Para kay Ms. Gi: Because We Knew You

By Deirdre Joyce C. Dalawampu and Marian Patricia Bea U. Francisco

Last January 4, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, led by the School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS), held “Para kay Ms. Gi: A Celebration of Life Service of Dean Giselle Montero” at the Chapel of the Resurrection in Taft Campus. This tribute was in honor of the memory of our esteemed Dean, a cherished colleague, teacher, mentor, and friend who passed away on Christmas Eve of 2023 after a long fight with cancer. As a Benildean community, we celebrated her life of service, friendship, kindness, and legacy.

Ms. Giselle graduated from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a Bachelor’s in Education. She was awarded her Graduate Certificate in Education Studies and her Masters in Inclusive and Special Education from the Monash University in Australia. Ms. Gi, as she was fondly called by many in SDEAS, has been with Benilde for 22 years, serving in different capacities as teaching faculty, program coordinator, center director, and eventually as the SDEAS Dean. Her legacies include but are not limited to involvement in the push for Filipino Sign Language (FSL) insets, even before it was put into law; the pushing and support for the realization of the FSL Law; the reshaping of the employment landscape for Deaf access; partnership with various groups on projects such as Deaf GROW and EMERGE, and the creation of innovative programs such as the Teacher Certification Program for the Deaf in collaboration with Benilde Antipolo and Center for Education Access for the Deaf (CEAD), and the Bachelor in Sign Language Interpretation Program.

However, Ms. Gi’s legacy extended beyond employment and academia. She was a volunteer by heart, and she was instrumental in advocating for Deaf participation in cultural and sporting events, such as the recognition of Silent Steps in the Theater Arts field and the involvement of the Deaf Blazers in the annual Rotaract Sportsfest. She was also instrumental in making SDEAS the first licensed operator in the Philippines of the Duke of Edinburgh International Award for Young People Programme. Through this program, SDEAS produced numerous Gold, Silver, and Bronze Deaf awardees and award leaders. Ms. Giselle was a visionary and a dreamer. She dreamt of things bigger than herself, not for personal gains, but for the betterment of society and the community.

Ms. Giselle’s life was as colorful and as grand as the theater productions she had loved. The tribute was a story that showed the different facets of Ms. Giselle’s life as part of the Benildean Community. Her sister, Ms. Erika Geronimo, and niece, Ms. Cheyenne Rain Geronimo, were present for the tribute. The solemn occasion began with a Holy Mass, celebrated by Fr. Viel Bautista, Vice Rector from the Manila Cathedral, so the whole of Benilde could join in collective prayer in lifting her soul to the arms of our Almighty Father and comfort her bereaved family and friends. In his heartfelt homily, he pondered on the Holy Gospel, “In my Father’s house are many homes. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you.”

“How lucky our dear sister Giselle got to spend Christmas in the home prepared for her by our Lord,” Fr. Viel declares, “Christmas is about Jesus Christ, sharing his human life and home in a manger for all humanity. Giselle opened her life to everyone she loved, especially the Deaf community, and she enabled us to have our own homes prepared for us in heaven. It is through her life of service and generosity of heart that she has left us with this gift.”

After the Holy Mass, Chancellor Benhur Ong, in his opening remarks, thanked Ms. Giselle’s immediate family for sharing her with us, her Benildean Community, until the day she decided to file for a service leave last September. Sir Benhur talked about Ms. Giselle’s work ethic and how he was one of the many colleagues who had to remind her now and then to take a break.

One of Ms. Giselle’s passions was Theater and Performing Arts. She shared this with SDEAS by advocating for the active participation of the Deaf in various cultural and performing arts events. Through her advocacy, Silent Steps has been involved in multiple cultural performances and films, notably Mirana Medina’s films and Mike Sandejas’ Dinig Sana Kita. Through her connections, Deaf students could watch Ballet Philippines performances in CCP and participate in workshops. It is only fitting that Silent Steps performed a special performance of Jaimie Rivera’s “Thank you” to open the various roster of administrators, associates, colleagues, alumni, and students who shared their experiences and how Ms. Giselle has forever changed their lives.

The list included Mr. John Xandre Baliza, the OIC Dean for SDEAS, reminding us how lucky we are to have been blessed with her presence; Ms. Bernadette Infanta, Filipino Sign Language Learning Program (FSLLP) administrator, learning how patient Ms. Giselle was with her whenever the workload got heavy; Mr. Ferdinand Vizmanos, FSLLP and Applied Deaf Studies faculty, explaining his long-promised master’s degree and will continue to finish it in her honor; Mr. Charvie Arreola, Operations Assistant under Academic Programs, reveling us with early days of her teaching deaf students and eagerness to learn Filipino Sign Language; and Ms. Ana Arce, Chairperson of the Applied Deaf Studies Program, who shared Mr. Leonides Sulse’s, her predecessor’s message, on his behalf – giving examples of what a strict but fair mentor Ms. Giselle was because she wanted everyone to reach their full potential; Jay R Lacorte, SDEAS alumnus ID 119, continuing his volunteering efforts after graduation as inspired by the Dean he looked up to; with Ruel Cavitanaj & EJ Boy Tena, SDEAS student volunteers and scholars, expressing their heartbreak in the knowledge that their beloved Dean will not be able to see them graduate.

Brother President, Br. Edmundo Fernandez FSC was also there to proudly discuss the existence of the SDEAS Emergency Fund because of Ms. Giselle’s foresight in helping Deaf students and communities affected by national calamities, which only confirmed her dedication and determination to uplift the lives of the Deaf Filipinos.

Ms. Giselle was a volunteer by heart, and the student volunteers held a special place in her heart. To show their appreciation, the SDEAS student volunteers made a video tribute compiling photos and videos of Ms Giselle during her time with SDEAS. It included a video of her signing her message to the SDEAS Student Volunteers during the last Thanksgiving party she attended as Dean. In it, she talked about what it means to be a volunteer and putting to heart what they have learned.

Ms. Erika Geronimo shared a short message from the family, saying, “I am grateful to her Benildean family for putting this together,” she continues. “At home, she is my sister, and we were only two siblings. Now I get to see her through your eyes – how she was as an administrator, a teacher, and a colleague. She loved you, especially the Deaf community, very, very much.”

Ms. Nicky Templo-Perez, the Vice President for Lasallian Mission and Student Life and Ms. Giselle’s predecessor as SDEAS Dean, began her closing remarks by saying she had a speech prepared but would speak from the heart instead. “Bea (Francisco) asked me earlier, ‘Ms. Nic, nauubos ba yung luha? Parang hindi na ata tayo titigil’ (Ms. Nic, will the tears ever stop? It’s as if there’s no end to all this crying).’ I believe the tears will stop with time, and we will continue the important work Giselle has started. There is a lot more to do; now, it’s our turn to carry on her legacy. Life has been forever changed with her loss. But we shall honor her by continuing to fight the good fight.”

Just like every great production, the story must come to an end. However, even though Ms. Giselle’s life chapter has ended, her legacy will continue through the people whose hearts she touched and the lives she changed. It is only fitting to end this tribute article with lyrics from a well-loved musical by Stephen Schwartz. “It well may be / That we will never meet again / In this lifetime / So let me say before we part / So much of me / Is made of what I learned from you / You’ll be with me / Like a handprint on my heart / And now whatever way our stories end / I know you have re-written mine / By being my friend…But because I knew you / Because I knew you / I have been changed for good.”

Ms. Ma. Giselle Montero – daughter, sister, friend, family, advocate, leader, teacher, mentor, and person – because we knew you, each of us in Benilde and beyond has been changed for good.

Other stories you might like