Hope in the land of the Tagbanuas
CULION, Palawan – On the first Monday of June, public schools nationwide opened their doors to about 20 million students from kindergarten up to high school. Out of 20 million students, there was Joseph.
Joseph Aguilar is 20 years old. Most 20-year-olds are already in college, racking their brains for the most sought diploma. But Joseph is in Grade 8, and along with millions of Grade 8 Filipinos, he will be part of the pilot-testing of the new Grade 8 curriculum.
His going to school almost did not happen. It was not about lacking a uniform to wear to school, or a meal to eat during lunch time. It was not even about the makeshift classrooms that he will have to learn in—at least until a high school building is built.
It was a matter of willingness. If he had it his way, he would be out of school and in the waters helping his father in fishing. In Barangay de Carabao, where the minority group Tagbanuas of Culion resides, fishing is one of the main sources of income. He wanted to help his aging 65-year-old father earn money instead.
But Dionisio did not want another son out of school. His eldest, whose whereabouts he does not know, got married and left before finishing school. He wants Joseph to go to school, to finish school, so that the boy can read and write, unlike him.
For Dionisio, Joseph can help him more this way, so that no one can trick him into signing anything against his will ever again.
However, not all Tagbanua parents are like Dionisio. On the first day of classes, many students are still absent out of the registered 348 pupils and 59 students of Lumbercamp Elementary School and the Culion Sanitarium National High School Lumbercamp Extension, respectively.
Not even the news of the Education Secretary coming to Culion—a former leprosarium—could complete the schools’ attendance. If the absentees came to school that day, they would’ve heard Bro. Armin Luistro tell them why, for the first time since he assumed office, he did not stay in Manila for the opening of classes.
He first said it in a meeting with Culion school officials, and repeated it again in front of the children of the Tagbanuas: “Hindi po namin kayo nakakalimutan.” (You are not forgotten.)
For him, even the smallest of schools in the farthest of islands is important. They matter, too. They are worth the one-hour boat rides, the long hikes, and the painful heat of the sun.
“I've felt that for the longest time, national government has, because of the sheer enormity of what we have to deal with, looked at the big areas, and most of these are in the big cities. But I've seen for myself how different the realities are—and the solutions to those educational challenges—in the small islands and in some indigenous people’s communities as well,” he said in an interview.
“If there's anything I wanted to ensure would be institutionalized, it would be the department's sensitivity to the needs of small, far-flung, and maybe culturally-distant communities,” he added.
It brings him so much joy and inspiration in going to these areas because he sees someone—a teacher, a principal—who cares for the students even without a DepEd memo and the promise of a promotion. And he said if only for that, he'll come back and visit.
And as long as there are parents like Dionisio who care for their children and value education however remote their area or how hard their lives may be, educational reform will surely reach these places too. As Assistant Secretary Rey Laguda puts it:
“[Ang] kagandahan ng Culion ay nasa tao. Kung aangat ang Culion, dahil [yun] sa mga taga-Culion.” (The beauty of Culion is in the people. If Culion progresses, it would be because of the residents of Culion.) - Rappler.com