TOPS-Ten Commissioned and Non-Commissioned officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are proclaimed as this year’s awardees of the Metrobank Foundation – Rotary Club Makati Metro Search for The Outstanding Philippine Soldiers (TOPS). The announcement was made during a Press Conference held on June 20, 2016 at the General Headquarters of the AFP in Camp Aguinaldo. The winners were also presented to acting AFP Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Glorioso Miranda and other members of the AFP during the flag raising ceremony.

The awardees from the Philippine Army are: Lieutenant Colonel Eliglen Ferrer Villaflor PA, Technical Sergeant Danilo delos Santos Ramos PA, and Technical Sergeant Bernardo Labao Tacbas PA. On the other hand, the awardees from the Philippine Navy are: Lieutenant Wilfredo Baylon Manalang, Jr. PN(M), Staff Sergeant Albert Dangan Eleazar PN(M) and Intelligence Specialist Chief Fernando Junio Parcon PN. While Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Alina Bañaria PAF, Master Sergeant Abel Lim Idusma PAF and Technical Sergeant Andersen Daing Avellana PAF are the winners from the Philippine Air Force. Meanwhile, Colonel Jocelyn Pancrudo Turla, from the Technical Administrative Services completes this year’s batch of winners.

“The Search for TOPS is the civilian society’s expression of genuine appreciation and gratitude for the men and women in the Armed Forces – for their sacrifices and dedication in pursuing our shared dreams of a safe and peaceful nation. We believe that the civilian and private sector’s support, cooperation, admiration, and respect should accompany the role of our soldiers as protectors of our sovereignty and defenders of our national patrimony. This year, we welcome a new batch of Outstanding Philippine soldiers who selflessly serve and protect our nation. They are considered as our modern-day heroes who showed not only unremarkable courage and nationalism, but concern for other people and their communities as well. They are our country’s pride and hope for a peaceful and secured nation,” said Metrobank Foundation president Aniceto Sobrepeña.

A multi-sectoral Preliminary and Final Board of Judges selected this year’s finalists. The members of the Preliminary Board of Judges were: De La Salle University College of Law Dean, Atty. Jose Manuel I. Diokno; Ateneo de Manila Law School Dean, Atty. Sedfrey M. Candelaria; CNN Philippines Anchor and Host, Amelyn Veloso; TV5 TV and radio anchorman, Martin M. Andanar; International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov) Board of Trustee and Corporate Secretary, Jose T. Deles, Jr.; Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches (PCEC) National Director, Bishop Noel A. Pantoja, and Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Secretary-General, Fr. Marvin Mejia.

The Final Board of Judges who chose this year’s winners was chaired by Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals, Andres B. Reyes, Jr., and Civil Service Commission Chairperson, Alicia Dela Rosa-Bala. The members of the Final Board were:TV5 Network, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer, Emmanuel Ramon C. Lorenzana; Bishop of the Diocese of San Jose de Nueva Ecija, Most Rev. Roberto C. Mallari; PLDT-Smart Foundation, Inc. President, Esther O. Santos; Cathay Pacific Steel Corporation President, David O. Chua, and St. Louis University President, Fr. Gilbert B. Sales, CICM, Ph.D.

“This is a humbling experience for me. I’m really emotionally touched because I could feel for their hard work, their hardships, I could understand their problems and shared for hope for a better country,” said Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Andres B. Reyes, Jr. “This is the first time I see hand to hand personally how they act, they live, what are their dreams, how do they manage to be good soldiers, despite of all the obstacle that the country gives them,” Reyes added.

The awardees will be presented as Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos together with the winners of the Search for Outstanding Teachers (SOT) and Country’s Outstanding Police Officers in Service (COPS) on September 5 as part of Metrobank’s anniversary celebration.Each TOPS awardee will receive an increased cash prize of half-a-million pesos (PhP 500,000.00) and a trophy.

Among this year’s awardee is Lt. Col. Eliglen Ferrer Villaflor of the Philippine Army who was at the forefront of the combat and civil military mission in Basilan. As Commanding Officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion, he was able to significantly contribute to the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements — with the recapture of a rebel stronghold and recovery of other encampments and firearms. There were also several rebels killed and injured in a series of encounters against the Abu Sayyaf in his two-year stint. He also led the capture of Jerry Ibon Alam, one of the most wanted figures in illegal drugs in Basilan.

Lt. Col. Villaflor believes that achieving peace could not be resolve by combat alone, but through working with the communities and winning their support. His civil military operations have highly impacted Basilan where thousands have received the benefits of his initiatives. “From Camp to School, From Guns to Books” was one of his successful campaigns where the military was able to transform a captured Moro National Liberation Front camp into a school campus. Lt. Col. Villaflor also pioneered Project Masjid where non-Muslim entities participated in the preparation and celebration of Ramadan. Initiated activities involved cleaning and beautification of mosques and peace keeping and security of the mosques and Muslim brothers and sisters.

We also have TSgt Andersen Daing Avellana from the Philippine Air Force. TSgt Avellana has undergone numerous specialty courses such as the Basic Electronic and Communication Course, Ground Radio Course, Basic Weapons Mechanic Course, and Aircraft Engine Mechanic Course in New Zealand, which made him a remarkable Weapons Mechanic Technician. One of his shared innovations in PAF was the repair of ten (10) pieces of intervalometer which is known as an essential part in any rocket launchers activity. As the lead, he carefully studied the overhaul process of the intervalometer and given a budget of PhP 13,465.00, he was able to restore the said part which led the PAF save PhP 1.5M.

TSgt Avellana always exceeds on what is expected of him, with his dedication and hard labor he was also able tocomplete the repair of three (3) optical sightsof MD520-MG Aircraft which saved the PAF PhP400, 000.00. TSgt Avellana is a recipient of many awards, including the PAF Enlisted Personnel of the Year & INSTEP Awardee for Professionalism, given to those personnel who religiously show commitment in improving the current state of PAF in terms of existing equipment and weaponry innovation.

Now on its 17th year, the TOPS Search has become the highest and most sought after civilian award given to military personnel. The Search for The Outstanding Philippine Soldiers (TOPS) honors the valor, gallantry, and self-sacrifice demonstrated by the men and women of the AFP in partnership with the RCMM.

All previous TOPS awardees are now members of the TOPS alumni organization called TOPSOLDIERS (The Organization of Philippine Soldiers with Outstanding Leadership, Dedication, Integrity, Excellence, and Responsibility to Society) conducting pay-it-forward projects in communities. (Source: Metrobank FB)