Some 78 kilometers southwest of mainland Palawan is a thriving local weaving enterprise of indigenous people (IP)—the Culandanum Tribal Skills Association (CTSA).
Farming and fishing have always been the trades known by the IP community in Barangay Culandanum, Aborlan municipality. Their survivability mostly depended on what nature has to offer. They live in peace by not asking for more—a bittersweet tale of living stagnant lives which eventually turned out to be arguably backward at the peak of the modern era.
I first came across the Culandanum weavers’ story in Palaweño Facebook marketplace. A certain Mary Jane Pugad-Atilano religiously frequented social media postings, selling their products which piqued my interest. “Who is she and what’s the story behind the native weavers?” I instinctively thought.
Mary Jane, in an interview with Palawan News on Saturday, said that the tribal association is still at a very young age, having only started in April 2019. She is of Tagbanua and Cagayanon descent who spent most of her adult working life abroad in pursuit of a better life—something inherent in almost every overseas Filipino worker (OFW) narrative.
“Lumaki din ako sa lugar na ‘yon bilang isang Tagbanua. Madalas kaming inaapi at minamaliit ng karamihan na mga dayo sa aming lugar. Dahil sa kinalakihan ko na ang pag-uugali ng mga tao sa paligid ko, naharap ako na lumabas ng bundok at hanapin ang buhay sa siyudad. Maraming kuwento ng hirap subalit nalagpasan ko naman bilang isang tribo. Bumaba ako ng Puerto Princesa, ng Maynila, at ng iba’t ibang bansa para magsumikap,” she said.
Upon Mary Jane’s return in 2018, she was struck by how her town, despite local diaspora, remained the same.
“Maraming nagbago gaya ng kalsada at ng mga dayo,” she narrated as looked back saying, “pero kung titingnan mo, ganoon pa din ang buhay ng mga kapwa ko Tagbanua—hirap at halos namamalimos ng mga taga-bundok sa baryo.”
Hesitant to call it as a “business”, she decided to help the natives by buying all their products, acting as the middle person who does not earn much.
“Nakadepende ang price namin sa kung magkano ang binayad namin. Mas malaki ang napupunta sa dahil ang layunin ay para mapabuti ang kabuhayan nila,” she explained as to how the industry works.
Every month, Mary Jane brings her friends from the city to Brgy. Culandanum to host community talks. She said that the community engagement encourages the Tagbanua community, and serves as an eye-opening experience for her relatively well-off friends in helping out the community.
“‘Yong mga kaibigan ko nagshe-share ng mga expenses nila. Napapalawig din ang mga kaalaman ng nga Tagbanua na kahit na mahirap ka at kahit sino ka pa pag nag-sikap ka ay may pag-asa na aangat ang buhay nila ng hindi nakasahod na lang lagi sa mga politoko,” she said.
To date, CTSA is now registered under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) as a for-profit organization of the IP community. They host monthly community engagements including gift-giving and livelihood seminars for the improvement of the community.
Mary Jane and the Culandanum Tribal Skills Association story affirms something most already know of servitude—hope always comes no matter what.