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THE POWER OF

A TEACHERS LEADERSHIP:
HARNESSING THE DEVELOPMENT
POTENTIALS OF A COMMUNITY
By RANDY HALASAN
2014 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership
Presented at the 56th Ramon Magsaysay Awards Lecture Series
28 August 2014, Manila, Philippines

A good teacher is like a candle, it consumes itself to light the way for
others. - Anonymous
The power of a teachers leadership in harnessing the development
potentials of a community must bring both cultural understanding and
self-awareness to their work. The process of building this understanding
and awareness includes several commitments and to some extent a
journey of real life experiences, with many peaks and valleys.
Before I share with you the diverse and rich experiences I have
encountered being a public school teacher, let me first tell you the
background of the people and community that has become my second
family and my second home the Matigsalug people and the
Pegalongan village. Most of what I will share is based on published
articles and research manuscripts.

Copyright 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation

Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines


Indigenous peoples (IPs) in the Philippines consist of a large number of
indigenous ethnic groups, who are descendants of the countrys original
inhabitants. They were not absorbed by centuries of Spanish and
American colonization, and in the process have retained their customs
and traditions.
It is estimated that the country has between 14 to 17 million indigenous
peoples belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups. They are mainly
concentrated in Northern Luzon (Cordillera Administrative Region,
33%) and Mindanao (61%), where Pegalongan village is located.
The Matigsalug Tribal People
The Matigsalug is a tribal group mostly found in the Tigwa-Salug Valley
in San Fernando, Bukidnon. It is often classified under the Manobo
tribe, but is actually a distinct sub-group of IPs. There are approximately
146,500 Matigsalug tribal people.
Presently, majority of the Matigsalug inhabit the ranges of Central
Mindanao, and there are about 50,000 of them in these ranges. Based on
oral tradition, their original settlement was at the mouth of the Salug
River, which is now Davao City. (Matigsalug is a term which means
"people along the Salug River, now called the Davao River). At
present, the Matigsalug live about 100 kilometers from their original
coastal location.
These nomadic people practice a hunting-and-gathering lifestyle and
minimal efforts in agriculture. Until the 1970s, the people made their
living as hunter-gatherers in the mountain forests. Then, commercial
logging stripped the trees from around them, and their way of life was
taken away. Through the influence of migrant farmers and businessmen
from northern Philippines and the island provinces, the Matigsalug

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shifted to sedentary land cultivation with more or less permanent


villages. Today, most survive by growing corn or sweet potatoes in
patches of poor soil.
Many of these people live in very remote areas, some accessible only by
foot. This means many of them are still far from civilization. Education,
healthcare and income are limited or lacking throughout the region,
creating significant and continuing challenges for the Matigsalug people.
They live difficult lives, especially if there is no one to lead them.
Among Davao Citys ten tribes, the Matigsalug have been left out from
development and are far behind from being mainstreamed in society.
To the Matigsalug, education has always been about putting food on the
tablefarming, fishing, and hunting. Formal education is a concept new
to the tribe. The current generation has yet to produce professionals.1
For the children, going to school does not come easily as they have to
walk so many kilometers; some even need to cross a river. It is estimated
that half of the population of Matigsalug in Marilog and nearby
Paquibato district in Davao City are basically not literate, while another
30% are functionally literate.
Sitio Pegalongan in Malamba, Marilog District, Davao City
Marilog District makes up almost half of the land area of Davao City,
the mountainous rural parts where indigenous tribes live. In the olden
days it is said that the different tribes in the borderlands of Davao,
Bukidnon, Lanao, and Cotabato knew they have reached Matigsalug
land once they see Mondo, a hill sticking out like a ragged cone among
Marilogs meandering slopes.
Pegalongan, the area where I work, is a small sitio (village or ward)
nestled in the middle of Marilogs mountains. To get there, one has to
travel two hours by bus from the city proper, another hour by habalhabal (motorcycle), plus around four hours of trekking, which includes

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crossing two treacherous riversSimod River and Davao River. The


whole trip takes seven hours. Crossing the two rivers is not easy. The
water level rises whenever it rains. People put their lives at risk when
crossing those rivers.
There are rebels in the area. They are the New Peoples Army (NPA)
rebel group and they have a heavy presence in Marilog and nearby
Paquibato, where the NPA Pulang Bagani Command is based.
Sitio Pegalongan is composed of sixty families of almost 400 people.
They are scattered in a large area designated as residential, covering
around 24 hectares.
Now, let me share with you my journey and the lessons I learned along
the way:
Understanding how ones own life experiences can help build a
relationship with the community
My life was full of struggles. I had to work hard just to fulfill my dream,
which was to finish college. I value education and believe that poverty is
not a hindrance to success. My experience helped me to make the
Matigsalug tribe in Pegalongan community realize the importance of
education. During their time the elders did not put value on education.
They mainly focused on subsistence farming. As teachers, we do our
best to impart our knowledge, skills, and values to our pupils. We
prepare them to become competitive in this modernizing world, and at
the same time, remind them to preserve their culture.
I show my affection and concern for the Matigsalug people by helping
them uplift their lives. I explain to them that they must be open to
change. Only be accepting change will the Matigsalug be able to prepare
and help their children have a better future. In the end, the community
responded positively to my efforts. They became aware of the value and

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importance of education.
Developing skills and attitudes that bridge cultural differences such as
empathy, flexibility, listening without judgment, and appreciation for
multiple cultural perspectives
I arrived in Pegalongan almost eight years ago. I was able to witness the
rich culture, norms, and traditions of the Matigsalug. I acknowledged
their strengths and weakness and accepted them for who they are. There
were no boundaries between us and we shared our knowledge, values,
traits, and vision for the community. I taught them the importance of
accepting and preparing for change. The communitys encouraging
response to the changes I introduced strengthened my resolve to
continue my work in the village.
The Matigsalug began to show to the world their uniqueness, cultural
diversity, knowledge, and characteristics
Life in this community was not easy. I had to face a lot of challenges
and obstacles before the community understood that I wanted to help
them. The main reason for the apprehension could be their culture and
lack of education. By opening myself to the community they got to
know my experiences, knowledgethe totality of my personality and
my intentions of helping the village. I was able to connect to their belief
and culture. We understood and accepted each other, and this enabled us
to build a good relationship.
Teachers education and experience alone will not mitigate the power
of poverty. Teachers must be resilient with an unwavering moral drive
to make life better for the community
When I assumed the post of officer-in-charge of the school in 2010, I
realized that if I focus only on education, the community will continue to
be poor. Because of that, they may have continued to view education as

Copyright 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation

irrelevant. I made some initiatives to link the community to various


government agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). We
organized the Pegalongan Farmers Association in 2011. The
government agencies and NGOs supported the farmers group by
helping them develop their ancestral land through agriculture. The
Matigsalug community benefited from different projects such as the
National Greening program of the DENR, Cattle Dispersal Project, and
the Rice and Corn Mills Project. The people also started to plant durable
crops like cacao, rubber and coffee. Farmers engaged in multi-cropping
which greatly improved the food sufficiency of the community.
Currently, the community is planning to launch several agriculture
projects in the future; these include the acquisition of an abaca stripping
machine, corn sheller, rice thresher, and coffee grinder.
Teachers exhibit leadership in multiple
As a teacher and catalyst-for-change in the community, I didnt limit
myself to the four corners of a classroom and I exhibited leadership in
different ways. I imparted my knowledge, experiences, and vision to the
community. To foster unity, we regularly have team buildings and
seminars together with tribal elders, sitio officials, and Pegalongan
Farmers Association officials. The purpose of these activities is to create
a space for open communication, allowing us to iron out our differences,
share our knowledge and experiences, and get a better idea of what a
good leader is. Such measures enabled us to overcome challenges and
circumstances which would have affected the development of our
community.
Open the issue of accepting diversity and uniqueness of each other
and celebrating traditions and beliefs
I taught the community to respect and accept each others differences.
The opinions of the different families within the tribe are heard and
respected. Together with the elders, we made each other feel that in

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diversity, we can still find common grounds to unite! Because of this,


we were able to make unified decisions that are for the best of the
community, especially for the children.
My life in Sitio Pegalongan is full of challenges and hardships that
continue to test my patience and commitment. I never thought I would
last long here because of its remote location and inaccessibility. My
love, passion, and commitment continue to drive me and are the reasons
why Im still here. I could have chosen to live an easier life in the city.
But I could not turn my back on the people who need my help and
became directly involved in improving the lives of the Matigsalug. I
learned from this experience that we cannot always rely on the
government for support. We ourselves should be ready to start education
and livelihood programs to help our IP communities. With these
programs, our IPs will be able to make their ancestral lands productive
and help in the eradication of poverty in their communities.

Copyright 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation

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