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LIST: Hidilyn Diaz, Maria Ressa, Ana Patricia Non, and other Filipino game changers of 2021

By NICK GARCIA Published Dec 24, 2021 12:01 pm

This 2021, the Philippines may have seen a lot of bad news—deaths of prominent figures, ever-raging COVID-19 and the threat of new variants, government anomalies in its pandemic response, among many others—but that doesn't mean that the year draws to a close without anything good taking place.

Over the course of 2021, several Filipinos made headlines with their extraordinary feats, acting as sources of inspiration during these trying times. Here are some of this year's game changers:


On that fateful day of July 26, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made history as the country's first-ever Olympic gold medalist, ending almost a hundred year dry spell in the Summer Games.

Diaz clinched the women's 55 kg category for weightlifting at Tokyo 2020, with a record 224 kg. She bested China's Liao Qiuyun, who settled for silver with 223 kg.

For bringing home the elusive Olympic gold, the 30-year-old received over P40 million in cash from the government and several private companies, as well as several properties and other bonanza of incentives.

Diaz, a 2016 Rio Olympics silver medalist who's a member of the Philippine Air Force, has also been promoted to staff sergeant.

But more importantly, Diaz's historic feat sealed her place in history and in the hearts of Filipinos.


What should've otherwise been a regular Oct. 8 just became extraordinary, as veteran journalist Maria Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Russia's Dmitry Muratov “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”

Ressa was the country's first Nobel laureate since the maiden awards were conferred in 1901.

Ressa, the chief executive officer of news website Rappler, has been on the receiving end of legal cases from government, which comes in the wake of Rappler's critical coverage of the administration.

She was Time Magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year and was among its 100 Most Influential People of 2019. She was also among Time’s Most Influential Women of the Century.


Photo from Miss Universe Philippines's Instagram

Beatrice Luigi Gomez of Cebu City was crowned as Miss Universe Philippines (MUPH) last Sept. 30, and is the first openly bisexual candidate to win the title, a milestone for the LGBTQ+ community in a country that's predominantly Catholic.

Gomez also bagged two major awards, Best in Evening Gown and Best in Swimsuit, as well as other special awards during the MUPH coronation night in Bohol.

The 26-year-old beauty queen settled for Top 5 at the Miss Universe competition in Israel last Dec. 12 (Dec. 13 local time), but her exit sustained the country's 12-year semifinal finish in the pageant.


One random April 14, which marked the country's 15th month of lockdown, Ana Patricia Non of Quezon City installed a so-called community pantry along Maginhawa Street.

The bamboo cart-made pantry contained canned goods, grocery items, produce, and other essentials for surviving the COVID-19 pandemic.

Little did Non know that her random act of kindness would spark a national movement. In just a few days' time, community pantries mushroomed across Metro Manila. After a week or so, other areas outside of the capital followed suit, including overseas.

Non's brainchild made her a recipient of the 2020 to 2021 Rotary Golden Wheel Awards for "best exemplifying the Rotary spirit of 'Service Above Self.'"


Photo from Bricx Martillo Dumas's Facebook account, taken by Eli Paraiso

Bricx Martillo "ShrimpPaste" Dumas made a name for himself on the international scene of digital art. He won the grand prize of the DigitalArt4Climate competition last Nov. 14 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in Scotland. Dumas was the only finalist from the Philippines—and Southeast Asia.

The 30-year-old's artwork "Nexus" bested 207 other entries across 57 countries.

"Nexus" depicts a monochromatic hand against a red background. It's clutching the iconic sari-sari store plastic bag containing a blue drink and yellow straw. It's also holding a cigarette that emits leaves instead of smoke.

Dumas's "Nexus." Photo from DigitalArt4Climate's Instagram

Dumas, who hails from Leyte which was battered by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), said his artwork is a statement on "how our simple everyday lifestyle affects our environment, ecosystem, and how we struggle to live."

“Should we wait for another typhoon stronger than Haiyan just to realize that this world is suffering from mass extinction, or should we be the change that this world needs?" he said during his acceptance speech. "Our time is now.”


L: Ramon Magsaysay Awards. R: Screenshot from 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Awards Ceremonies

Fisherman and environmentalist Roberto "Ka Dodoy" Ballon is one of this year's game changers as he's among the laureates of the 63rd Ramon Magsaysay Awards (RMA), dubbed as the Nobel Peace Prize of Asia.

In 1985, Ballon established the Kapunungan sa Gagmay'ng Mangingisda sa Concepcion, an organization that focuses on mangrove reforestation and marine aquatic rehabilitation in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Their coastal preservation has since drastically improved the life source of fishing families, from catching 1.5 kg per eight-hour fishing trip to as much as 7.0 kg in three to five hours.

The RMA decided to recognize the 53-year-old Ka Dodoy's work in progress for his “inspiring determination in leading his fellow fisherfolk to revive a dying fishing industry by creating a sustainable marine environment for this generation and generations to come, and his shining example of how everyday acts of heroism can truly be extraordinary and transformative.”

“No matter how simple we are, we are capable of rising above our weaknesses, capable of choosing what is good and ever capable of making a new start," Ballon said in his acceptance speech Nov. 30.