Moving forward through partnerships and empowerment

“Leadership is not a title but a responsibility, a huge responsibility that they have to accept.” - Datu Sagoksok, community leader from the Ata tribe

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As we move forward with our journey with the Ata tribe in Paquibato, Davao City to establish a place of learning called Panuluanan, we have seen how the community understand and embody the value of working collectively. It is evident how the leaders and elders of the tribe work to not only initiate pathways but also create a space that enables every one in the community, whether an elder or a youth, man or woman, to fully grow and freely contribute to the development of their own community. As responsible leaders and elders, they wholeheartedly act as servants of their community and believe in the innate potential of every one to become a leader. Today, they acknowledge, with mutual respect, the contribution and capacity of their young emerging leaders. They are much willing to journey with their youth and help empower this new generation of leaders. They feel that learning from the past is as important as looking beyond into the future with honour and pride.

Bob Ali, who is one of these emerging leaders, has now taken the role of community coordinator for the Panuluanan project. It is truly affirming to see him grow to become an active agent of change in their community. We look forward to working with Bob and seeing him actualize his potentials.

Read Bob's reflection after visiting Sorayan and how this engagement is strengthening his desire to be of service to his community.

We are also happy to announce that we are partnering with SwitoDesigns, a Philippine-based design studio dedicated to promoting Mindanao Traditional Architecture, cultural identity, pride of place, sustainable eco-conscious methods and peace and healing through participatory architecture. After several meetings with the team from SwitoDesigns and the leaders of the community, we are slowly creating a shared vision of what Panuluanan will look like. Demand Science, who has been our partner in several other iEmergence activities is also eager to support the project and see it through. There are also volunteers who have expressed their desire to help with fundraising and advocacy. We are continually grateful to Creator for these connections!

On October, in commemoration of the Indigenous People's Month, there will be a thanksgiving celebration for the relationship being built through Panuluanan, and a three-day workshop on participatory design. The gathering and workshop will be held in the village of Sorayan where Panuluanan will be established. About 15 tribal elders and young community leaders will participate in the workshop.

Want to be involved in this journey? Provide the food and materials to be used in the workshop! Give cash or in-kind donations…

Indeed, what makes a difference in this world are the efforts of people at the grassroots who are determined and unified by one goal. The dream of creating Panuluanan, a learning and enabling space for the Ata tribe to live out and pass on their cultural values and practices, is now taking shape thanks to the leadership of the elders of the Ata community in Paquibato, the enthusiasm of the community members, and the expression of support from our partners in civil society.

Join us, as we journey alongside the Ata tribe and other like-minded individuals and organizations to provide this space of learning!

On the Inseparability of Land, Justice and Spirituality…

As part of the Ubun na Kettal (Tagakolu Indigenous Youth Leaders) curriculum for this year, a series of conversations on land and traditional conflict resolution were held in partnership with the Missionaries of Jesus and the Malita Tagakolu Mission (MaTaMis) staff in the areas of Kangko and Kalatagan, Malita, Davao Occidental. The objective of these conversations is to provide a space for the youth to learn from the elders of their communities as they impart knowledge and wisdom on Indigenous ways of living, and for the young people to share their own experiences.

The conversation on land was an opportunity for the Ubun na Kettal to appreciate more deeply the value of their ancestral land, and understand its sacred connection to their identity as tribal people.

The elders shared that the protection of their ancestral lands is not a mere question of ownership. It is a question of identity. Their connection to the land goes beyond the physical, as they are spiritually linked to the lands where their ancestors lived and tilled for centuries. They see themselves as co-workers of Creator on this earth. As such, they consider it their shared responsibility to care for and to cultivate their lands.

Alona, a Tagakolu youth, shared an insightful reflection, “In the past, our people respected our land, it was given much importance. We, as youth, recognize that we have to cultivate it because we live here…our land is our source of life.” Affirming this, the other youth shared that to embrace and cultivate the land is deeply meaningful and culturally-rooted.

The youth and elders also talked about traditional ways of resolving conflict among the Tagakolu. This conversation allowed the Ubun na Kettal to listen to their elders as they shared and demonstrated unique and different mechanisms of addressing conflict within their tribe. The discussion helped them understand that as much as it is the goal of conflict resolution to render justice, it must also honor the dignity of both the offender and the offended, rebuild broken relationships, and restore harmony in the community.

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Traditionally, one of the ways in which conflict is resolved is through “kellep”. When reconciliation of the parties involved is not reached through the mediation of the tribal leaders, the community often resorts to a method of ‘truth-seeking’ through a trial by ordeal. The belief is that whoever is telling the truth will be protected by the spirits and ‘saved’ by Creator. Kellep is done by the river, where the offended party and the offender (or a representative of each party) are both submerged under shallow water simultaneously. While they are underwater, a tribal leader will offer a “panawag-tawag” or prayer to Tyumanem, Creator, to seek guidance in finding out who is telling the truth and thus be saved. It is said that the spirits will pull down the person who is at the wrong to a point where he will feel as if he is drowning, forcing him to surface first as he gasps for air. In order to repair the broken relationship, the person who is at the wrong must pay restitution in the form of livestock.

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John Mark, one of the youth from Kalatagan shared, “I am appreciative of the traditional way of conflict resolution because it doesn’t involve individual interests. The only thing that matters is the truth and the truth will reveal itself through the guidance of our Creator. Our Indigenous justice system is therefore sacred.” Others also reiterated the sacredness of their traditional justice system.


From these conversations, the youth and elders recognized that land, justice and spirituality are inseparable from one’s culture and identity. To truly appreciate the significance of nurturing and sustainably caring for these elements is to acknowledge that all of these are sacred gifts from Creator and hence their responsibility to protect and keep them.