From breakout social media stars to public servants to our first Olympic champion, these names continue to make a mark and stir conversation.
Despite the challenging year that has been 2021, when variants like Delta caused the worst surge in COVID-19 cases, when there’s record-high unemployment, and when the world’s longest lockdown in the world continued, there are still Filipinos who have made a positive impact in the world.
Meet the 21 Filipinos who shaped 2021 through their inspiring tales, laudable efforts, passion projects, and unique triumphs.
1. Hidilyn Diaz
As a weightlifter, Diaz is the first Filipino—and Filipina—to win the elusive gold medal for the Philippines at this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Her win ended a 97-year Olympic gold medal drought. En route to her victory, the Zamboanga City native set an Olympic record in the women’s 55-kilogram category and lifted a combined weight of 224 kilograms.
The victory is also the latest in her arduous but decorated weightlifting career that includes an Olympic silver medal win at the 2016 Rio Olympics, multiple World Championship wins, and regional titles. Regardless if she guns for another Olympic appearance in Paris or not, her Olympic gold win has already cemented her place in Philippine history.
2. Vice President Leni Robredo
Like true leaders do, Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo has provided support when and where needed. Her office’s pandemic response, despite budget limitations, was free of any charge. That included online medical consultations, care kits for COVID-19 patients, and swab tests.
Frontliners were given PPEs, temporary shelters and dorm rooms, rides to and from hospitals, and food packs. Robredo’s office also partnered up with Metro Manila LGUs and a local app developer to create Community Mart, a palengke service app run by market sellers and tricycle drivers. The Commission on Audit also awarded her office with the highest rating for the third year in a row.
3. Heart Evangelista-Escudero
The trendsetter and tastemaker made the most out of 2021 and busied herself with creative collaborations. Apart from returning to primetime television through I Left My Heart In Sorsogon, the 36-year-old actress traveled around New York and Los Angeles, meeting up with the Vogue team, and bonding with friends like Kevin Kwan and the Bling Empire cast, which she is rumored to join for a Season 2 appearance. She also launched her first two non-fungible token (NFT) paintings, each of which could cost up to $3 million or roughly P150 million.
But perhaps the year’s highlight for Evangelista is standing up to bashers and their unsolicited comments about her, from her underarm skin to her childless marriage. In a series of tweets back in September, Evangelista called out the insensitive remarks. “Enough with the pressure,” she says. “Let’s just inspire each other and be happy for people.”
4. Ambassador Benny Tantoco
As the father of luxury retail in the Philippines, Bienvenido “Benny” Tantoco, together with his wife, the late Glecy Rustia Tantoco, built the Rustan’s Group from the ground up. Today, the flagship Rustan’s Department Store is open in various locations in the country and carries many of the world’s luxury brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Lacoste, Lanvin, and Gucci, making it the country’s most prestigious retailer. It has also branched out to supermarket chains namely Rustan’s Supermarkets and Shopwise, Starbucks via Rustan Coffee, Royal Duty Free, and more recently, an online shop, rustans.com.
Apart from being a businessman, Benny also served as the Philippines’ ambassador to the Holy See in 1983. Benny, who “passed in peace” last July at the age of 100, will always be remembered by loved ones and colleagues in the business circle as “an exemplary leader and visionary,” a “beloved father and grandfather,” and for living life “full of energy, warmth, and devotion.”
5. Bretman Rock
Since going viral in 2015, Filipino-American social media personality Bretman Rock has come a long way. Back in January, he starred in his own reality TV show called MTV Following: Bretman Rock where he shared a glimpse into his family’s life in Hawaii. He also took part in YouTube Originals’ 30 Days With documentary series back in June, where he tried to survive a week in the Hawaiian jungle on his own.
He has also participated as the face of campaigns for brands like Nike, Crocs, and Michael Kors. As a social media personality, he won the People’s Choice award for Beauty Influencer and the 2021 MTV Movie and TV Awards’ Breakthrough Social Star. It was also recently announced that he will guest star in Disney’s The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder.
6. Bella Poarch
The fourth-most followed personality on TikTok, Poarch also garnered the video with the most likes, clocking in at over 50 million. This year, she signed a record deal with Warner Records and released her debut single, “Build a B***h.” The song is an anthem about acceptance and fighting back against people’s negative opinions. On Youtube, the video has been viewed 334,362,267 times.
A US Navy Veteran who served for four years, this year, Poarch also showed support against Asian hate, due to the increase of violence towards the Asian- American community. She uploaded a video on TikTok, telling her viewers to “take this seriously, pay attention and check up on [their] Asian friends…let’s all protect each other.”
7. Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar
A lupus diagnosis has never stopped Em Villar from living life to the fullest—and with purpose. Hope for Lupus, the non-profit organization she founded, recently partnered with Gavel & Block by Salcedo Auctions for a benefit auction. It featured close to 100 lots, including works by leading contemporary Filipino visual artists such as Emmanuel Garibay, Raffy Napay, Jigger Cruz, Alfredo Esquillo, Jr., Manuel Ocampo, Daniel dela Cruz, Winner Jumalon, and Olan Ventura.
Sterling silver pieces from Cartier, Tiffany & Co. Fine Baccarat and Lalique crystal, as well as jewelry by Riqueza and Janina Dizon were also up for grabs. The proceeds of the auction helped support the foundation’s work in the illness’ early detection and proper treatment.
This story first came out in the December 2021-January 2022 issue of Lifestyle Asia.