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President Aquino Awards the 2011 'Aquino Fellows' of the U.S. Embassy


December 6, 2011


President Aquino Awards the 2011 'Aquino Fellows' of the U.S. Embassy


The U.S. Embassy is pleased to announce the selection of Fr. Eduardo “Ponpon” Cariño Vasquez and Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Roberto Mamaril Beltran as the 2011 Aquino Fellows. They were formally awarded in a ceremony on December 6, 2011 led by President Benigno Aquino III and U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. 

The Public Affairs Section of theU.S. Embassy initiated the Aquino Fellows program in 1988 in collaboration with the Aquino Foundation to commemorate Senator Ninoy Aquino’s contributions to the fields of journalism and public service.  After President Corazon Aquino’s passing in 2009, the fellowship was renamed “Ninoy and Cory Aquino Fellowship for Professional Development” to honor her lifelong contributions to strengthening democratic institutions in the Philippines. 

The Aquino Fellows are specially selected from among future participants in the U.S. Embassy’s annual International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).  The IVLP Program is the premier professional exchange program of the U.S. Department of State that seeks to build mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations. Launched in 1940, the IVLP Program involves carefully designed short-term visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders. 

For this year, among the 2011 IVLP Participants, the following outstanding individuals have been selected as Aquino Fellows:

  • For Journalism: Fr. Eduardo “Ponpon” Cariño Vasquez, Director, i-Watch Media, Oblate Communications Philippines
  • For Public Service: Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Roberto Mamaril Beltran, Operations and Administrative Officer, Naval Special Operations Group, Unit 2, Naval Forces Northern Luzon


Fr. Vasquez is a Catholic priest and media champion who has worked for many years in conflict-affected towns in Maguindanao Province. Fr. Ponpon, as he is fondly called, enters conflictive areas so he and his team can be where the action is. In 2006, Fr. Ponpon started a group called Oblate Communications Philippines under the supervision of the Oblate Provincial House based in Cotabato City.  Under Fr. Ponpon’s leadership, Oblate Communications produces documentaries and news stories for the congregation that are amplified via social and traditional media.  Despite having a lean staff, they produce stories that address the effects of armed conflict on ordinary civilians who are killed, hurt, or forced to evacuate their homes when violence erupts in their communities.  Among the major stories that he has covered are the armed conflict between Philippine government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after the aborted homeland deal in 2008 and the Maguindanao massacre in 2009.  Many of these stories were aired by GMA7 and published by foreign news agencies. Oblate Communications has also produced documentaries on electoral reform and documenting the lives of indigenous peoples in Mindanao.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Beltran of the Philippine Navy was deployed to Western Mindanao for a year following his graduation from elite SEAL training.  LTJG Beltran’s record reveals a deeply compassionate Special Operations Officer who has exhibited the potential to excel through the ranks while inspiring others to public service. Navy SEALs training is one of the most rigorous trainings in the Philippine military.  Immediately after his training, LTJG Beltran served as team leader, weapons officer, communication officer and supply officer of the Naval Special Operations Group. He has recently been redeployed to La Union. 

As Aquino Fellows, Fr. Vasquez and LTJG Beltran will travel to the United States to take part in three-week IVLP exchange programs focused on developing and broadening their professional expertise and contacts within their chosen field or area of interest.  They will attend meetings with their American counterparts, learn about the U.S. system of government at the national, state and local levels, visit American schools, and experience American culture and social life. They will also have the chance to share their own culture and offer insights on best practices and perspectives with their American hosts.

Past Aquino Fellows for Journalism include Yvonne Chua, Cheche Lazaro, Sen. Loren Legarda, Tina Palma, Luz Rimban, Vergel Santos, Howie Severino, Marites Vitug, and Anthony Taberna. Aquino Fellows for Public Service include Atty. Mary Ann Arnado, Gov. Arthur Defensor, GSIS Chairman Daniel Lacson, Guillermo Luz, Grace Padaca, and Dr. William Padolina.


For more information on the Aquino Fellows Program, please contact