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RAMONA MUNSAYAC
Diwa ng Kalayaan 2017


The grand commemoration of the 119th anniversary of the declaration of Philippine Independence in the New York region continued when the producers and directors of the annual celebration, the Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc. (PIDCI), held the Diwa ng Kalayaan (Spirit of Independence) Selection and Coronation Pageant and Gala at the plush Grand Ballroom of the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Fort Lee, N.J. on May 6, 2017.

A sellout crowd of the cream of the Filipino and Filipino-American communities of the Northeastern United States all dressed to their nines, the ladies in their posh ternos and the gentlemen in their formal Barong Tagalog were witness to the evening’s merrymaking and ceremonies.

Towards the end of the evening, the judges picked 15-year-old Ramona Munsayac, a freshman at the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy, Lauralton Hall, an all-girls Catholic school in Milford, Connecticut, as winner of the top, much-coveted title of Diwa ng Kalayaan (Spirit of Independence).

As Diwa ng Kalayaan, Ramona will reign as Queen of all the festivities of the 119th Commemoration till its final commemorative event, the Philippine Independence Ball, on the evening of Saturday, June 10, 2017.

Ramona has four siblings, three sisters and a brother.

She is the most recent immigrant among the candidates, having come to New York only in 2014.

Even as early as her freshman year in high school, Ramona already has her sights set on being a law graduate of Harvard University.

Along with her grand prize of a round trip airline ticket to the Philippines, Ramona was also awarded a check for $500 donated by the volunteer community organization Alliance Of Manila and Philippine Islanders, for her “pocket money” when she takes her trip to the homeland.

The check was handed to Ramona by this writer (Alliance president).

Other Alliance officers Boy Echavez, vice president; Salve Stamatelaky, secretary; and Nanette Wright, treasurer, chipped in to bring the prize to $500.

The Alliance of Manila and Philippine Islanders organization was organized some years ago at the instance of the then-Mayor of Manila Lito Atienza to promote Manila and the Philippine islands in terms of tourism, foreign investments, and economic development.


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JASMINE SANTA CRUZ
Bituin ng Luzon 2017


The first runner-up with the title of Bituin ng Luzon (Star of Luzon) was 17-year-old junior student of Forest Hills High School Jasmine Santa Cruz, who is a grand champion in a black belt division of a major karate tournament.

Among her many other talents is singing and for this she has performed at Carnegie Hall four years running.

She and her two sisters, a brother and their parents Daniel and Marissa Santa Cruz make their home in Elmhurst, N.Y.


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PEARL REYES
Bituin ng Visayas 2017


Second runner-up title of Bituin ng Visayas (Star of the Visayas) was won by Pearl Reyes, a communications major at Kean University in New Jersey.

As early as when she was only nine years old, Pearl already performed in a Philippine Independence Day celebration.

Her love for singing, being able to sing in five languages, has garnered for her many awards and titles.

In pursuing her love for singing she has auditioned for “American Idol” and “The Voice,” among other major singing contests.

While she is majoring in communications presently, she wants to pursue a culinary arts degree and open a bakery or café in the future.


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LEAH ELIZABETH WONG
Bituin ng Mindanao 2017


The final title of the evening, the Bituin ng Mindanao (Star of Mindanao) was taken home by Leah Elizabeth Wong.

A senior at Mahwah High School, Leah turns 18 years old later this month.

She is the daughter of Steven and Grace Wong who are blessed with two other children, older siblings of Leah.

Leah is looking forward to graduating from high school and getting into the New Jersey Institute of Technology to major in industrial design.

Leah won a second title of Hiyas ng Pilipinas (Jewel of the Philippines) for being the top fund-raiser of the four candidates.

And for this, she joins Diwa ng Kalayaan top title-winner Ramona Munsayac in being awarded a round trip airline ticket to the Philippines, donated by Philippine Airlines (PAL).

(Photos by Boyet Loverita)

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