NEW JERSEY (Apr. 29) — After weeks of preparation, the day of the selection of the coveted Diwa ng Kalayaan (Spirit of Independence) finally came Apr. 26.
At the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton Newark Airport Hotel, where the Selection and Coronation Pageant and Gala was held, Philadelphia’s hometown entry was proclaimed 2009 Diwa ng Kalayaan amidst a bevy of almost 300 guests.
Monica Castillo Meares, a 17-year-old graduating student of Philadelphia High School for Girls, took a regal walk towards the center stage to receive her crown and sash – symbolic of the title she was conferred with. She won over six other candidates who took the other competition titles (in descending order): Renee Nicole Lago of New Jersey, Miss Filipino American; Janette Gomez of New York, Hiyas ng Pilipinas; Loriella Reyes, New York, Bituin ng Luzon; Alexandra Uy of New Jersey, Bituin ng Visayas; Demellen Faith Cuerda of New York, Bituin ng Mindanao; and Natasha Abella of New Jersey, Lakambini ng PIDCI.
The statuesque Filipino American Monica Castillo Meares sang “A Moment Like This” — popularized by Kelly Clarkson, the first winner of the fame “American Idol” — during the talent portion of the competition. Music proved to be one of her strengths since she has been playing the piano for almost nine years. In addition, her school activity has been concentrated mostly on music, sports and clubs. Since her freshman year, she has played cello for the school orchestra and became head cellist for her section.
The daughter of of Francis Allen and Faith Castillo Meares, Monica intends to take up Nursing at the School of Nursing and Allied Health Professionals of the Holy Family University of Philadelphia.
She is currently the president of her school’s Filipina Club and is also involved with the Asian Club and Latinas Unidas. She was also into cheer leading, golf, floor hockey, and the step team.
Her entry into the Diwa ng Kalayaan competition was sponsored by Philadelphia-based International Network of Filipinos Overseas, Inc. (INFO) and represented by commissioned network associates in New York, New Jersey and numerous cities in the U.S. and around the world. INFO counts as one of the close to 100 member organizations and associations of the Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc. (PIDCI)
The 2009 Diwa ng Kalayaan title-holder also won a round trip airline ticket to the Philippines and will most likely join the Ambassadors and Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tour to the Philippines this July.
The annual Diwa ng Kalayaan is one of the multiple events integral to the annual Philippine Independence celebration in New York. Its other component events are the Philippine Independence Day Parade, Street Fair and Cultural Festival (all held on Philippine Independence Day, the first Sunday in June), the Independence Ball and the Grand Marshall Gala, honoring the Grand Marshal of the Parade.
This year’s commemoration of the Philippine Independence Day will be on June 7.
Photo credit: Ernie Pena