Datu Paglas: From War Zone to Education Community

21 December 2021

During the early 90s, the town of Datu Paglas was violence ridden, poor and neglected. Kidnapping, ambushes and other forms of violence were common. Enrolment in the schools was low and few of the municipality’s children finished high school or attended university. Everything changed when Mayor Ibrahim “Toto” Paglas III started to change the rule of the game and bridged the social, economic and political divides among the Muslim and Christian settlers. A banana plantation was established in Datu Paglas and it prospered with the support of the MILF leadership and President Fidel Ramos for the sake of peace. The plantation prospered because they started exporting their banana and many people had jobs. Mayor Toto Paglas was able to do this because they followed the advise of their uncle, former MILF Leader Hashim Salamat based on the following :

  1. Protect the environment at any cost because this is all we have for the next generation
  2. Do not abuse the workers, protect their rights and look after their welfare and safety
  3. Provide education for the children. Without education, poverty and equality could never be diminished. And as long as there are severe poverty and inequality, the municipality and other Muslim areas will always be fertile ground for violence, rebellion and even terrorism.

This legacy was continued by his brothers, Mayor Abubakar “Toy” Paglas and Mayor Mohammad “Tong” Paglas.

Looking back, Datu Paglas was one of the original LGU partners when Synergeia launched its education program in Maguindanao in 2005. Mayor Abubakar was known as the Mayor who crossed swords with education officials of Maguindanao on the printing and distribution of their workbooks. He started the practice of bringing the members of the school board to all their schools to listen to their stakeholders and plan together which he called “Parenting”. In 2007, his brother Mohammad Paglas replaced him as mayor and he returned to the business sector. When he became Mayor again on 2016, the first thing he did was to bring back the  practice of bringing the LSB to the school level to be in touch with their stakeholders and review what happened to the education reform that he started.

Mayor Abubakar Paglas is one of the education champions under the EdGE Program.  He has steered the transformation of the LSB of Datu Paglas, Maguindanao.  Its very high 4.9 score in the latest assessment of performance in education governance is testament to it. 

One of the innovative programs of Mayor Paglas is his Parenting Program with a different approach.  The Mayor, the LSB, and the different Departments of the LGU visit the schools to conduct a workshop with parents.  All  stakeholders of the school are welcome to attend.  This year, the LGU/LSB has already conducted the workshops in all the 28 public schools in Datu Paglas, including 3 high schools.

The different Departments of the LGU are included in the program so that they can talk about their ongoing programs to the parents.  For instance, the Treasurer’s Office and the Assessor’s office explain the LGU’s tax campaign and enumerate the benefits that citizens get when they pay their taxes.  The Health Office talks about nutrition and vaccination while the Barangay would discuss its programs for the community. 

The Mayor believes that with this approach, the local government is able to hear directly the concerns of parents and address them at once.  At the same time, the Mayor is able to encourage parents to look after the education of their children. 

In one of the parenting workshops held at Tocao Madidis Central Elementary School, one of the concerns raised was increasing absenteeism among students.  The students skip classes especially during the harvest season when they are told by the parents to work in the farms.   To address the absenteeism problem,  the Mayor said that the municipal government will issue an ordinance to prevent child labor. 

Another problem is the lack of birth certificates among the school children. Most of the children in the community have no birth certificates.   In order to resolve this, the Mayor immediately ordered the Municipal Local Civil Registrar to work with the principals and teachers of all schools and make sure that all are given birth certificates onsite. 

Mayor Paglas encourages his partner mayors of the Southwestern Liguasan Alliance of Municipalities (SLAM), an alliance of 5 Maguindanao LGUs which are EdGE site,  to replicate this best practice.  Going directly to the people is a leadership strategy that Mayor Paglas has practiced well.

Sangguniang Kabataan to the Rescue

When the COVID19 pandemic started in 2020, the national government prohibited the holding of face to face classes in the schools. The Local School Board started to realize the challenges of distance education as the school heads reported a decrease in the enrolment and the dropout of students as indicated by the decrease of parents getting  the learning modules at schools. SGC leaders were also reporting that some of the parents are having a hard time teaching their children at home because they had to work (The banana plantation in Datu Paglas stopped its operation because of the pandemic).

During the meeting of the Local School Board last April 2020, Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Federation President Sharif Taha Paglas asked the mayor how their organization can help the children of Datu Paglas in distance learning. The SK which is a member of the expanded LSB of Datu Paglas has offered the services of their group and they want to allocate part of their budget to the LGUs program in distance education. Mayor Toy Paglas recommended that they start by meeting with the principals of the 24 elementary schools in Datu Paglas.

The SK Federation president convened the 23 SK chairperson of Datu Paglas to discuss the program and following the suggestion of the mayor, they deployed their SK to the school and teamed up with the principals to give their support. They started by assisting parents who go to the school every Monday to pick up the learning modules of their children. The SK officials who are mostly fresh graduates from the college in Datu Paglas said that they are more than willing to do the volunteer work because there were no job opportunities during the pandemic. Many of them even have education degrees that could be very useful for their new project. They observed the processes being undertaken at the different schools and met as a group to discuss their action plans. Long before they knew it, they were already delivering the learning modules using their motorbike to the house of the students because the principal reported that some of the parents were not getting it at school. At first, they paid for the fuel of their motorcycle but it was eventually taken from the budget of their respective SK.

They found out that parents were not able to get the learning modules of their children because work was more a priority than distance learning. Another discovery they found out was that other parents did not bother to get the modules anymore because they do not know how to teach their children. Ivan Kamamang, the SK Federation Vice President said that based on the assessment of their group, they estimate that around 40% of the parents in Datu Paglas are not capable of teaching their children properly at home because they lack the skills or they are working somewhere else. The banana industry in Datu Paglas was greatly affected by the pandemic and it has forced many of the banana plantation workers to find their source of livelihood elsewhere.

This prompted the SK group to discuss the problem with the principals.  They agreed to identify the children who are struggling in remote learning and to conduct tutorials onsite. In the barangay of SK Federation Datu Sharif Taha, he assigned six of his SK Kagawads to six sitios in their barangay to conduct tutorials to struggling students and parents. They allotted funds for the provision of whiteboards, markers, supplies and gasoline. They even do feeding programs during the remediation sessions. According to the SK leaders, this was the first time that they felt good about spending their SK budget. They also related that it was beneficial for the SK leaders  and volunteers because it served as their practicum and it gave them a sense of fulfillment in doing true public service.

Datu Paglas is the first municipality in Maguindanao province to tap the Sangguniang Kabataan, or youth leaders, to mentor children who are struggling with remote learning. Six months into the program, the children have a clearer understanding of their learning modules, says Mayor Abubakar Paglas.  “It’s a big challenge to make children learn during a pandemic so we’re finding ways to continue teaching them,” he says.

Amid weak Internet connectivity, the town implemented in-person tutorials, becoming the first municipality in Maguindanao to make use of the SK to tutor children whose parents cannot mentor them because they work or they’re unschooled.

These in-person tutorials are typically done in open areas with learners and volunteers adhering to safety protocols. It’s yet another innovation from the municipality which has won the Seal of Good Education Governance four times, in recognition of its efficiency in delivering basic education to its constituents and improving learning outcomes.

“What we want is for children to be able to read and for those who can read, that they’re able to understand what they’re reading,” Mayor Paglas says.

‘No one should be left behind’

The town had been implementing a summer reading program before the pandemic hit. This was replaced in November by the SK mentoring project initiated by the mayor to help children cope with the learning modules. All 230 leaders and members of the Sangguniang Kabataan are spread out as volunteer teachers in the 23 barangays of Datu Paglas during the week to mentor students from Grades 1 to 6.

Twenty-four-year old Ivan Kamamang focuses on slow learners in his barangay, making sure they are able to understand difficult subject areas like mathematics with examples that are easier to grasp. With a degree in secondary education, Kamamang and his SK team spend three days a week tutoring children in all eight sitios in Barangay Bunawan. They travel by motorcycle to reach remote areas to make sure that all children who need help would be attended to.

“Our goal is that no one should be left behind when it comes to education in Datu Paglas,” he said.

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