Community organisation Adhika (Filipino word that means ‘aspiration’) held its ninth International Women’s Day (IWD) forum and gala in Sydney this month, turning the spotlight on Filipino-Australian women who champion empowerment and gender equity.

There were a couple of standing ovations, warm rounds of applause and Filipino-style high-fives as 10 women, four youth ambassadors and three community service awards were delivered at the ninth Adhika awards on March 21 at Dooley’s Catholic Club at Regents Park last weekend.

Adhika, a volunteer group made up of Filipino-Australians who work in media and entertainment, had followed the same format for their annual IWD for the past nine years: an all-women panel and Q&A forum discussing the year’s IWD theme followed by a gala and dinner in the evening.

This year’s forum topic was “How to use the power of influential leadership to drive inclusiveness and gender equity”. The participants were H.E. Ma. Hellen de la Vega, the Ambassador from the Philippine Embassy in Australia; Dr. Zeny Edwards, OAM, Architectural Historian, President, Institute for Global Peace and Sustainable Governance; former Chair of UN Women Australia; Aruni Ratnayake, Diabetes Prevention Officer, Western Sydney Diabetes; Sheridan Mortlock, Miss Earth-Air 2022; and Alma Argayoso, the Philippine Special Trade Representative to Australia.

Michelle Baltazar, editor-in-chief of Money magazine (and editor of this community publication, The Australian Filipina) hosted the forum while the co-emcees of the evening gala were Jojo Sebastian, award-winning host and model with Robyn Russell, an Adhika youth ambassador and Miss Earth-Fire 2022.

Josie Musa, Adhika president, specially thanked Ambassador de la Vega, who travelled from the Canberra for the forum and evening gala, and Consul General Charmaine Aviquivil from the Philippine Consulate in Sydney.

“Salamat kay Amba, kay Consul General at sa ating mga Consuls at Vice Consuls na nandito ngayon. Hindi talaga kayo nawawala sa aming annual IWD event. Maraming salamat po sa inyong suporta,” she said.

The participation of Kababaihang Rizalista, Inc was also acknowledged with Michelle Baltazar, Marilyn Mendez, Marideth Laquian, Violi Calvert, Marilie Bomediano and Kai Cruz supporting the event with the Ambassador as keynote speaker (KRI, Canberra chapter).

Kababaihang Rizalista Australia

The event’s director was Marc Baylon with Ronnell Amper and Marlon in video and stage management. Marilie Bomediano (Radio Rizal) and Bob Reyes took official video and photography of the event respectively while SBS Filipino’s Annalyn Violata and Edinel Magtibay Dearden provided media coverage. (See SBS Filipino article here).

Wowing the guests with their performance were Seeyan Violata, John Michael, the emcees Jojo Sebastian and Robyn Russell as well as the youth ambassadors: Chloe Lofthouse and Queeness Guiterrez, Aria Wallace and Zaebriel Orayenza.

Honouring this year’s IWD honorees with a poem is Rado Gatchalian from Radio Tagumpay (and member of the Knights of Rizal).

Adhika also acknowledged Merlinda Bobis who spearheaded a book project ‘Sulatan’ in 2022, a collection of letters from Filipino women from around the world (US, Australia and the Philippines). In the book, these women wrote about their experiences during COVID-19 and how they coped.

The “surprise” part of the program was the community service awards, which were awarded to Churlya Wurfel for her various fundraising donations for the Filipino community in times of natural disasters in the Philippines; Albert Prias for championing the LGBTIQ community and Bob Reyes for supporting various women-led projects and Adhika’s IWD events through his media work (photography, video and souvenir programmes).

The event was sponsored by InvoCare, XMS Property and Ayala Land.

Here are the 2023 IWD honorees.

Marideth Laquian

Marideth Laquian is a devoted community leader and tireless volunteer. She is the former Director of the Youth and New Generations - Rotary Club of Blacktown City, the Auditor of Kababaihang Rizalista, Inc. (Sydney Chapter), part of the Board of Trustee of the Filipino Sports, Arts and Recreation Club (FILSPARC) and supporter of various community organisations, including the Philippine Community Council of New South Wales ( PCC), One Pangasinan Association of Australia (OPAA), Confradia del Sto.Nino, San Pedro Calungsod and the Visayan Association of Australia (VAA).

Professionally, she works as a memorial consultant at InvoCare Australia at the Muticultural Centre (MCU) – Filipino Team where she has been nominated Consultant of the Year twice.

She is married to Joseph Laquian who she considers a role model to both their children, Jem and Joy, and the community. “My support for him with his different roles in the community will always be continuous because he gives me the inspiration and motivation to share our time and involvement in the community.”

Marideth completed a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Luzon in Dagupan City, Philippines.

Fe Limjap

Fe Corazon Limjap is a New South Wales Registered Psychologist in Australia since 1991 and has her professional practice in the Blacktown LGA for 30 years. Fe graduated with a Bachelor in Science degree major in Psychology with masteral studies from the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, Philippines. She also completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with honours at the University of Canterbury Postgraduate School in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Fe was the Director of Wellness Plus Psychology in New South Wales for 10 years and the recipient of numerous awards including the Dr Mars Cavestany Artista Ng Bayan Award for Excellence and Lifetime Achievement for Public Service through the Performing Arts Alliance of Philippine Community Organisations Inc.

She was also a finalist for the Citizen of the Year Award for Community Service Australia Day 26 January 2019 by the Blacktown City Council as well as “Semper Fidelis Awardee” for Most Outstanding Alumni 2011 from the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, Philippines.

Donating artwork for the auction

Cheryl Quejada-Canning

Cheryl Quejada-Canning is a Sydney/Lucena City based visual artist of Ilocano and Tagalog heritage. She started painting in Sydney, Australia at the studio of Tracey Moffatt, Australia’s most internationally successful artist of all times. Cheryl attributes Tracey’s influence as being foremost in her growth as an artist.

She has been living with a chronic illness that affects her sensory system.

Through art, Cheryl has learned to practise self-compassion and to nurture a better life.

She studied Bachelor of Business Administration (Banking & Finance) at Manuel S. Enverga University in the Philippines.

Lee Meekan

Lee Meekan is one of the pioneers of community service in Sydney, having supported the Philippine Community Council NSW (PCC-NSW) since 1992. The first community meeting to form the event was held at the auspices of her office at the time, she recalls in her thank you speech at the event.

She has helped the fundraising activities of numerous community organisations, including Abra Association Australia, Bicol Inc. Adhika, NARRA Coop, APCO, Plaza Filipino and FILCAA.

Among the highlights of her community work was providing accomodation for young kids for four months while the kids were in the middle of a family issue. Decades later, one of the kids knocked at her door thanking her for being there for them when they had nowhere to go, she said in an interview.

A Toastmasters International awardee, she is a licensed real estate agent and practicing valuer since 1996.

She completed a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Major in Accounting, at the University of the East Manila.

Sharing her story of community service, she has provided temporary accommodation to Filipino International students and Filipino-Australians needing assistance.

She has raised two beautiful daughters, Marissa and Jennifer.

Julieta Custodio De Leon

Julieta is the president and owner of Stargazer Productions Pty Ltd, which produces Australia's prestigious advocacy-based beauty pageants. Currently, she is the license holder for Miss Earth, Mrs Earth, Miss Little, Junior and Teen Earth in Australia. She has been involved in pageant, modelling and beauty industry for over 20 years.

She established her pageant production in 2017 with a purpose of encouraging ladies to showcase their beauty and talents. She wants to fulfill every women's dream to become a beauty queen with a cause. 

Prior to establishing her pageant productions, she is a celebrated hair and make-up artist in various beauty pageants and has been a recipient of multiple awards.

She currently lives with her family in Rockdale.

Anna Manlulo

Anna Manlulo is the CEO and founder at Filipino Food Movement Australia Inc. (FFMA).

From being a monthly social gathering, FFMA became a registered non-profit organisation in NSW with the vision of celebrating  Filipino  culinary heritage in Australia. FFMA created Mabuhay Nights, a bespoke dinner event highlighting Filipino-Australian chefs and other events, such as Meryenda to Community Meetups where the goal is to support Filipino-owned food and restaurant businesses.

Manlulo actively volunteers in local council events and was previously part of the committee organising the Cork and Fork Festival Ryde Council, Granny Smith Festival and was assigned photographer at the Hunters Hill Food and Wine Festival. She also participated as the customer engagement officer at the Biennale Festival Sydney at Cockatoo Island.

She completed a Bachelor of Science in Commerce and Marketing Management at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila and an MBA in Strategic Business Management from the Ateneo Graduate School of Business.

Beewah Lim-Tecson Snelson

Beewah Lim-Tecson Snelson was a registered nurse with over 30 years of healthcare experience in a variety of medical settings, including her previous role as an endoscopy nurse before her retirement in 2021.

She attended the Medina General Hospital School of Nursing and Midwifery in Ozamiz City, Philippines and took further studies at the Canberra Royal Hospital School of Nursing when she migrated to Australia.

Her involvement with the Filipino community in Canberra included being a member of the Philippine Australian Association of ACT and Monaro Region Dance Troupe back in 1994 to Cultural Dance Coordinator Choreographer of the ACT Filipino Australian Social and Cultural Association. She has been the president of ACTFA-SCA since 2014, helping promote Philippine Culture in Australia particularly in Canberra and surrounding regions through music and dance.

Violi Calvert receives a standing ovation

Violi Calvert

Violi Calvert is a writer, journalist and radio broadcaster who also built a career in corporate governance prior to devoting her time and passion towards media and community service.

Among the awards she received were: Multicultural and Indigenous Media Award – Coverage of Community Affairs, 2015, 2016 NARRA Ambassador for Culture & Arts – Community Service & Media; 2021 FILSPARC Inaugural Inspirational Mother of the Year Award; as well as several certificates of appreciation from the Consulate and various community organisations. 

Her 35-year career in Australia was in Governance and Fraud Prevention and Investigations. Her educational attainment includes: BSEEd (Cum Laude; 1970) and MAEd (1972) from UE Manila; BBus from University of Technology Sydney (1995) and Graduate Certificate in Public Sector Management, Flinders University (2004).


Given her various accomplishments, her alma mater presented her with a Distinguished Achievement Award at the University of the East Diamond Jubilee in 2006.

"I would like to accept the Adhika IWD recognition to express my gratitude to all who trusted me with their stories which I had shared on radio and in my writing for more than 15 years. I'd also like to thank my family, especially my husband John, for the support that enabled me to carry out all my volunteer activities," she said in her thank you speech.

Elenita dela Cruz Mccarthy

Elenita dela Cruz Mccarthy hails from Talavera, Nueva Ecija in the Philippines.

Her eldest daughter, Arlene, is now a chartered accountant, her son, Allen Nica is a Registered Nurse and son Arnel Jason is an entrepreneur farmer and became the Chairman of Kaagapay Agrarian Reform Cooperative in the Philippines.

She serves the community as President of APOAAA (Alpha Phi Omega Alumni Association of Australia) Inc. and lead all activities of this group, including Clean Up Australia and various community Festivals as Marshalls. She heads the APOAAA delegation in national and international conferences and conventions, and helps fundraise to give aid in the Philippines in times of natural disasters.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education at Central Luzon State University followed by an MBA, major in Economics at Araullo Lyceum in Cabanatuan City.

Marilyn Mendez

Marilyn Mendez is the president of the Australian Filipino Women Support Group Inc.

She has been a member and the assistant treasurer to Kababaihan Rizalista Inc. (Sydney Chapter) since 2018.

She is also a jazz singer and EA to the Director of Nursing under Northern Sydney Home Nursing Service.

Her advocacy is through Australian Filipino Women Support Group Inc or AFWomen, which was formed by a handful of Filipino women whose common goal is to campaign for change in family domestic violence within the Filipino community.

AFWomen’s mission is to provide assistance and support for the safety and well-being of Australian Filipino Women and their children through education and collaborative partnership with government agencies and community services, with a fundraising event on 1st July 2023.


Zaebriel Orayenza

Zaebriel is a 14 year old singer, songwriter, actor and gymnast. At a very young age she has won multiple awards in the music industry including Homegrown Australian Superstar, Ruby Productions Open Age Star Search 2018, Mic Battle, Open Age Star Quest 2017 and many more.


She performed in The School of Rock The Musical in South Korea and Sydney and casted for The School of Rock The Musical Adelaide and Asia season. Last year she played Moana in the Moana the Musical.

Zaebriel recently went to the USA where she was offered a spot to join the The Aussie All-Stars - an elite youth musical theatre performance troupe. 

She has also performed in many community events, had her very own concerts and launched her self EP - Zaebriel Orayenza in 2021.

As an athlete, she won Australian National Silver Medalist 2018 and State Champion / Medalist for three consecutive years in Trampolining Gymnastics.

Aria Wallace

Aria Wallace, 14 years old, has been performing in the community since the age of two. She enjoys singing, dancing and playing netball.. After getting more experienced in her performances, she started singing in the ACT and New South Wales at various fundraising and multicultural events. She has consistently received academic awards at school and wishes to improve her talents and knowledge to develop her future career.

Queeness Gutierrez

Nine-year-old Queeness Gutierrez is an aspiring singer and competitive swimmer.

She won her first singing competition (Bexley Got Talent - school talent show) when she was only a five-year-old kindergarten student. Last year, she entered the competition again and won first place.

Queeness represented her school age level during the school’s swimming carnival” and qualified for the inter-school competition after winning first place in freestyle (100m, all ages), butterfly (50m), backstroke (50m), breaststroke (50m) and freestyle (50m).

She is currently getting vocal and piano lessons while pursuing her passion in sports, including in running, netball and softball.

Chloe Lofthouse

Chloe Lofthouse is the reigning Petite Miss Australia Regency International 2021 at the National Australian Miss pageant. She competed at the Regency International in Las Vegas and placed 3rd runner up in her Division. She is on social media under  #iamchloetheexplorer.

Chloe is the kid ambassador of Trendy B designs and trendyb kids fashionfestival. She is one of the products influencer of Mcskincare sydney and product endorser of FILO FOOD Rockdale.

While she’s into singing and musicals, swimming and gymnastics are here sports.

She loves supporting various charities/fundraising events here and in Philippines.

Chloe dreams of becoming a pilot and part-time model when she grows up.

She always believes in saying that “Dreams do not work unless you do”. She may be young but she already participates in various fundraisers in Australia and the Philippines.



Churlya Wurfel (Villoni Boutique)

Churlya Wurfel is a businesswoman and a philanthropist. She has been to Manila many times to help our homeless street children together with her co-sponsor, renowned American singer-songwriter David Pomeranz.

She has done food feedings and rehabilitation volunteer works many times during varied Philippine typhoons: Ondoy (September-October 2009), Washi-Sendong, (Dec 2011-February 2012) Haiyan (November 2013) and other natural disasters in the Philippines

She has donated her time and money to the Philippines and Australia over the years, including being the volunteer for the Food Bank with Turban 4 Australia, a Sikh-led charity organisation, and feeding the poor and homeless in Sydney.

During the COVID19 pandemic lockdown, she helped sanitise churches, mosques and community offices.

She has been recognised by the Kababaihang Rizalistas of the Philippines for her community service in the Philippines.


Rosauro ‘Bob' Reyes

Service to Community Projects Led by Women 

Rosario Reyes or Bob Reyes is the Filipino-Australian community’s most established and highly respected photographer and videographer. Through his talent and dedication, he has captured many of the milestone moments for the community, including arts and culture project launches, community award launches and the annual Filipino Christmas festival at the Tumbalong Park, as well as various events officiated by the Philippine Consulate in Sydney and the Philippine Embassy in Canberra.

A graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, College of Fine Arts, Bob has worked in Iran, Bahrain and Australia before setting up his own business, Alkei Type & Graphics in Sydney. Outside work, he has collaborated with various community organisations for their souvenir programs and video presentations.

He is an officer and/or member of NARRA Co-op, Adhika and Plaza Filipino, Inc. to name a few.

A graphic artist, photographer and videographer, he has recently turned his attention to cooking. He is married to Tess Reyes and have two children, Alvin and Kat.

Albert Prias

Service to LGBTIQ Community 

Albert Prias is an interior designer, TAFE teacher, entrepreneur, real estate consultant and founding president of the Filipino Lesbian And Gay Community (FLAGCOM) and Friends organisation.

It is his dual role as president of FLAGCOM & Friends, advocating for the LGBTIQ community and president of NARRA Co-op, advocating for Philippine Arts and Culture in Australia, that has propelled him as one of the most prominent community leaders of the Filipino community in Australia.

Besides running his own interior design consultancy Creative Koncept, he is also a compere, singer, events director and production manager and more recently, the founder of his own fashion line, Mister Ginoo.

Photo credits: Bob Reyes, videos and some photos sourced via Facebook.


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