(Rewind) Essay: A student of Mindanao


(A carpenter repairs his house after a fire razed miners’ dwellings in Diwalwal, Monkayo, Compostela Valley in 2005. I took this photo when I was amazed at the sea of humanity in the foreground. The repair presents an act of resilience in a situation of crisis. The scene is common around Mindanao, especially in the areas where armed conflicts happen.)

DAVAO CITY – “There is no difference between living and learning . . . it is impossible and misleading and harmful to think of them

as being separate,” writes John Holt, in his landmark book on alternative education “What Do I Do Monday?”

I’ll take a dose of Holt as I reflect about how I feel about choosing to stay and work in Mindanao.

I live and I am enrolled to a Mindanao that is an open university where the lessons are boundless and the teachers are not limited to PhD and master’s degree holders. And there goes something about living here that I wouldn’t change for anything.

For Holt, home study is an alternative to school-based learning systems. Learning in Mindanao could be my “home study” as Mindanao is home to me and I share as

a collective domain the plains, rivers, streets, highways, structures, forests and public places with other Mindanawons.

I write in the context of informal, continuous and personal learning experiences and I do not propose that students shun the schools and stay home, instead.

Living in Mindanao this time is such a privilege. I think that Mindanao’s complexities, diversities and circumstances are conducive learning realms.

My anthropologist friends and journalist colleagues share to me from time to time theories, their experiences and views. Sometimes they theorize or complicate

things for me, or simplify it and connect the pieces.

All the time, they did it with passion, grace and wit.


In the receiving end, I could only thank them for I had become a beneficiary of their scholarships and worthwhile field works.

Many of these theories could be read in Mindanao’s libraries such as in the Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue at the Ateneo. Through library work, I also benefit from the bodies of work of various scholars who wrote on Mindanao across time.

I am not a post-graduate student. I believe that from listening and interacting with the

“conferences” of peoples, ideas, histories and futures in everyday Mindanao I learn enough for my present needs. Besides, my open “campus” provides me with much

wider, boundless and real-time learning opportunities.

Foremost of these are the forum sessions held to consolidate and thresh out some pressing issues on Mindanao, the country or the world.

In the Kusog Mindanaw conference in November 2005, I paid full attention to Rudy Rodil, the GRP peace panel vice chair, as he gave updates of the peace process.

I know that Ompong, a historian, was telling history to Mindanao’s various non-government organizations and groups who are part of Kusog.

Apart from him, there were a handful of presenters in that conference. In two days, I had a virtual tour around Mindanao and on the peace process, traversing timelines and spaces listening to the discussions.

Fora around Mindanao offer pregnant discussions on issues like the peace process, mining in Mindanao, organic farming, development aid to Mindanao, tourism

prospects for Mindanao, federalism and many others. Sometimes extensive or intensive, the discussions end with a consensus or a resolution to “agree to disagree”. I took advantage of these dynamics to understand Mindanao deeper.

I have also met different leaders of Mindanao’s various organizations from the civil-society, non-government sector, local government units and corporate world. Count in the contrast: from the leaders of the Mindanao Business Council to the leaders of jeepney drivers’ associations and leaders of Mindanao’s ethnic groups like the Matigsalug tribal

council and even mining executives or their disciples.


When these people meet, they bring with them oftentimes conflicting views and stands. I find listening to them argue and contra-pose each other a healthy and worthwhile chance to learn.

The peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is an example. For me, it is a running “case study”. Peace is Mindanao’s top agenda

and the positive outlook on a final peace agreement is a welcome news. How this process is done, who is doing it and not doing it, what issues are they talking about, what issues are slowing the process and what prospects do we have are important for today’s young

people in Mindanao, like me. I look at these moves as crucial to Mindanao’s future, and mine too.

I was able to share about what are “ancestral domain” issues the peace panels will talk about, to a Mandaya farmer who attended MindaNews’ grassroots journalism

in Caraga, Davao Oriental in December 2005. Thanks to the Kusog conference. In return, he explained to me how important it is for them to safeguard their lands

from intruders like logging firms. He said land is life for them. The way he explained it to me, with deep concern and emotions, moved me.

Mindanao looks back in history and peeps at the future as indigenous peoples other than the Bangsamoro neighbors take a hard look at ancestral domain. For the past five years, the government has sped up distribution of Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs) but ancestral domain and indigenous governance has remained as major aspirations among Mindanao’s IPs. Aside from these discussions in gatherings around

Mindanao, opportunities to work with communities also provide extensive and intensive learning interactions.

The communities are open fields of learning. A healthy exchange of experiences, knowledge and world views can stem from engagements worked on prior agreed and

mutually beneficial arrangements with communities.

I have experienced learning from simple people from various communities in Mindanao. They all have their own way of doing things and sometimes, their ways were

better than mine. In fact, many of them are scholars in their own right and are very reliable researchers and sources for they are “in the field” themselves. Most of the time, my trips and encounters with these peoples and communities are far better than readingabout them in outdated books.


Mindanao ‘s communities yearn for empowerment and we can draw energy and encouragement from them. In Upi, Maguindanao, the internet, thanks to a local

government initiative, pulls the world closer to the locals. But some of the Tedurays and the Iranun residents still cling to age old traditions that have remained useful, such as some of their community communication systems.

I realized that the communities around Mindanao are living archives of rich traditions, histories and possibilities. As an outsider, I think I have a stake on keeping those treasures intact and helping enhance the same with the locals.

The communities are not only spaces for rehabilitation, as in those conflict-torn areas, but

are also fountains of lessons and stories for others to hear. But I don’t think communities should be viewed only as milking cows of information.

Through continuous, mutually-beneficial and comprehensive experiences with communities, I think I have become a quintessential student who goes to the

field to gather and validate what I have learned.

Yes, I am a student. And I pay homage to my campus –the vast fields

of Mindanao. (Walter Balane/MindaNews)


About mindanaw

A Journalist from Mindanao

2 responses to “(Rewind) Essay: A student of Mindanao”

  1. kengkay says :

    i love mindanao, at least, yung konting naikot ko ha. davao city, polomolok, gen santos, iligan, etc…i heard developing na rin daw ang mindanao e. that’s good news!

  2. mindanaw says :

    Hi Kengkay,
    thanks for dropping by. Yes it is true Mindanao is developing if we look at the BIG cities and if we look at the way other countries look at “development.”

    If we talk about tall buildings, malls, and the declaration of more cities, etc. YES developed na mindanao.

    But if we look closer to poverty reduction, conflict transformation, education, livelihood of the poor people in the communities, self-determination, empowerment, hunger, employment, income, security, social security among others —we have to think twice and be hopeful of the statistics.

    Pero the spirit here is positive or optimistic. Truly, there are valid reasons why.

    Thanks for dropping by!

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