Jul 4, 2020

Palawan scholars pay back to community

Bobit Alihan at the National Community Relations Practitioners General Assembly 2019 in Baguio City. (Photo from Bobit Alihan's Facebook account)

An indigenous Pala’wan scholar in Bataraza is paying kindness forward by working as a community organizer to help the indigenous peoples (IPs).

Bobit Alihan, a Pala’wan who was among the first batch of scholars of Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC) and Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC) in 2005, is now working as a community organizer whose primary goal is to inspire young IPs to work and pursue their dreams.

“Iyon ang kauna-unahan na nagpaskil sila ng scholarship sa mga barangay kasi noong 2004 ay wala pa. Naging scholar ako kasi ang aming barangay ay kasama siya doon sa sakop ng minahan. Noong 2005, saktong graduate na ako ng high school, pagka-college ko, naging scholar na ako,” he said.

Bobit had been unable to continue his college studies. But through the scholarship grant provided under the Social Development and Management Program (SDMP), he was able to eventually earn a degree in political science.

Bobit recalled the time when everyone in their barangay, including him was excited to be a part of the pioneering batch.

“Dapat hindi ako makakapag-aral siyempre hirap ‘yong buhay noong time na ‘yon. Dapat noon, hihinto na lang ako kasi nga katutubo ako. Noong nagkaroon ng scholarship offer, lahat excited at saka iilan pa lang ang nakakapag-aral. Kailangan kami noong time na ‘yon, kailangan naming makapag-aral,” he said.

He was inspired to take political science as a course because of his exposure to community leadership, and his stint as a Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) chairman in Barangay Igang-Igang from 2002 to 2007.

Being the eldest in a brood of four, Bobit was happy that all of them got into the scholarship program, which is not applicable nowadays. During the start of the program, there are more vacant slots than scholars of the program.

“Ang impact ng scholarship ay natulungan kami sa allowance and tuition fee din. Maganda siya dahil imbes ‘yong magulang mo ay malaki ‘yong ibibigay, kaunti na lang ‘yong itutulong sa pag-aaral mo. At ‘yong uniform dati libre ‘yan. Ginastusan talaga,” he said.

Bobit said life was so hard then that even the food they were supposed to eat had to be sold so their parents can earn money to support their studies.

He said his Pala’wan parents will often sell if not borrow money for all four of them to gain the education that can help change their lives.

“Iyong biglaan na may project ka, may biglaan kayong gagawin na activity, halos kailangan mo mangutang. ‘Yong magulang mo kailangan mangutang sa kapitbahay, kailangan magbenta ng pag-aari,” he said.

Working in RTN

A month after his graduation in 2009, he had applied to an oil recycling company as a contractual employee. From there, he worked in 2010 at the RTN Foundation, Inc. (RTNFI) which manages the SDMP. In 2014, he was transferred to the company’s community relations office as a community organizer.

Bobit said being the two mining corporations’ scholar “really made an impact” in his life and changed his outlook in life as an IP.

Working as a community organizer, he added, to give back the kindness he received was what he wanted to do.

“Iyong impact noon sa akin, umangat talaga ‘yong status ng buhay mo, status ng pinag-aralan mo. Siyempre nagkaroon ka na ng sahod noong time na ‘yon, regular na benepisyo. Sa community naman, masasabi ko na nakakausap ko talaga sila. Kasi nga bilang katutubo ng barangay Igang-Igang, halos pareho lang kami ng dialect ganoon,” he said.

Being a community organizer brings a good feeling to Bobit, who advises and guides the young Pala’wan IPs to study well and pursue their dreams.

“Dati siyempre, kami ‘yong kumukuha ng allowance every month, nag-aaral para sa sarili. Ngayon naman, bilang community organizer na, mas maganda na ‘yong pakiramdam. Kasi nga ‘yong bata, ikaw na mismo ‘yong gumagabay sa kanila, nagsasabi sa kanila na mag-aral ng mabuti. Iilan lang tayong katutubong nakakapag-aral,” he said.

Bobit acknowledges that he also faced adjustments within his workplace.

“Ang challenge ko lang naman ay makisama sa kasama mo na empleyado pero naka-adjust naman. Two months lang parang casual ako noon, naging ‘probi’ (under probation) at naging regular na. Hindi na pinagkait, mas maganda ‘yong set up noon kesa sa mga bago ngayon. Maganda ‘yong transition, nakitaan siguro ako ng potential,” he said.

Working with the community 

Bobit said he is now more exposed to the community, unlike his previous jobs.

“Nakakausap mo lahat tungkol doon sa project, unlike dati na nasa payment lang ako. Nakakausap ko lang sila kapag pupunta sila sa office,” he said.

He learned that getting along with the barangays assigned to him also has good returns.

While Bobit is working with the community, his wife is also molding the young people in their barangay as a teacher.

His family also benefits from the free hospitalization provided by the company, including the referral to other hospitals.

Aside from that, his eldest child got to enroll in a private school. His family also enjoys the free housing benefit inside the townsite.

Future plans

Bobit said there still areas where the IPs must be encouraged to continue their studies and they are those living in remote communities.

“Iyong malalayo sa school, kailangan i-encourage sila kasi hirap din sila sa buhay,” he said.

Bobit observed that the number of young people who are now interested in learning and going to school has increased through the years. He said that they are confident that they can help them reach their dreams through the existence of scholarship.

One thing that inevitable with their culture is marrying at an early age, he explained, and that hinders the youth to pursue their studies.

“Sa ibang community, kapag sinabing IP parang ang hirap bumangon, Ang bagal talaga, parang hanggang doon lang. Sa akin sana ay makapag-aral ang mga bata tapos siguro magka-business na rin balang araw at magkabahay,” he said.

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