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Katherine Ann Corteza: First Bayaning Pilipino Awardee from South Korea

Launched in 1995, the Bayaning Pilipino Award (BPA) is a joint project of ABS-CBN and Ugat Foundation, Inc. It was envisioned by the late Don Eugenio Lopez, Jr. (thus the name Gawad Geny Lopez Bayaning Pilipino Award) to give recognition to ordinary folks who had done heroic acts and extraordinary deeds. Together with Fr. Nilo E. Tanalega, S.J. Executive Director of UGAT Foundation, Inc. they started this project as a yearly affair recognizing “existing heroes who have rendered service to the Filipino people” in the Philippines. In 2012, BPA started going global believing that “where there are Filipinos, there are heroes and it’s time to honor them”. South Korea, currently with more than 50,000 Filipinos, was included in the Global BPA late last year when the search for a Bayaning Pilipino was launched.

I learned about this call for nomination in January this year and Miss Katherine Ann Corteza undoubtedly exemplifies the qualities the award-giving body is looking for. The award body aims to recognize individuals who in their simple ways exemplify Filipino values:

  • Promote Filipino culture and heritage through a showcase of the Philippines’ best and a moving forward through education;
  • Encourage positivism and participation in the community
  • Focus their efforts to serve others, at times breaking norms or innovating; and
  • Transcend social barriers

The Philippine Women’s Club (formerly The 601 Habit) immediately processed her nomination and in June this year, she was awarded as one of the Finalists here in South Korea. That was a great honor but when we received the official letter on June 29, 2017 proclaiming her as the WINNER for South Korea, we celebrated her win with quiet integrity… just exactly how she prefers it.

Who is Katherine?

Miss Katherine Ann Corteza is an active member of the Filipino community for the more than 5 years that she had been staying here in Korea, first as an exchange student, a scholar and currently as the Director of the Itaewon Global Village Center.

As a community leader, Katherine shows social responsibility by addressing concerns of the Filipinos living in Korea, as well as other foreign nationals. She shows a very dignified example of how to lead as a Filipino both to Filipinos and other foreigners living here in Korea. As part of her service to the Filipino Community, she served as:

  • May 2012 – Mar 2014 – Counselor/Translator at the Korea Support Centre for Foreign Workers where she gives consultations to foreigners on labor and immigrations
  • Aug 2013 – Aug 2014 –  Radio News Anchor at the EBS News Korea where she was responsible for presenting news stories on radio, writing copy for radio program, selecting and analysing stories, translating news materials from Korean to Filipino
  • Jun 2010 – Mar 2016 -Freelance Translator where she was responsible for translating Korean documents, questionnaires, pamphlets, internet site, PR video scripts and other legal documents into Filipino or English languages
  • Apr 2014 – present – Currently serves as Center Director of the Itaewon Global Village Center where she is responsible for managing the center staff and planning and implementing projects that are beneficial to the community (foreign community including the Filipinos)

Katherine is a very hardworking and disciplined leader. This is manifested in the projects that she implements at the Center. She gets things done on time even if it means giving extra hours. She leads by example so the staff are committed to also do things right and on time. She is very patient with her dealings with the foreign community, including Filipinos, with regards to their daily concerns. The concerns and problems that the foreign community bring to the center are varied and on a daily basis but these are punctually addressed. In fact, Katherine and the Itaewon Global Village Center received an Honor and Citation Award from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism early this year.

Katherine graduated Cum Laude from the University of the Philippines – Diliman with a Bachelor of Arts Philippine Studies, Major in Creative Writing in Filipino and Film and Audio Visual Communications. She proceeded to obtain her Masters Degree here in South Korea and rest is… history.

Today (August 3, 2017), she is receiving the Bayaning Pilipino Award at the Dolphy Theater in the Philippines. She personally would like to express her thanks:

Photo source: Miss Marinela Eden

“I am greatly honored and humbled to be chosen as the winner of the Gawad Geny Lopez Jr., Bayaning Pilipino Awards sa South Korea. I am strongly grateful for this high recognition. I share this award to all the nominees and Filipinos in Korea. I believe that all the nominees and OFWs, bayanis themselves, deserved to be distinguished with this award.

There are so many people behind this success, so many people to be thankful for. First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to my Philippine Women’s Club family, especially to Ms. Wendyflor Palomo. I have not known a lot of them for so long but they proved to be trustworthy and loving sisters in South Korea. I want to thank them for believing in me and believing that I deserved to be called a “bayani”. I also want to thank my parents, my family, my friends in the Philippines and my extended family in Korea for always supporting me and allowing me to pursue my passion. Of course, a big thank you to the people behind Gawad Geny Lopez Jr., Bayaning Pilipino Award, Ugat Foundation and ABS-CBN.

This award wouldn’t be as meaningful without looking back at the journey that helped me got here. As a tribute, I would also like to thank DFCC, Daegu Filipino Community Council. I was a student in Daegu in 2009 when I became a DFCC member. It was the first time I actually felt the camaraderie and strength of Filipinos as a community. DFCC has helped me strengthen my passion to work towards the welfare of Filipinos in South Korea; especially to my mentors, Ms. Alice Cho, Ms. Irene Kim, and Ms. Julie Ann Dumlao. They were the ones who encouraged me to work for the migrants in South Korea. I would like to extend my gratitude to Korea Support Center for Foreign Workers for helping me work towards my passion. It is through that experience of working for the migrant center that I fully understand the sacrifices and hardships our kababayans are facing. It was also then when I realized how powerful a language could be, how it could be used as a tool to minimize the struggle of foreign workers. I believed, and still believe, that information is power. That if we are informed, we will know how to fight for our rights. Lastly, thank you to the Seoul Metropolitan Government and Yongsan District Office of Seoul for choosing me to lead the Itaewon Global Village Center. It is through this that I have the chance to represent our country to the international community in South Korea and to help raise a positive image of Filipinos to the international community.

Being nominated as a Bayaning Pilipino is a huge honor, but it is not an achievement. This will serve as a reminder for me to be a better Filipino and to continue giving back to our country and kababayans in South Korea. Again, this award is not for me, but for all of us. I believe that all of us are “bayanis” as each one of us has the strength to help uplift the image of our country. Being a bayani doesn’t only mean sacrificing oneself or helping others but most importantly, inspiring other Filipinos to be of service to our kababayans and to represent our country with pride and dignity despite the negativities thrown out at us.

Lastly, I would like to dedicate this award to all the unsung heroes of the Philippines especially now that our country is facing an extremely difficult time. Let’s all continue fighting for what is right and may we all continue to work together, nurture and support each other for a better Philippines. Maraming salamat po.”

Dr. Joeffrey Calimag, himself a national awardee having been bestowed the Bagong Bayani Award for Outstanding Employee by the Bagong Bayani Foundation, Inc. believes in Katherine’s qualifications and integrity. He first brought up the idea of nominating her for this award and agreed to be one of the character references for her nomination. He definitely knows what it takes to be a modern day “bayani” and he wholeheartedly gives his congratulatory message:

I wish to congratulate Katherine Corteza for the well-deserved Gawad Geny Lopez Bagong Pilipino Award. I must say that she rightly encapsulates the very essence of this award to which she went the extra mile and did extraordinary deeds to others.

I first heard about her as a counselor at the Korea Migrants’ Center. And from then on, I followed her advocacies and activities, especially to services she caters to OFWs who badly need assistance and help. Kath is an epitome of a modern-day hero as she had worked and continues to work hard for OFWs in Korea. I could not think of an individual in the community who truly represents the ideals of the award. For one thing, Kath works at the backstage where all the groundwork and the foundation of every voluntary and humanitarian endeavor evolve. I admire how Kath works in helping our distressed fellow Filipinos without any thirst for attention and reward. I salute her for just doing her best in everything she does without being preoccupied in getting the spotlight. Hindi sya pa-famous and she never thought of asking favors in return, which is not common nowadays. She is not a credit-grabber either.

Kath definitely had made a difference to Filipino communities in Korea and elsewhere as attested by the feedbacks, results and positive impacts she made to whomever she extended her assistance. She only had her care for the welfare of OFWs and perseverance as her inspiration and tool, respectively, to make a difference.

With everything Kath has done, it is time and appropriate to recognize her deeds. When I heard about the Gawad Geny Lopez Bagong Pilipino Awards, my friends and I hurried to nominate her. But Kath was humble enough to decline although happily, we managed to make her agree to her nomination.

Katherine Corteza is one of our modern-day heroes! As someone who have followed and witnessed her good deeds over the last decade, she justly deserves the award. More importantly, she is respected by the community for her high moral grounds and ethics. And she is the most trusted and dependable individual who is directly involved in helping Filipinos in Korea.

My heartfelt congratulations to Kath! May her tribe grow and continue making a difference and positive impacts to individuals, communities, and the whole humanity!

Couldn’t be much prouder.

Dr. Joeffrey M. Calimag, Ph.D., SCPM
Professor of International Business

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