TOFA announces 24 honorees on its 9th year
 
 
 
 
 
 

TOFA announces 24 honorees on its 9th year

/ 01:08 AM October 01, 2019

NEW YORK — The Outstanding Filipinos in America (TOFA) Awards is marking its 9th year with 24 honorees after nominations for unsung heroes poured in from more places across America and the Philippines.

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Boston and Brunswick, Ohio are represented in this year’s TOFA Awards, along with New York, New Jersey, California, Nevada, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

“We are incorporating character awards this year in keeping with the values and ethics of the 21st century,” says Elton Lugay, TOFA founder and executive producer.

Leading the special awardees are Romnick Blanco, who is currently an undergraduate student at Harvard, and lawyer Al-Shwaid Ismael of Gulapa Law.

The seventh son of a Filipino farmer, Blanco trekked a river and unpaved roads two hours each way as a 12-year-old to reach a classroom. Braving the odds, he pushed on every single day as a sponsored child of the GreenEarth Heritage Foundation and became a full scholar of International School Manila (ISM) two years later. He won four full-ride scholarships from prestigious universities before graduating from ISM in 2017, and chose Harvard College. Blanco receives TOFA’s first-ever Resilience Award this year.

Of counsel at Gulapa Law, Ismael shuttles between Cebu and New York. He was the first graduate legal student to ever receive the Vanderbilt Medal and International Student Leadership Award at New York University, where he earned his Master of Laws with an Advanced Professional Business Certificate two years ago. Ismael became one of the youngest law school deans in the Philippines upon assuming the deanship of University of Cebu’s School of Law last year. He receives TOFA’s Trailblazer Award this year.

Dr. Restituto Estacio, Bianca Nepales Gervacio and stand-up comedian Jo Koy are also special awardees.

Dr. Estacio is being conferred TOFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for more than 50 years of community service since he founded the Philippine Medical Association in America in the 1960s. PMAA paved the way for countless Filipino doctors and nurses to make it in mainstream America.

Meanwhile, Gervacio is receiving TOFA’s Innovator Award this year for her transformative work in the Los Angeles Unified School District. As director of impact in schools and community at Teach for America Los Angeles, she leads a team that trains 300 teachers across 140 public schools to drive system-level change from their classrooms.

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TOFA is honoring Jo Koy with its first-ever Creative Achievement Award. This stand-up comedian regularly sells out arenas during nationwide tours, including record-breaking ticket sales in Honolulu that prompted the mayor to declare November 24 as “Jo Koy Day”. He has appeared on more than 100 episodes of “Chelsea Lately” and produced comedy specials for Comedy Central and Netflix. A weekly guest on “The Adam Carolla Show” podcast, he also hosts his own weekly show on the PodcastOne network.

FEATURED STORIES

More Filipino American luminaries are taking the TOFA stage on October 26 to cap the annual Filipino American History Month celebration. For the fifth year in a row, Dr. Boy Abunda, Asia’s King of Talk, serves as master of ceremonies. Keynote speakers for the evening are Engr. Rod Mercado, founder of Financial Rescue; Ivy Wisco of MoneyGram International; Steven Raga representing the New York State Assembly; Ruben and Janet Nepales from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association; philanthropist Loida Nicolas Lewis and Amb. Claro Cristobal, consul-general of the Philippines to New York.

The TOFA Performing Artists will be serenading guests throughout the evening with Broadway tunes, OPM hits and all-time-favorites. Bobby Ramiro and Eric Celerio are musical directors for the 9th TOFA Awards Night. The event starts 8 p.m. at the Weill Hall of Carnegie Hall, home of TOFA Awards since 2011.

Below is the full list of TOFA 2019 Awardees:

TRAILBLAZER AWARD

Atty. Al-Shwaid de Leon Ismael – Cebu City, Philippines

Trailblazing lawyer Al-Shwaid was the first graduate legal student to ever receive the Vanderbilt Medal and International Student Leadership Award at New York University, where he earned his Master of Laws with an Advanced Professional Business Certificate two years ago. Practicing in New York and the Philippines as Gulapa Law’s Of Counsel, Shwaid became one of the country’s youngest law school deans upon assuming the deanship of University of Cebu’s School of Law last year.

BANKING & FINANCE

Annalaida Himaya Wiker – San Diego, California

An advocate of Asian American homeownership sustainability, Anne has spent eight years in community outreach and serves mostly Asian clients at JP Morgan Chase. Last year’s stint as Chapter President of San Diego County’s Asian Real Estate Association of America earned awards. She now serves on its Board of Directors. With her 17-year track record in the home lending industry, Anne boasts a comprehensive sales experience and is adept at managing relationships with multicultural partners.

LGBT ADVOCACY

Benjamin de Guzman – Washington, District of Columbia

A prominent advocate of racial equity, immigrants’ rights, veterans affairs and LGBTQ equality, Ben is director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs. Previously, he helped launch the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs office as a lead organizer of the “District of Pride” and 32nd Annual 17th Street High Heel Race events. He has also played a key role in two of the most significant legislative victories on behalf of Filipino WWII veterans.

INNOVATOR AWARD

Bianca Nicole Nepales Gervacio – Los Angeles, California

As Director of Impact in Schools and Community at Teach for America Los Angeles, Bianca helps expand opportunities for nearly 9,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She leads a team that trains 300 teachers across 140 public schools to drive system-level change from their classrooms. Committed to marginalized communities and Asian American teachers, Bianca participates in the LEE Public Leadership Fellowship and the Center for Asian Americans United for Empowerment Leadership Institute.

WOMEN EMPOWERMENT

Catriona Gray – Manila, Philippines

Miss Universe 2018 is perhaps the most zealous Filipina beauty queen to ever join the pageant and win the crown. Ensuring that her costumes integrated various aspects of Filipino culture, she organized a glam team to help her captivate a global audience. An ardent advocate of equal opportunities for children and HIV/Aids awareness, Catriona has shined the light on these causes throughout her reign and plans to contribute more as a musician in the future.

ARTS & CULTURE

Cesar delos Santos III – Queens, New York

The National Art League’s first-place winner for its 2016/2017 season, Cesar is no stranger to accolades. He has received the Audubon Artists’ gold medal award and the 2016 Arnot Art Museum Jury prize, apart from various citations in the Philippines. Known for bringing his subjects to life in watercolor and oil paintings, Cesar captures the beauty in everyday realities. His work was featured this year at the Philippine Center during his 5th One-Man Show there.

ENTERTAINMENT

Darren Criss – Los Angeles, California

An Emmy and Golden Globe winner, Darren is best known for portraying Blaine Anderson on the Fox TV series “Glee”. His “Teenage Dream” cover became a certified gold hit and among the fastest-selling singles in Glee history. Darren co-founded musical theater company Starkid Productions and Elsie Fest, an outdoor music festival staged annually in New York featuring Broadway and pop acts. He also performs and records with his brother Chuck in indie pop band Computer Games.

HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCACY

Atty. Maria Elizabeth Cueva – New York City

An accomplished lawyer and civil servant, Elizabeth finds fulfillment nowadays as a Human Rights Specialist of New York State. She has had stints with the Supreme Court of the Philippines and the Philippine environment agency. In New York, she has distinguished herself as an investigator and legal specialist working at various times in academia, the attorney-general’s office, labor and health state agencies and in private practice. She has been with the Human Rights division since 2015.

SPORTS

Dr. Erwin Valencia – New York City

The first Filipino to be on the medical staff for both an NBA and MLB team, Erwin is the team physical therapist and assistant athletic trainer of the New York Knicks. He joined the Knicks during the 2014-15 season after serving for eight seasons as rehabilitation director of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Co-founder of the socially responsible global education company KINETIQ, Erwin also mentors future thought leaders in the performance space through the Grasshopper Project.

COURAGE OF CONVICTION

Georgina Pazcoguin – New York City

A soloist at the New York City Ballet since 2013, Georgina identifies with the moniker “Rogue Ballerina.” It reflects her newfound role as an advocate of cultural diversity and inclusiveness in the ballet community, which is only now coming to terms with Asian stereotypes. A ballerina for 18 years now, Georgina is proud of her biracial heritage and wants to leave a legacy as a principal dancer of NYCB and on Broadway, TV and film.

SALES & MARKETING

Ivy Wisco – Los Angeles, California

Ivy is the vice president and head of Global Integrated Consumer Marketing at MoneyGram International. With 15 years of global experience in the financial services, retail and CPG industries, her expertise spans brand strategy, strategic planning, marketing technology, product marketing, analytics and customer experience. An active philanthropist, she has notably served on the Steering Committee of Southwestern Medical Foundation Cary Council and the Marketing Committee, President’s Advisory Board of UT Southwestern Medical Center.

CREATIVE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Jo Koy – Las Vegas, Nevada

November 24 is “Jo Koy Day” in Honolulu, honoring the comedian’s record-breaking ticket sales at the Blaisdell Center in 2017. Jo regularly sells out arenas, most notably in California and Canada. He has appeared on more than 100 episodes of “Chelsea Lately” and produced comedy specials for Comedy Central and Netflix. Jo tours nationwide, is a weekly guest on “The Adam Carolla Show” podcast and hosts his own weekly show on the PodcastOne network.

YOUTH DEVELOPMENT

Ken Gonzales Mendoza – McClean, Virginia

Ken co-founded the Filipino American Basketball Association of Metropolitan D.C. in 2001 to help local youth understand their cultural identity. Hosting successful FABA tournaments since then, Ken organized the first-ever Filipino Heritage Night in 2012 during a Washington Wizards home game. FABA players interact with their favorite NBA stars during FHN, which also features Fil-Ams singing the American national anthem and performing cultural shows during half-time. FHN at NBA games is a much-anticipated annual event.

HERITAGE AWARD

Amb. Libran Cabactulan – New York City

Capping his diplomatic career as the permanent Philippine representative to the United Nations (2010–2016), Libran still assists the Philippine government on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament initiatives. He had led the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference among official functions that included advancing human rights, disabled persons and elderly welfare, development financing and sustainable development. He is an Order of Sikatuna presidential awardee, the highest Philippine decoration for exemplary achievements in foreign service and international relations.

COMMUNITY SERVICE & ADVOCACY

Dr. Mylene Matti – Pasadena, California

An anesthesiologist by profession, Mylene is the founder and executive director of GreenEarth Heritage Foundation, which aims to alleviate poverty by helping marginalized farmers. Establishing a community at the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, GreenEarth has been providing livelihood, education and worship opportunities to Filipino farmers since 2009. At times hosting sponsored children in her own home, Mylene staunchly believes that mankind’s brighter future is anchored on social justice and sustainable living.

EDUCATION

Ramil Buenaventura – Queens, New York

Multi-awarded in his profession, church and community, Ramil is a middle school Math teacher with a passion for service. He has been an educator since 1991, with La Salle Green Hills in the Philippines before joining The Renaissance Charter School faculty in 2003. In 2014, he received the NYC Department of Education’s Big Apple Teacher Excellence Award and N.Y. Daily News’ Hometown Hero in Education Award. His YouTube education videos are garnering a worldwide audience.

FASHION & STYLE

Reagan John Rada – New York City

A fine jewelry designer for over 19 years with mastery in gemstones and jewelry production, John served as designer for the late Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry company for four years. He is currently the national brand ambassador for Piranesi fine jewelry, besides being a real estate investor, hotelier, producer and philanthropist. John’s ventures include Serendipity Gems, Mila Foundation and Reagan John Productions, which staged this year’s sold-out Vice Ganda show at the Newark Symphony Hall, N.J.

SENIOR WELFARE & ADVOCACY

Dr. Rebecca Rivera – Edison, New Jersey

Rebecca co-founded Bridgeway Senior Healthcare in 1981. Specializing in assisted living facilities, Bridgeway provides a continuum of care to aging and recovering individuals. Rebecca served 35 years in OB-GYN private practice, was president of the medical dental staff at JFK Medical Center—the only Asian woman to have held that position, and grand marshal of NYC’s 2013 Philippine Independence Parade. She chairs the GC Rivera Foundation, which helps indigent populations in the Philippines with their medical needs.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Dr. Restituto Estacio – Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Doc Estacio founded the Philippine Medical Association in America in the 1960s. He has served as the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard’s medical officer, flight surgeon for the U.S. Air Force and medical director of the U.S. Postal Service. Doc Estacio remains prolific in retirement. In July last year, he was certified to practice regenerative medicine and became affiliated with the Augustinian Order. Doc Estacio is most proud of having served as chapter commander of the Knights of Rizal.

HEALTHCARE

Dr. Rhigel Tan – Las Vegas, Nevada

Jay became the first Filipino elected as president of the Nevada State Board of Nursing in 2015. A School of Nursing faculty at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he is among this year’s UNLV fellows to the American Academy of Nursing. A certified Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Jay has completed a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and is pursuing a PhD. Among his many professional and socio-civic awards are Nevada’s 100 prominent Asians and the Outstanding Cebuano Award.

BUSINESS & ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Rod Mercado – San Francisco, California

An engineer by trade and accomplished business leader, Rod founded Financial Rescue to bring ultimate debt relief to immigrant communities. The firm has become a household name for millions of Filipinos across America and Canada with offerings that unshackle clients from debilitating debt. In a career that has spanned over 30 years, Rod has led multinational companies in disciplines as diverse as finance, sales, marketing and business operations. He is also dedicated to charitable giving and community welfare.

RESILIENCE AWARD

Romnick Blanco – Boston, Massachusetts

The seventh son of a Filipino farmer, Romnick trekked a river and unpaved roads two hours each way when he was 12 to reach an English literacy class. Braving the odds, he pushed on every single day as a sponsored child of the GreenEarth Heritage Foundation and became a full scholar of International School Manila two years later. Romnick won four full-ride scholarships from prestigious universities before graduating from ISM in 2017, and chose Harvard College.

PUBLIC SERVICE & POLITICS

Mayor Ron Falconi – Brunswick, Ohio

Serving the people of Brunswick as a city councilman and mayor for more than a decade, Ron became the first Filipino American mayor in the entire state of Ohio in 2014. Born and raised in northeastern Ohio, he is a lawyer by profession and has served on the zoning appeals board and chaired the economic development and planning and zoning committees of the Brunswick city council. Ron is vying for a state Senate seat next year.

FOOD & RESTAURANTS

Tito Rad’s Grill – Queens, New York

When Filipinos in America crave for a taste of home, Tito Rad’s Grill comes to mind. The restaurant offers authentic Filipino dishes just like grandma used to make it. With dishes ranging from simple comfort food and all-time-favorites to exquisite cuisine, Tito Rad’s does not disappoint with its perfectly Filipino dining experience. Its name has thus become synonymous with good service, relaxed ambience and great food, which has been highly rated by the New York Times.

Founded by New York-based journalist Elton Lugay in December 2010, The Outstanding Filipinos in America (TOFA) Awards recognize organizations and individuals that have raised the community’s profile all across America. Serving on this year’s TOFA board with Lugay are veteran TV personality and producer Jannelle So of TFC’s “So Jannelle Show”; realtor Corazon Rivera of Bona Tierra Realty; Miles dela Cruz and Gina Planas of M Events; and community movers Joji Jalandoni and Debbie Ymalay.

Notable TOFA awardees include Tony winners Lea Salonga, Bobby Lopez and Jhett Tolentino; Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas; fashion designers Monique Lhuillier and Josie Natori; New York City Commission on Human Rights Chair Carmelyn Malalis; transgender activist Geena Rocero; multi-awarded seasoned journalist Sheila Coronel; White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford, Ambassador Mario de Leon and renowned classical pianist Cecile Licad.

Since its inception, TOFA Awards has showcased the cultural diversity that makes New York one of the world’s best places to live in. Across fields as diverse as theater, culinary, fashion design, gender equality, politics and healthcare, Filipino Americans contribute to an ever-progressive society. At the same time, TOFA awardees inspire Filipinos all over the world to be the best they can be. In 2016, TOFA Awards expanded its search for outstanding FilAms all across America.

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TAGS: achievement awards, Fil-Am achievers, outstanding Filipino Americans, TOFA Awards
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