Thursday, May 30, 2013


Two Filipinas, born on either side of the Pacific, were among this year’s graduates of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., getting the rare honor of receiving their diplomas from President Obama, the American Command-in-Chief himself. 

Christine Layug shakes hand of President Obama at US Naval Academy graduation rites in Annapolis, Md.

Christine Joy Jiao Layug of Oakland, Ca. was one of several Filipino-American graduates, shining a light perhaps on one remarkable facet of the Filipinos’ long-running affinity with the US Navy. Joining the Navy has become a generational rite for many Filipinos – Christine Joy, for instance, has 10 uncles either actively serving or retired from the US Navy – not counting her father Roy and maternal grandfather (now both retired).

On the other hand, Chinna Louise Eulogio Salio was the only Filipino graduate in Annapolis Class 2013. Born in landlocked Mountain Province and studying to be a nurse, it was almost inevitable she would be drawn to nearby Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City but she too was pulled by the lure of the sea, choosing to go to Annapolis (where incidentally, her younger brother Kendrick is now a sophomore and when he graduates, they will become the first Filipino sister-brother alumni from the US Naval Academy).

Ever since President William McKinley signed an executive order in 1901 authorizing the recruitment of 500 Filipinos in the US Navy, it has been career pursued by Filipinos ever since. Aside from the stability and relative prosperity it offers, the US Navy also provided a gateway for thousands of immigrant families, fueling the growth of the large Fil-Am communities from San Diego, Ca. to Penscaola, Fl. to Norfolk, Va.

The US Navy still casts a long shadow in the Philippines, where its presence is largely seen as the country’s chief deterrent against the aggression and bullying of its more militarily powerful neighbors.

Although she already an ROTC scholarship, Layug said she chose to go to Annapolis because “no other university or college in the US gives the unique training, discipline and academic and physical challenges.” Her mom says Christine Joy has been dreaming of going to Annapolis since high school, likely drawing inspiration from her father and all the other relatives who served in the US Navy.

She was in the Dean’s list and graduated with honors in her Major – Applied Mathematics – eliciting little surprise when she opted for a sub-specialty in Operations Analysis. She’s also part of Catholic Daughters organization in the USNA campus, where she’s a cantor and according to one of the group’s leaders “had the voice of an angel.”

As may be typical of a Filipino “Navy family”, her graduation from the Academy last week was a great source of pride, perhaps made special because she got her diploma from her Commander-in-Chief himself. Her grandmothers – Emily Jiao and Gloria Layug led a tiny army of aunts, uncles and cousins who witnessed the event.

Layug’s next stop is basic flight school in Pensacola, Fl. but she also has ticket via a Burke Scholarship to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Ca. She sees a long and illustrious career in the US Navy, predicting she’ll be staying beyond the minimum 5 years after graduating from the Academy.

Chinna Salio was featured in an Associated Press story on women at the US Naval Academy (this photo was published in the Los Angeles Times)

Salio is the eldest in a brood of six. She was pursuing a nursing degree at the Benguet State University when she veered sharply to the PMA, passing the entrance examinations in 2008. On her sophomore year, she took the competitive tests for the US military service academies and became one of three who made it through (the others graduated last week from West Point and the US Air Force Academy in Colorado).

She is a champion marksman in her class, showing off her medals during a brief vacation at PMA earlier this year.

Salio has been an achiever for most of her life. She was a scholar at the Philippine Science High School (Cordillera campus). She proudly reveals that her younger brother Kendrick, whose passion includes sailing, is now a sophomore in Annapolis and his twin Kenneth is studying aircraft engineering in Canada.

After the graduation rites at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (which pays homage to famous naval and Marine battles including several in the Philippines), Salio was commissioned as an Ensign in the Philippine Navy by Capt. Elson Aguilar, the concurrent Defense and Naval attaché in Washington DC.

Salio is already on her way home to the Philippines where a warm welcome awaits her both at Navy Headquarters and from family in Baguio City. She wants to be a surface warfare officer because that’s where she sees she can put all the lessons learned from the world’s most advanced navy to good use.

Though their paths now diverge, each joining a navy that can’t be more polar apart, Layug and Salio bring a common denominator other than their roots – the drive to serve, to leave their mark and in the cusp of a long voyage, hope and the unshakeable excitement of the future beckoning.

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