Cool school for IP students | Inquirer Opinion
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Cool school for IP students

TALAANDIG, SUBANEN, Badjao, Mandaya, Mansaka, Tagakaolo, Mangyan, Aeta, Tiduray, Bagobo, Ifugao… Many of the Philippines’ indigenous communities are represented in this special campus. Here about a hundred young people from some 30 tribes from all over the Philippines are studying to earn college degrees in order to become useful to their communities.

The Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples (IP) Education is a campus within a campus devoted to the college education of IPs. I wrote a feature story about Pamulaan a couple of years ago but I am again writing about it as we prepare for school opening and to share the good news: two batches have graduated since this special tertiary learning center opened five years ago. Five of Pamulaan’s graduates have passed the licensure examination for teachers.


I have visited Pamulaan and interacted with the students, some faculty and staff and I can say that this school is the only one of its kind in this part of the world. At the heart of Pamulaan is the Indigenous Peoples Living Heritage Center which is more than just a museum. It is a center for research, documentation and publication of indigenous knowledge systems, history and culture. It also develops education and training materials.

I flew to Davao City to attend the inauguration of the center. It was awesome. College students belonging to indigenous communities and their teachers pulled all the stops to showcase their rich culture and heritage. Indigenous costumes, music, dance, food, reading materials and works of art competed with computerized interactive displays to stress the importance of the occasion. The event also brought forth the importance of education using both indigenous knowledge and high-tech instruments. And not to forget, the meaning of community and nationhood.


Founded by anthropologist, former Jesuit scholastic and 2004 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Emergent Leadership Benjamin Abadiano, Pamulaan is located inside the University of Southeastern Philippines’ (USEP) Mintal campus in Davao City.

Although the Pamulaan scholars have their living quarters, library and special facilities within their special campus within USEP, they are enrolled in basic subjects taught in the USEP main campus. They interact with non-IP students every day. But Pamulaan students take special subjects which are necessary for their future work. Among these subjects are anthropology, development and history of Mindanao. They do their practicum in their places of origin.

Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar, a veteran development worker in Mindanao and writer, teaches Mindanao history and about cultures of the indigenous peoples and the lumad (IP) social movement. The medium of instruction is English, Pilipino and Visayan.

A noted resource person on spirituality, Gaspar noted that the students bring with them their culture’s spirituality. “And so we bring in their belief system in their studies,” Gaspar said. “They have a very strong desire to give back.”

I remember a Subanen student who said to me, “My goal is to serve.”

Pamulaan is the first institution in the Philippines to offer tertiary education for IPs and in a focused way. Pamulaan’s main thrust is to create culturally appropriate and relevant pathways of training and formation for indigenous children, youth, community leaders and development workers. Pamulaan hopes to produce graduates equipped with knowledge and abilities to initiate action toward sustainable development of IP communities.

The name Pamulaan, Abadiano explained, comes from a lumad-Matigsalog word that means seedbed. “We use the term to stress the program’s commitment to root the development of the students in the realities of their life and culture.” Abadiano also founded Tugdaan (which also means seedbed), a thriving learning and production center for Mangyans in Paitan, Oriental Mindoro.


Pamulaan does not refer only to the Davao-based tertiary institution, it also refers to the network of IP community schools in several places in the Philippines. In this network are the early childhood and elementary education programs for Aetas in Capas, Tarlac, high schools for the lumad youth in Camarines Norte, Mindanao and Mindoro, and the Tugdaan Mangyan Center for Learning and Development in Mindoro.

The Pamulaan program provides a variety of academic and non-academic approaches that address the needs of IP communities. It uses a “cycle” and “system of learning that starts from experience leading to theory, application, evaluation and reflection.” Practical training is done in IP communities.

Pamulaan offers bachelor’s degrees with majors in education, agricultural technology, anthropology and peace education.

Students get special training in functional literacy, cultural integrity, land tenure, culture of peace, leadership, governance and values formation, environment and resource management, sustainable agriculture, basic health and sanitation, community and organizational development and program and financial management.

Pamulaan also offers LEAP (local educators’ advancement program) for facilitators, para-teachers and education managers.

If you need information because you want to help send students to Pamulaan, log on to

It’s been a long way since Abadiano saw glimmers of Pamulaan in his dreams. Part of his RM Award cash prize went into the realization of this dream. Last March, Pamulaan had its second harvest of college graduates. The hills were alive with the sound of gongs and strings and winds. The graduates are now starting to give back to their communities.

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TAGS: college, education, Indigenous People, tribes
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