Coming from the isolated Tau’t Bato indigenous peoples (IP) community in the hinterlands of southern Palawan, it was difficult for 25-year old Juda Diklay to go down to study to become a teacher.
Keeping up with her school environment and classmates proved to be a challenge because she was unfamiliar with the place and she did not know any of them.
It took her years to make necessary self-adjustments to connect with her surroundings and the people who will be with her as she carves a future for herself.
Since she was the first in her tribe to attend a formal class, Juda has no knowledge about how things work in a school system.
This situation was even aggravated by the distance of the lowland from where her family lives in the mountain.
“Mahirap po ‘yong nag-aaral ka sa baba na hindi mo kilala kung sino ‘yong mga nakakasalamuha mo tapos malayo pa sa akin ‘yong pamilya ko. Lagi ko naiisip ang mga negative na bagay at sumuko na lang, pero napapaisip rin ako kung ano’ng mangyayari sa akin kapag susuko ako agad sa pag-aaral ko,” Juda said.
(It was really difficult to study in the lowland since I don’t even know the people I am encountering. In addition to that, I was also away from my family. That always made me think about negative thoughts and surrendering, but I also wondered about what will happen to me if I will give up my studies.)
Juda went through a lot of challenges, but the burning desire to learn and discover the world around her has helped motivate her to persevere with determination to make history to be the first Tau’t Bato tribe member to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education.
Living in the Mountains
The Tau’t Bato or Taa’wt Bato is a Pala’wan indigenous peoples subgroup that lives in the rugged lands and dense forests of Singnapan Valley in Rizal municipality.
Long before, they lived inside the crater of an extinct volcano in the town, hence their name which literally means “stone people” or “dwellers of the rock.”
Today, the members of the Tau’t Bato tribe no longer live in the caves. They now dwell in their thatched-roof cottages made of light and sturdy materials like saplings, dry stalks, and palm fronds. However, when it is raining hard and the valley is flooded, they still go to the caves for shelter.
Juda said it also serves as their hiding place whenever they hear unpleasant stories from the lowland.
“Napaka-delikado po noong mga dinadaanan namin papunta sa mga kweba. Puro bato, at kaliwa’t kanang bangin ang dadaanan para makapunta doon at buwis-buhay talaga. May part pa doon na tatawid ng tulay na kailangan nakabalanse ka kung hindi malalaglag ka talaga,” she narrated.
(The trails going to the caves are very dangerous. We need to pass through rocks and cliffs to get there and it’s a really a life-threatening experience. There is a foot bridge that we need to cross by carefully balancing ourselves or we will fall.)
Juda said they rarely go down the mountain to purchase food from the market. They subsist through gathering wild fruits and vegetables, hunting, and planting rice and other crops.
Their community can only be reached through an eight-hour hike from Barangay Ransang.
Most of them, she said, do not attend school because of their distance. They also do not have access to different health services.
“May mga pumupunta pong misyonaryo sa amin. Kapag pumupunta sila para kunin ‘yong mga anak para pag-aralin sa baba, tinatanggihan nila dahil iniisip nila na mamamatay ‘yong anak nila since hindi nila kilala ‘yong mga tao o baka hindi na makabalik agad ‘yong mga anak nila,” Juda said.
(There were missionaries that went to our community. When they come, they want to take the children to study in the lowland, the families refuse because they do not know them and they worry that their children will not return home.)
Only Juda’s family was convinced to let her and her brother Jonathan go down the mountain to study. She said this happened five years after the Christian missionary group “Youth with a Mission” (YWAM) succeeded in pursuing their parents to let them study.
YWAM has been visiting their tribe even before Juda was born to share gospels and encourage the parents to send their children to school. YWAM also visits not only their tribes but others in Palawan and other parts of the country.
“Noong una, ayaw ko naman talagang sumama. Si Jonathan ang mas gustong mag-aral, pero sabi ng magulang namin sumama na lang daw kami pareho kahit ako lang talaga ‘yong gusto nilang isama,” she said.
(At first, I didn’t want to go. It was Jonathan who wanted to study, but my parents told me to just go with them even if I didn’t really want to.)
Juda was already 10 years old when she went to study at Ransang Elementary School with her brother. She knew then that it will be difficult for a girl from the mountains to begin a new life in the lowland.
New Life in the Lowland
Since Juda was the oldest in their class, it was hard for her to socialize with her classmates.
“Ang gawain ko lang po kasi noon, school tapos uuwi na agad sa bahay tapos bahay tapos school lang ulit. Kaya akala ata noong mga kaklase ko ay masungit ako o suplada (What I did back then was to go to school then go home after classes were over. That’s why some of my classmates thought I was a snob),” she said.
She gained new friends, but there were still others who bully her just because she came from the mountains.
They mocked her, telling her she does not need to study because she will not be able to use her education in the mountain.
“May mga nagsasabi sa akin noon na bakit daw ba ako nag-aaral, eh, taga-bundok lang naman daw ako. Wala naman daw akong silbi (There were those people questioning me why I am studying in school even if I came from the mountains. They say that I am useless),” she shared.
This situation education setting disheartened her, she said. She promised that after elementary she would already go home because enduring the heartache was too much.
Her mindset only changed when during their graduation day, she was announced as their class valedictorian.
Juda was shocked beyond belief to know that her persistence in doing something despite difficulty paid off.
“Nagulat po talaga ako noon. Kasi noong binu-bully nila ako nawalan na talaga ako nang ganang mag-aral tapos biglang nalaman ko ako pala ang highest sa amin,” she recalled.
(I was really shocked when I discovered that I got the highest place in class because when I was being bullied I already lost the desire to continue studying.)
This event motivated her to continue to high school. She was sent by YWAM to Puerto Princesa to study.
Since it was her first time in the big city, everything was uneasy for her, even finding new friends. And as she expected, there were still those people who want to test her determination.
A classmate in high school messed up her project just because she was the first to submit it to their teacher way before the given deadline.
“Umiyak lang ako noon pag-uwi tapos gumawa na lang ako ng panibago at nagpasa pagkatapos nilang gawin ‘yong kanila,” Juda said.
(When I was in high school, one of my classmates tore my project only because I finished ahead of them. I cried when I got home and just made a new one and passed it right after they completed theirs.)
The negative thoughts came again, Juda said, tempting her to go back home. There was a time when she would pack her things every day to go home.
She was inconsolable because of the painful situation and the question: “Is it bad for a mountain girl like her to dream?”
During hard times, it was only her friends and the people of YWAM who kept motivating her. Juda would discuss her feelings with them to be understood and to be counseled to stay in school and fulfill her dreams.
“Ang lagi lang pong sinasabi nila sa akin ay ‘we are living by faith’ kaya lagi ko lang daw silang puntahan para magdasal kami (They always tell me that ‘we are living by faith’ that’s why I should go and pray with them),” she said.
Strengthened by faith in God, Juda was able to finish her high school. She wanted to go home but she stayed despite knowing that Jonathan went back to Singnapan Valley after high school.
She said that before going to college, the temptation for her to go home to seek comfort from her family became strong.
Juda was fearful that college would even be more difficult.
“Sa totoo lang po napaisip din ako noon kung itutuloy ko ba kasi pataas na nang pataas yung level at pahirap na rin ng pahirap. Minsan natatakot ako na baka ganoon ulit ang mangyari sa akin (The truth was I thought a lot about continuing because every level became harder and harder. I also feared that the same thing would happen again),” she said.
But it was do something or do nothing for the Tau’t Bato girl that has already become a woman.
Juda enrolled at the Western Philippines University (WPU) in Puerto Princesa City where she took up elementary education.
When Juda was in college, YWAM continued supporting her needs financially. There were times, however, that she thought of getting a job to support her other needs in school like books.
It was during this period when Juda became one of the grantees of the Expanded Students’ Grants-in-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA) by the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.
Juda was given P30,000 for the first semester to cover her tuition fees and other school expenses such as textbooks and board and lodging.
“Nagulat po ako noong nakuha ko ‘yong pera kasi first-time ko pong makahawak ng ganoon kalaki. (I was shocked when I was given the money since it was my first time to hold such a large amount of money),” Juda said. With her grant, she was able to buy all the books she needed.
It was not only Juda who received support from the 4Ps; her family also became a beneficiary in 2010, paving the way for Noah, one of her younger brothers to go to school.
Noah, she said, is now in Grade 3 at Ransang Elementary School.
Being a beneficiary was a big change for the Tau’t Bato in Singnapan Valley because the children can now attend school and seek medical help when they need to.
Juda’s father also became the only barangay health worker (BHW) in the Tau’t Bato community to monitor their health since he is the only one who can read and write.
Her brother Jonathan was able to get a job in the program as a social welfare assistant (SWA) of the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) catering to the IPs.
“Siguro kung nagpadala ako sa mga negative na naiisip ko noon, hindi ako nakapagtapos, at ngayon may asawa na ako at anak, (If I did not overcome my negative thoughts, I probably won’t be able to graduate, and now I already have my own family),” Juda said.
On April 11, 2018, Juda was finally able to receive her diploma. She said she will go back to their place to teach and show the Tau’t Bato that education is important.
“Babalik na po ako sa amin at magtuturo ako doon. Ipapakita ko sa kanila kung gaano kahalaga ang edukasyon, (I will go back home and teach there. I will help them realize the importance of education),” she said.
Juda vowed to use what she has learned to improve not only her family’s life but also the lives of other people in her community. She does not want people outside their tribe to belittle them just because they live in the mountains and do not know how to read and write.
“Iniisip ko pong magturo ng Alternative Learning System doon sa amin para lahat ng mga tao doon ay makapag-aral, (I am thinking of teaching ALS in our community so that our people can study),” she said.
Being the first from her tribe to graduate in college, Juda is now an inspiration to the Tau’t Bato people when it comes to the full worth of education in overcoming hardships in life due to poverty and growing up in uncharted land territories.