Teacher Randy's Trail: A Solo Trek to Pegalongan's Heart, Crossing Rivers, and Inspiring Change

August 14, 2013 Voluntourism

Among the annual PR projects that I eagerly anticipate is 'The Many Faces of the Teacher' by Bato Balani Foundation and Diwa Learning Systems. It's a genuine honor for me to meet and interview teachers who have truly inspiring stories.

In the weeks leading up to the Tribute to Teachers, an annual gathering where The Many Faces of the Teachers honorees are celebrated, I am tasked with profiling each teacher for our communication program. This year, I am particularly privileged as I have been assigned to interview candidates for the search, with the final four honorees to be selected from the 12 finalists.

Eight teachers were under my purview, prompting travels to Baguio City, Dumaguete City, General Santos City, Davao City, and Iloilo City. While all the teachers I interviewed were truly inspiring, one touched me to the core, perhaps because we share the same passion—serving children in the mountains.

Getting the Assignment

Davao City was not initially assigned to me, but when the Bato Balani Foundation staff learned that Teacher Randy works in the mountains, they requested me for the interview, knowing my fondness for hiking. Having met two inspiring teachers, Brimbhot Eyas and Bryan Carreon, from the same district in Davao City a year ago, I seized the opportunity to visit their working area and decided to take a bus from General Santos City to Davao City.

Possibly Unfriendly Mountain Dwellers

The night before my flight to Mindanao, I shared details about the area with an editor from Davao City. He warned me about potential rebels in the region, causing some concern. Despite years of mountain climbing experience, this would be my first time climbing without familiar companions. Although the foundation offered a companion, I chose to go alone rather than with a young and inexperienced hiker. The foundation assured me that the area was safe.

Meeting Teacher Randy Halasan

We agreed to meet at Ecoland to catch the bus to Marilog District. Although our meeting time was set for 9:00 AM, Teacher Randy arrived late, excusable given his commitments. The journey took over an hour due to traffic in Davao City, with our first stop at the district superintendent's office, where Teacher Randy filed reports while I interviewed people in the district.

After a quick lunch, we rode a van to the jump-off site, then took a habal-habal to navigate the rough 10-kilometer road. It was a bit scary, but the new experience, coupled with the sweeping mountain views, made it worthwhile.

An hour later, we reached Patag, a surprisingly unusual name for a mountainous area. After a brief rest, we commenced our trek to Sitio Pegalongan, even though it was already past 4 PM.

Trekking to Pegalongan 

I relished the descent to the first river. Being assured of an easy three-hour trek, time wasn't a concern. It turned out to be a relaxed walk, and Teacher Randy kept me entertained with stories about the village. Meanwhile, I busied myself capturing photos for documentation.

  In my standard hiking attire—a bandana, long-sleeved trekking polo, convertible trekking pants, wool socks, and hi-cut trekking shoes—I felt comfortably geared up. The first hour was a walk in the park, everything going smoothly until we reached the first river.

Typically, when crossing rivers, we have our safety gear in place. However, this time, we had none.


The Sinod River proved to be a challenge, reaching thigh depth with a strong current. I needed assistance from Teacher Randy and the Pegalongan Elementary School PTA President, Padales Mabasag, to cross safely.

After navigating the river, I requested a short break to regain my composure, joined by other Pegalongan residents heading home. About five minutes into the rest, Dexter Separa, one of the teachers accompanying us, pointed out the spot where a rebel had been found dead just two weeks prior. It startled me; however, between the choices of proceeding to the sitio or retracing my steps to Patag, I opted to continue.

With that, I pressed on.

From the river, we ascended Mt. Bangkilan, making the most of the favorable hiking conditions. The weather was cool, and we had at least an hour before sunset. Despite the fatigue, I found my rhythm.

Teacher Dexter Gadia (yes, there are two Teacher Dexters) noted that I was in 'silent mode.' They had expected constant complaints and requests for rest. Although I wanted to rest more frequently, my eagerness to reach Sitio Pegalongan early prevailed.

After over an hour of continuous ascent, we reached what they humorously referred to as their 'bus stop' or the major rest point. Since the trail from that point onward led downhill towards the village, I decided to take my time, relishing the panoramic view. The full moon had started to peek through the sky.

The descent was demanding, with a slippery trail requiring frequent assistance. I seized the opportunity to inquire further from Teacher Randy, starting with the history of Pegalongan.

I learned that after a significant flood, locals witnessed light shining from the area, leading to the name Pegalongan. Teacher Randy also shared details about the first settlers, mentioning that we would meet his sons. He delved into the history of tribal warriors merging with military forces to create a citizen army against rebels. He then mentioned plans for a protest that had to be postponed due to my visit.

Taking deep breaths and focusing on the trail, I reminded myself that I had conquered many mountains before, and this would be just another challenge.

After over an hour of trekking, we reached another river—the Davao River.

While Sinod River, thigh-deep, had unnerved me, the Davao River presented a more formidable obstacle, chest-deep and with raging waters. It was a daunting sight, but there was no turning back.

More locals joined us, providing assistance as we navigated the chest-deep and log-strewn Davao River. They advised me to hold onto them while being mindful of logs from illegal loggers in Bukidnon. At 7:30 PM, under a full moon, I crossed the Davao River with no safety equipment. It proved to be an intense leg exercise, requiring utmost control, without a moment to rest—even Mt. Halcon's Dulangan River was no match.

Reaching Sitio Pegalongan

Sitio Pegalongan, home to the Matigsalog cultural group, is situated across the river. By the time we arrived, darkness had set in, leading us straight to the home of the teachers' adopted family. The overwhelming warmth of countless welcoming smiles and greetings felt akin to a graduation ceremony.

After a hearty dinner, we rested.

The following day, I rose early, concerned about the trail's slipperiness due to drizzling rain. Fortunately, the rain ceased around 7 AM.

Teacher Randy suggested I meet some of his students who had just completed a long trek and crossed the river. These students brave such journeys daily in pursuit of education.

One of the tribal leaders, Nardo Bayugan, shared a poignant perspective: 'Ang Maynila may mga tulay, walang ilog. Kami may ilog, walang tulay.' ('Manila has bridges but no rivers. We have rivers but no bridges.')

In all my years of mountain climbing and meeting children in remote areas, this was one of the most heart-wrenching realities.  

As we continued exploring the village, I conducted interviews with various people, including tribal leaders. There was unanimous agreement on one point—Teacher Randy is a blessing to the village.

For Teacher Randy, education is not an isolated goal. He recognizes that he cannot effectively educate his students if they are hungry. Taking the initiative, he guided the people, encouraged organization, facilitated connections with various organizations, and secured essential resources such as seeds, a rice mill, a high school, and new classrooms.

When Teacher Randy first arrived at Pegalongan, the community was solely reliant on planting root crops and corn. However, under his guidance, they have transitioned to cultivating vegetable gardens, establishing nurseries for durable crops, and benefiting from the current administration's greening program.

Despite being eligible for a transfer to a more accessible and easier location, Teacher Randy chose to stay in Pegalongan, where he has been teaching for six years. While other teachers may have come and gone, Teacher Randy remained steadfast. The school's logbook revealed his unwavering dedication—even during summer months, he was present, offering assistance.

Teacher Randy's contributions extend beyond the classroom; he played a pivotal role in securing new classrooms for the school and advocating for the establishment of a high school in Pegalongan. His efforts addressed a crucial issue where graduates were forced to discontinue their education due to the distant location of the high school.

Now, with a high school in place, students can continue their studies, and Teacher Randy is actively exploring the possibility of establishing a vocational school in Pegalongan. His enduring commitment has earned him immense respect in the community, where he is consulted even in tribal affairs.

Leaving Pegalongan

My primary objective in visiting Pegalongan was to interview Teacher Randy, and on a personal level, to seek inspiration. I successfully achieved both.

The journey back to our jump-off point posed greater challenges. The sun was blazing, and the scorching heat felt like passing through a washing machine (Davao River) and then a dryer (mountains). The ascent proved more demanding than the descent. By the end, my clothes were damp, and I carried the scent of the challenging adventure.


Yet, among all my adventures, this one stands out as a source of great pride. I undertook it alone—for myself, for teachers, and for people to know.

My earnest hope now is for Teacher Randy to emerge victorious. While the other teachers I interviewed are equally deserving, a win for Teacher Randy would bring immense benefits to the entire community. It would shed light on the Matigsalog cultural community, amplify their need for a hanging bridge, and inspire more people.

As not a judge in the competition, my role is to present his story well. With God's help, I am confident I can do just that.

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