Teacher of the Tribe: Teacher Ruel

September 20, 2018 Travel

Five years ago, I visited a Matigsalug Tribe in Davao City. It took me almost a whole day to reach the tribe. This included around four hours land travel from the city center to Marilog District; two hours habal-habal (or motorcycle) ride, and a six hour trek, with two major river crossings. 

It was one of my most difficult journeys ever, but that visit to Pegalongan led me to a meeting with Randy Halasan, one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. He eventually won a Ramon Magsaysay Award, partly because of the research he has done.

When I received the list of teachers I would interview for this year’s round of The Many Faces of the Teacher, I was delighted to see another teacher from the Marilog District.

After the interview in Basilan Province, I returned to Zamboanga City to catch a flight to Davao City. It was a morning flight and, after lunch, I went on my way to Marilog District. I rented a cab so that I and my traveling companion would be more comfortable.  

I was a bit tired so I slept the entire journey. When I woke, I was already seeing familiar landscapes. We had arrived in Marilog District.

We stayed overnight at the Sonnen Berg Mountain Resort.

When I messaged the resort to inquire about room availability, I was informed the rooms were not fully furnished, which meant no air conditioning, no television, and we had to share comfort rooms which did not have showers. I did not bother asking if there was hot water.  

Naturally, my expectations were really low. However, when we arrived at the resort, I was actually pleasantly surprised at its lush gardens, its magnificent vistas, and even our room which, though it really did not have much furniture, was quite cozy.

We had a good night rest and woke early the following day to enjoy a good breakfast, enjoying the view from our table. Teacher Ruel Eballar Janamjam, my subject, also arrived early, so we had the pleasure of getting to know him in a more relaxed setting.

The first thing I learned was that he had once worked with Teacher Randy, and that he had also taught in Pegalongan. He said he, too, admired the work of Teacher Randy.

After breakfast, we hopped onto his motorcycle and rode for about two hours to Sitio Upian, where he is currently assigned.

Teacher Ruel is also teaching members of the Matigsalug Tribe. But he is more than a teacher to them. So much so that he has already been bestowed with the honor of being Datu Kasandihan to them.  



Teacher Ruel uses his influence as a teacher to help better the lives of the Matigsalugs.

In weekly meetings with the community elders and parents, Teacher Ruel discusses how they can improve their crop yield. He also helps them deal with issues concerning mining and land disposal by educating them about their rights.


But his most valuable contribution to the community has to be the establishment of an extension school for grade 7 and 8 students. This has encouraged more students to enroll and complete their studies. Today, plans are underway for the construction of an independent high school which will be built on a two-hectare plot of land given to him by the tribal council specifically for the future Upian National High School.

We got to see Teacher Ruel in action in a tribal meeting, over which he co-presided with the other tribal leaders. But prior to that, we were granted the honor of donning Matigsalug costume and attending a welcome ritual. It was an experience I value very much because I know not everyone is able to take part in such a rich display of culture.



During the meeting, Teacher Ruel introduced us and discussed with the members of the community, who were also garbed in traditional Matigsalug costume, how they could move the community forward.

One of the things discussed was my suggestion of building a small museum where they could permanently showcase their relics and artifacts. Everyone liked the idea.  

After the meeting, there was singing and dancing accompanied by traditional instruments.  





I was in awe the whole time, and I remember wishing that everyone could see and experience this remarkable culture. The Matigsalug is not a well-known tribe. Hopefully, their community will realize their dream of having a museum so they will have more to show when they welcome more visitors like us to their community. 


We need more facilities to showcase the culture of our tribes. We need a much larger and encompassing appreciation of them. We need to show them more love. If you would like to help build the museum, email me.



This is the fourth in a series of five stories about teachers who are devoting their lives, not just to teach, but to uplift the lives of our indigenous brothers and sisters. I recently traveled around the country interviewing teachers who are finalists of the annual awards of Diwa Learning Systems and Bato Balani Foundation. The awards are called ‘The Many Faces of the Teachers’. Five of the twelve teachers are educating tribal members. I am doing this series because my heart is so close to the country’s indigenous peoples. The other teachers, if I may add, are just as inspiring. You can read about them, too, in the local papers

Some photos by Ian Gongona.


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