Thursday, October 6, 2005

Pamulaan, a sign of life

While our national leaders continue to engage in verbal and political acrobatics and while many of us are suffering from political diarrhea and dementia, there are special Filipinos who continue to dream dreams and do their own part as if there indeed is hope for this benighted nation.

Somewhere in bullet-riddled Mindanao, a special tertiary school or college is rising. The school is named Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples Education. Ground breaking will be held next week, Oct. 13. Program partners will sign an agreement after which the construction of buildings will begin. These should be finished in time for school opening in June next year.

By the way, October is Indigenous Peoples (IP) Month. For many years now, the Catholic Church here in the Philippines has been celebrating the second Sunday as Indigenous Peoples Day, focusing attention on the concerns of the IPs, especially the marginalized groups in remote areas.

Pamulaan means seedbed. It is a college education program for the IPs in the Philippines and is a response to the IPs’ dream of an educational program that is rooted in their life, culture and aspirations as a people.

One of the main driving forces behind the endeavor is 42-year-old Benjamin Abadiano, 2004 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership and, at present, executive coordinator of Assisi Development Foundation. A dreamer and doer, Abadiano pulled all stops to make the Ips’ dream come true. He was not disappointed. Help came quietly like spring water flowing to seeds waiting to burst into life.

Pamulaan is the fruit of the partnership of various government and non-government agencies. The partners are the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples, Assisi Development Foundation, Cartwheel Foundation, the Office of Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., and Ilawan Center for Volunteer and Leadership which Abadiano founded.

Pamulaan aims ``to create a culturally appropriate and relevant pathways of professional training and formation for indigenous youth and leaders.’’

As a program, Pamulaan is under the President of the president of the University of South Eastern Philippines. USEP president Dr. Julieta Ortiz and Abadiano are Pamulaan’s co-directors. The site is in USEP’s Mintal campus in Davao City.

Pamulaan is the first of its kind in the country, said Abadiano who also dreamed and founded the successful Tugdaan Training Center for Mangyans in Occ. Mindoro, now ably run by the Mangyans themselves with the help of the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters (SSpS).

Unlike Tugdaan (which also means seed bed) which is for high school and livelihood training, Pamulaan offers degree programs such as BA Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development, BS Indigenous Peoples Education, BA Peace Building and Multi-Cultural Studies, BS Indigenous Agriculture. Pamulaan also offers ladderized and modular courses leading to an associate degree as well as short-term courses for community leaders and development workers.

Assisi Foundation under Ambassador Howard Dee and Cartwheel Foundation have pledged scholarship funds. Scholarship means full tuition, miscellaneous fees, dorm stay and full board and lodging and travel expenses to project and practicum sites.

Important features of Pamulaan are the heritage house and library that will showcase the richness of indigenous culture. The dorm within the campus will give IP students the chance to live together, exchange experiences and go through value formation programs.

Pamulaan is not just for the IPs of Mindanao. It is open to IPs from Luzon and Visayas and to non-IPs working for IPs.

Pamulaan is indeed a great dream whose time has come.

But why is Pamulaan attached to USEP, government institution? Abadiano said USEP is one of the top 10 government institutions in the country. Making government one of the stakeholders, he said, would give Pamulaan a better chance for sustainability. Pamulaan ``is not a fund-driven’’ project, Abadiano stressed. There was no funding in the beginning but the moment the project was made known, funds just poured in. Of course, part of Abadiano’s RM Award prize money (more than a million pesos) was earmarked for this project.

Abadiano is one of a kind, a rare find indeed. A couple of years ago I wrote a front-page feature on him and his life journey, and last year, on his winning the RM award. Deeply spiritual, this Jesuit-educated development worker is ever on the go. In a few days, he will fly to Laos and then New Zealand for some IP-related activity. The IPs are the love of his life. It is among them that he experienced epiphany and enlightenment. Someday, I hope, he will find time to write a book.

There is an estimated 12 million IPs in the Philippines. They could be classified into 120 ethnic groups. Abadiano said they have little or no access to ``a culturally sensitive, appropriate and relevant education.’’ It is their right, both God-given and by law, to receive basic services, including higher education.

The IPs’ rights are enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. In 1997 Congress passed the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) which strengthened their right to be duly recognized and protected.

But some things are easier said than done. Many IPs continue to find difficulty in relating personally, culturally and academically with mainstream realities. It is hoped that education, such as is offered by Pamulaan, would put the IPs in step with the mainstream while being affirmed as proudly IP or PIP (!).

Pamulaan hopes to see the IPs proudly ``owning’’ the education program that drew from the life-giving wilderness and communities whence they arose.