The selection process
The online award selection process Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: They were not only patritotic, they were also heroic. And for their contribution to the Filipino community in the UAE, they were conferred the Dakilang Bayani (Noble Hero) Awards by their peers on the occasion of the 122nd Philippine Independence Day celebration on Friday.

Filipino expats Rachel Salinel, a broadcast journalist; King Chopazar Belimac, social worker; Arnel Fernandez, sports organiser; Dr Djonde Frega Antiado, associate faculty at Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University, Dubai; Christopher Mares, regulatory affairs supervisor; and Zoren Yutuc Ico, OFW (overseas Filipino workers) advocate were this year’s batch of awardees.

Salinel, who was cited for her advocacy on promoting mental health during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, told Gulf News: “I started advocating mental health and depression awareness since 2018. Reporting news on mental health and depression on The Filipino Channel was not enough. I knew I had to do more using my time, talent, resources and even my contacts. With the help of Filipino psychologists, professors, HR professionals, volunteers and my husband, we have been raising awareness and combating mental health and depression,” she explained.

“For those who are suffering from depression especially during the pandemic, please do not lose hope. Allow us to be strong for you. There is always someone who will listen to you,” Salinel added.

Belimac, for his part, has organised the “Global Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Helpline” and has recently approached the Philippine Consulate to intervene and ask landlords to extend rent deadlines for Filipino tenants affected by the pandemic. He was also active in helping his kababayan (compatriots) through distribution of relief goods

Basketball for a cause

Combining sports and charity was the creative approach of Fernandez in helping his kababayan. He and his friends formed the basketball group called ‘Old School’ to organise several tournaments and raise material support for needy compatriots.

His “Tulong Mo, Laro Mo” and “Laro Mo, Tulong sa Taal” events have also extended support to Filipinos back home and at the height of the coronavirus outbreak, he and other basketball aficionados in Dubai, braved the threat by distributing groceries and other food items to those in need.

Community contribution

Antiad, former vice-president for Student Development Services at the American College of Dubai, has been actively involved in psycho-social lectures to Filipino students, parents, and organisations in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. She is a frequent speaker on mental health and anti-bullying and also a board member of Psychological Society of the Philippines – Dubai Chapter and UGAT SandalLine, a team of psychologists and professionals who help Filipinos in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, many Filipinos in Ajman speak highly of Ico, who is a founding member of the Filipino Club. He is also the head of operations for volunteers who distributed relief goods during the pandemic.

Mares, for his part, is focused on making sure that companies are strictly abiding by the government’s rules and regulations. He works as a Regulatory Affairs supervisor and is very active in community charity work.

Dakilang Bayani Awards

According to the organisers, Dakilang Bayani Awards is given to a Filipino expat who has given more to the community than what is expected.

“Dakilang Bayani is the highest award given to a Filipino expatriate from the Philippine Consulate in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. The award is given annually during the celebration of Philippine Independence Day to honour exemplary Filipinos and to make them examples of heroism for people to be inspired and do the same,” said Dr. Rex Venard Bacarra, professor at American College of Dubai and member of a group called Power of 5 that administers the annual award.

Ben Lebig Jr, chair of the awarding committee, added: “The emphasis this year is on the individual’s remarkable contribution to the community against the backdrop of COVID-19. We have everyday heroes, of course. Too many of them in fact. But we have to honour those who have been consistent.”

Other members of the core group of the awarding committee were Dr. Rommel Sergio, Dr. Nino Decenorio and Francis Medina. There were 42 nominees for Dakilang Bayani awards this year.