Graduates of the Leonides S. Virata Memorial School (LSVMS) had an emotional encounter on January 19 with Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC) president Atty. Manuel B. Zamora who graced their alumni homecoming in Barangay Rio Tuba, Bataraza.

Many of the former scholars cannot help but shed tears of joy upon meeting Zamora, the man whose leadership of the RTNMC, has been instrumental in providing them the opportunity to be where they are now in their fields of expertise.

Expressions of gratitude and respect toward Zamora who instituted the scholarship program poured from the LSVMS alumni who were mostly children of rank and file workers of the mine.

Dr. Mayvelyn Abiog, one of the past scholars of the Rio Tuba Nickel Foundation, Inc. (RTNFI) who studied at LSVMS, was one of those who expressed high regard for Zamora.

The daughter of the chief chemist of RTNMC, Abiog was not the only one who benefited from the scholarship grant. Her two other siblings also studied at LSVMS as scholars by the mining corporation.

She said that after graduating from high school, being a student of LSVMS paved the way for her to be accepted and to continue her study at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna, where she took up a degree in medicine.

“The La Salle quality of instructions at LSVMS gave us an advantage over our fellow students in Palawan, and equipped us to compete with even those in Manila,” Abiog said.

She added that the regimen of study at LSVMS prepared her for the rigors of medical education.

Abiog now attends to patients at the urgent care center of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Bonifacio Global City, one of the best medical centers in the Philippines today.

She said it was a stressful job that does not daunt her because she actually chose medicine to be her profession.

“There are only very few doctors trained for emergency services,” she said.

Cyrus Dabon, the third and youngest child of RTNMC employees Teddy and Alma Dabon, was a Class 2002 graduate of the LSVMS who finished his BS Psychology at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod in 2006.

Dabon said after his graduation, he immediately found work as human resources coordinator of Sitel Philippines. However, in 2009, he came back to Palawan to join the RTNMC as its production division clerk.

A year later, he said he was transferred to the mining corporation’s Administration Department as admin assistant before he was promoted after two years to be the admin and human resources supervisor.

In 2016, Dabon was transferred, this time to the head office of Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC), the parent company of the RTNMC in Taguig, to join the Human Resource Department as training and development officer. The following year, he was promoted again to the post of training and development manager.

Every good thing that happened in his career, he said, will not be possible without Zamora’s thoughtful consideration to provide scholarship opportunities to the sons and daughters of RTNMC employees, as well as deserving students in the surrounding areas in Bataraza.

His elder siblings, a nurse and a chemical engineer, are also products of LSVMS who are now working abroad.

“Iba ang dating ng mga taga-LSVMS,” Dabon said, recalling student days when he represented the school as a tennis player in provincial and regional meets.

“Because of our facilities and because of the quality of instruction, we were looked up to by our fellow student-competitors. Whether it was academics or sports, LSVMS was considered as one of the best if not the best school in the province and the region,” Dabon pointed out.

Both said going back to the LSVMS for their homecoming now makes them marvel at how far it has become in terms of facilities and student population.

Abiog and Dabon said they are happy that the RTNMC’s legacy in the provision of quality education is still as alive as it is during their years as students.

LSVMS is a De La Salle supervised private school that is being funded by RTNFI since the late 1980s, the year when Barangay Rio Tuba used to be one of the remotest villages of Palawan.

Over time, it has helped a lot of graduates, including 324 former scholars who are now connected to RTNMC and its affiliates.

From LSVMS, graduates continue to move to attend some of the best institutions of higher learning in the country and even abroad. It has also produced students who have since graduated from the UP system, from De La Salle system, from Ateneo de Manila and the University of Sto. Tomas, from Far Eastern University, Saint Louie University-Baguio and Centro Escolar University, the Cebu Institute of Technology, UNO-Recoletos, Systems Training Institute, and Holy Trinity, as well as from the University of Calgary in Canada.

As of the last count, the Leonides S. Virata Memorial School has produced 65 engineers, 62 licensed teachers, 42 professional nurses, 16 psychology graduates, 10 Information Technology graduates, nine doctors, eight pharmacists, seven HRM graduates, and seven licensed medical technologists.

It has also produced five architects, five physical therapists, four certified public accountants, four management and accounting graduates, three business administration graduates and three criminologist graduates.

It also has three alumni who are nuns, three registered social workers, a lawyer, a midwide, and a real estate broker.

Thanks to excellent educational opportunities provided by responsible mining practice, many Palaweños like Abiog and Dabon have better opportunities in life.

Zamora, the man they admire and respect for helping them, has a good reason why institutionalizing the RTNMC’s scholarship program is a priority in its social responsibility goals — that was because he himself was a scholar.

When he was young, Zamora had to ride buses and jeepneys, and sometimes walk on foot, to go to school and to go home. Hence, the mission to help provide similar opportunities to others today.

As a result, the cycle of positive transformation lives.

In effect, this is what the Leonides S. Virata Memorial School is all about from the very first day it opened its doors to scholars in Bataraza.