Philippine flag at top of the world

From: Manila Bulletin

Date: January 11, 2009

By: Former President Fidel V. Ramos


LAST Sunday, in my first column for 2009, I enjoined Filipino leaders to aspire for and actualize national Unity, Solidarity, and Teamwork as exemplified by the Pinoys (Leo Oracion, Pastour Emata, and Romi Garduce) and Pinays (Carina Dayondon, Janet Belarmino-Sardena, Noelle Wenceslao) who summited Mt. Everest in May 2006 and May 2007, respectively. Theirs is historic Filipino Achievement which deserves to be told and retold, especially at the dawn of New Year when people resolve to set things aright. A magnificent Coffee Table book by the First Philippine Mount Everest Expedition (FPMEE) led by Arturo Valdez is now available.

Their ascents to the top are replete with symbolisms, values, exemplars, virtues and guidepost. Twice, within the space of one year, six hardy and intrepid Filipinos risked early death along the way and raised the Philippine Flag on top of “the roof of the world.” From this monumental team accomplishment other Filipinos, particularly elected officials and aspirants for national leadership, should learn – and themselves propagate – its precious lessons and “best practices.”

In published interviews and in my many meetings with Art Valdez, the summiteers, group doctor Ted Esguerra and other FPMEE members, the most important of these (arranged topically) are:

  1. Raising the national spirit

“It was a ‘Unity Climb’ symbolizing our wish for a unified Filipino people.”

“It was not just us at the top of Everest, but the entire Filipino people who put us there.”

“Sacrifice is worth it – if for the Filipino people.”

“Filipinos are all over the world, even on ships going to Antartica; so, we planted the Philippine Flag on Everest where Pinoys had not been.”

“Visioning, missioning, strategizing, organizing, communicating, training, acclimatizing, performing, monitoring and evaluating can make a dream come true.”

“Beating the odds calls for planning for the worst-case scenario.”

“We volunteered to climb Everest with no expectation of reward: Unlike in professional or elite amateur sports like the Olympics, there are no gold medals neither prize money to be won.”


  1. Empowering the people

“The Filipino can! Kaya ng Pinoy! Kaya ng Pinay!”

“Because it is not a prize, you do not conquer Everest – you conquer yourself.”

“Young people from humble beginnings can make it to the top.”

“Women are equal to men; but in some ways, more than equal.”

“We share what we learned; we will share with others for the rest of our lives.”

“Resources, time and energy – if falsely applied – achieve outstanding results.”

“Even if it is colder than freezing on the summit, global warming is evident; those below are vulnerable, but they may not know it.”

“Biking is faster and easier, if you drive to go thru traffic.”


  1. Unity, solidarity and teamwork

“Teamwork works; lack of teamwork kills.”

“Each plays a part, like instruments in an orchestra contributing to the harmony.”

“Support from the base, plus constant vertical-horizontal interaction, futures success.”

“Draw strength from one another; draw solutions from obstacles; draw opportunities from problems.”

“With one day to go to the top, you know the best is yet to come; Everest taught us to prepare for the future.”

“We succeeded because we did our homework.”

Continuing source of inspiration and pride

The raising of the Philippine flag at the top of the world by intrepid Pinoys and Pinays is and will be a continuing source of inspiration and national pride for present-day Filipinos and future generations. Although many others of various nationalities had previously scaled Everest, beginning with Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay on May 29, 1953, how many nations can claim having planted their flags at the summit? Just a few, mainly from affluent Western countries. From developing and poor nations, even fewer than few have done it because of high costs of organizing, training, and supporting, apart from the individual efforts and out-of-pocket resources expended.

The remarkable achievement of our three Pinays as the very first women to do the “Everest traverse” from the Tibet (North) side to the top and then back down to the Nepal (South) side surely rates a Global gold Medal which will remain in the recordbooks forever, with greater significance than any Olympic medal or professional championship.

The website explains: “The difficulty of an Everest traverse is obvious: Climbers don’t have the advantage of following a familiar route on their descent – they will have to negotiate new terrain when they are most tired. They also need special climbing permits, double visas, and logistics prepared for both sides of the mountain.”

Women at the top

Reported Alcuin Papa (PDI, 19 May 2007): “Wenceslao, Belarmino and Dayondon are now at par with the toughest mountain climbers of the world. The Filipino people are awed by the climbers’ sense of adventure, physical strength and endurance as well as the passion that led them to the top.” He added: “A traverse of the two routes has been achieved by only a handful of male mountaineers.”

They were also the first Southeast Asian women to summit Everest.

“The feat guaranteed them instant fame, but what they did next gave them a place in world history; they kept on going. Instead of descending along the same route in their ascent, these hardy Filipinas descended on the other side, making them the first women to accomplish this extremely difficult traverse,” wrote Kristing Fonacier in the Mabuhay magazine (August 2007).

Earlier, before their ascent, Fonacier reported (Mabuhay, May 2007): “They clearly don’t; think they’re anything out of the ordinary. And by all appearances, they seem to be three extremely level-headed, down-to-earth young women, nothing amiss except perhaps that they all possess much fitter-than-average physiques and a refreshing lack of self-consciousness. One of them, a new mother who gave birth a few months ago, mountain-biked all the way from Las Pinas – and they all insist flippantly that this, too, is nothing out of the ordinary. That’s your first clue that they have a very different idea of what ordinary is. Which can help explain why these three women have been picked to take on the historic, herculean task: “To climb to the top of the world and plant the Philippine flag on the summit of Everest, becoming the first Filipinas to do so.”

Words of wisdom from the young

Further food-for thought for Filipinos to digest and internalize deserves to be repeated:

  1. “The Philippine Eagle has landed at the summit of Everest!” – Art Valdez (Good thing we changed our national bird to the “Philippine monkey-eating Eagle” from the tiny ricebird “Maya” which surely would have perished at much lower altitudes!)

  2. “Pushing on is the only option.” - Noelle Wenceslao

  3. “I’d still want to be who I am and help the less fortunation.” – Janet Belarmino

  4. “Nothing is impossible.” – Carina Dayondon

  5. “Getting to the top is optional, but getting back down is mandatory! You cannot stay at the summit forever.” – Leo Oracion

Looking at 2009, 2010, etc…

What’s next in 2009, 2010, 2011…? Your guess is as good as mine. For the Philippines, for the people, for Government, for PGMA, for the opposition, etc., is still unclear.

But, the FPMEE has already announced its next adventure which is to fly the Philippine flag around the world. The Kaya ng Pinoy Foundation that helped to operationalize our Everest achievements is embarking on an exciting, new undertaking – “The Balangay Voyage.”

Thousands of years ago, ancestors of the Filipino people traveled from mainland Asia by landbridges across the continental shelf to the Southeast Asian archipelago and then sailed onward as Far East as Polynesia, and as far West as Madagascar, aboard the ancient vessel Balangay – from the ancient vessel Balangay – from where our basic government unit of Barangay was derived.

The maritime exploits of our forebears provide the inspiration for the Balangay project. As we celebrate the Asian century, it is also fitting to honor the Filipino’s adventurous spirit exemplified by our overseas workers and seafarers – and rekindled by the Pinoys’ ascent and the Pinays’ traverse of Everest. It also aims to reactivate our people’s seafaring nature who are not land-bound as colonizers led us to believe.

The Balangay time table starts this year when it sets sail around the archipelago, and should renew historical consciousness and reinforce our pride in being Filipino – confident and capable of achieving our cherished goals as one people and nation aboard our one and only ship, symbolized by the Balangay. To this bold next step, no less than the total support of Pinoys and Pinays must be given. Kaya natin ito – Yes we can!

Parting word

Do not our Everest summiteers and their team leaders deserve a Philippine Legion of Honor like Manny Pacquiao?

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