rizal (KGOR) and is also the chair of the KOR-Hawaii Council of Elders. In addition, he has held various positions within the Order, as Chapter Commander, Area Commander, and USA Deputy Regional Commander. He is active in various activities that promote the ideals of Dr. Jose Rizal, especially among the youth through leadership trainings under the Rizalian Youth Leadership Institute, and in initiating the annual Dr. Jose P. Rizal Award.
Sir Jun holds an MA and PhD degrees in Political Science from the University of Delhi in India, a Master’s in Public Health at UH M?noa, and an AB in Political Science at Mindanao State University where he was a professor before he moved to Hawaii.
He has held various positions in both government and community organizations. He works currently as Comprehensive Health Planning Coordinator at the Hawaii State Department of Health. He previously served as Executive Director of the Office of Language Access, which established programs for Hawaii individuals with limited English proficiency.
Sir Jun was elected president of the Congress of Visayan Organizations (COVO) for four years and served as its Executive Director for 10 years. He rode on these positions to promote Visayan (and Filipino) history, culture and the arts, offered scholarships to students, and encouraged unity and cooperation among Filipino community organizations in Hawaii.
He served as Commissioner of the Hawaii Filipino Centennial Celebration in 2006. He also got involved in the activities of the Filipino Community Center as member of its Board of Directors, and was founding chair and member of the Philippine Celebrations Coordinating Committee of Hawaii (PCCCH) in partnership with the Philippine Consulate General in various festivals. His leadership carried him through humanitarian work, such as fund raising about $200,000 for victims of Typhon Haiyan and two previous devastating typhoons. This is one trait of Freemasons – charity - that Sir Jun is imbued with, being one of their kind.
Dr. Raymund Ll. Liongson, the third honoree, will also receive the rank of Knight Grand Cross of Rizal. At present, he is the Area Commander for KOR-Hawaii, a post he has occupied twice (2014-2016, and 2018-2020). He also held various positions in this august body that include Chapter Commander and member of the Council of Elders, KOR-Hawaii.
Sir Raymund is a Professor in the Arts and Humanities and Coordinator of the Philippine Studies Program at UH Leeward Community College. He obtained a PhD (Education), from the University of the Philippines as both UP and San Miguel Educational Foundation scholar.
As KOR officer, he has contributed immensely to its activities and growth, the list being almost endless. The 1st Hawaii Rizalian Conference is his brainchild. He was also instrumental (together with Sir Jun Colmenares) in implementing the 1st Dr. Jose Rizal Award for Peace and Social Justice in 2011, including the Paciano Rizal Award for non-KOR members as well as the 4th Hawaii USA Regional Assembly. He has participated in numerous panel discussions on the life, works and ideals of Dr. Jose Rizal. Sir Raymund also organized the Rizalian Youth Council (KAPARIZ-Hawaii) where he serves as its adviser, and the seminar director for its annual summer Rizal Youth Leadership Institute (RYLI).
Sir Raymund was appointed as a Commissioner of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. Also a Freemason and a Rotarian, he is equally active in other Filipino organizations, such as the UP Alumni Chapter in Hawaii, Philippine Celebrations Coordinating Committee of Hawaii, Commissioner on Hawaii Filipino Centennial Celebration, and Board Member of Filipino Community Center, among others.
Academically, he is active in publications and presenting papers for conferences. He co-edited (with Dr. Serafin Colmenares Jr.) Rizal’s Legacy and Nation Building, and wrote a chapter in the said book. He likewise authored numerous articles.
Sir Raymund’s activities have extended to organizing conferences, such as the NAKEM International Conferences (in collaboration with Dr. Aurelio Agcaoili of UH M?noa), and hosting speakers at Leeward from the Philippines (e.g., on Muslim sovereignty issues). Above all, he helped secure grants for research and educational advancement of students. Among them is the $638K federal funding for Sulong Aral, a 2010 program designed to help students of Filipino ancestry at UH Leeward complete higher education, and small grants from UH Student Equity, Excellence, and Diversity.
Finally, both Sir Raymund and Sir Jun were primary movers in renaming a portion of the College Walk in Downtown Honolulu, where Rizal’s monument stands now as Dr. Jose P. Rizal Square. They are also working on another anthology of essays around the life and works of the national hero (forthcoming publication).
FEDERICO V. MAGDALENA, PhD, is currently Associate Specialist and the Deputy Director of the UH Center for Philippine Studies. He is a KOR newbie. Recently, he organized symposia on Mindanao’s peacebuilding, the 2017 Marawi war, and Moro sovereignty movement that brought seven professors from Mindanao State University to Honolulu.
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