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» » » » » » » » » » » The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.Triennial Awards: "Drawing Mindanao's Portrait of Change"

JR Lopez Gonzales 11:27 PM 7

"The portrait of positive change is composed of shapes and lines drawn on life’s canvas, using humanity’s actions as the paintbrush dipped in the paint of goodness placed on the palette of time."

From the age-old inklings of Heraclitus’ writings to the melodious rhythms of Jose Mari Chan, both affirm the general truth: change is constant.

Whether one is playing with the thought that something different needs to be done, have already made the decision that things must be done differently, or moved to the supposition to create a different outcome; change becomes part of the general universal equation.

It is apparent that the Philippines is confronted with a lot of societal problems that necessitates an effectuation of 'positive' change. Such also holds true in the provinces outside the capital region where to note, more than half of the poorest provinces in the country are in my homeland of Mindanao.

It seems that the ‘Manila-centric’ government that we have, failed to actually deliver the resources to the far-flung areas and provinces. This is a feature of a centralized government that comes with dire consequences for the rest of the groups of islands, say, the Visayas and Mindanao. And while there are a lot of developments that has happened both in urban and rural areas in the provinces over the years courtesy of the silent heroes, it seems that the beauty of Mindanao was splotched by the large smearing paints of irresponsible journalism.

My homeland of Mindanao, for the longest time, has landed in the news for all the negative reasons: kidnappings, terrorist bombings, and violence. This is the kind of pessimism the dailies portray us.

The sad fact is, none, if not minimum effort from the mainstream Filipino media draw attention to the stories of social development in the "Land of Promise". Most people from the provinces would concur that the bringing out of positive and truthful news in the open is one of the best ways of letting other people know that change is happening and that there is still hope.

This is where the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (RAFI) comes into the picture. In memory of the philanthropist Ramon and his son, Eduardo, the foundation confers the RAFI Triennial Awards to the unsung heroes who have devoted their lives in building a society based on justice, peace, and love. It recognizes exemplary individuals and institutions that persevered to touch others’ lives amidst challenges and difficulties. It also, most importantly, upholds the fact that positive social change is currently taking place in these far-off communities, including in my hometown Mindanao.

The premier award-giving body for fifteen years now, has successfully painted a positive portrait of both the Visayas and Mindanao. Since the 1st Triennial Awards conferment in 1999, it has recognized 50 individuals and institutions.

Seeing the internet as an alternative media for positivity, I, as a blogger, would like to add my own touches upon the Mindanao canvas by featuring ten (10) RAFI Mindanaoan awardees that I find worth emulating. They are our silent heroes, fearlessly dedicating themselves in the pursuit of portraying the beautiful imagery of Mindanao.

Ramon Aboitiz Award for the Exemplary Individual

The Dynamic Leader:
Ramon A. Piang, Sr. (Upi, Maguindanao)

A proud member of the Tiruray (or Teduray) tribe, Ramon “Mon” Piang came from an impoverished tenant family in Maguindanao. At age 13, feeling the need to go out of his shell, he left his family and went to the Notre Dame Diocesan Seminary.

Realizing that ordainment is not his heart’s desire, he took up a teaching position at the Notre Dame Elementary School instead. Because of his virtuosity, the then young Mon was appointed Principal of the Notre Dame of Upi High School and stayed in the position for 11 years.

When he was elected mayor, he spearheaded reforms and established his brand of good governance. On his first year of office alone, the national and municipal roads were improved. Public structures and government systems were computerized and networked to better serve his 50,000-plus Upian constituents.

Being a peace advocate, one can quickly point out that the Upian Mayor is for cultural harmony between the three peoples of Mindanao: the Muslims, Christians, and the Lumads. He formed a ‘tri-people way of conflict resolution’ with a council composed of six (6) revered people from each group. This program led to the significant 35% drop in the number of cases filed with the police according to the 2005 data.

The spontaneous mayor also created a government radio, “DxUP” which informs the people of his plans and initiatives thus encouraging participatory politics.

For Mayor Piang's contributions, he was cited by the Canadian International Development Agency – Local Government Support Program as a model leader and his town as praiseworthy specimens of good and transparent governance.

The T'boli Doctor:
Salvecio B. Dagang (T'boli, South Cotabato)

Born from the indigenous community of the T'bolis, Salvecio Dagang studied well to reach his dreams of becoming a physician. After years of public service, he became popular in the hinterlands of South Cotabato, which led him to become the first President of the organization of datus called the Tribal Leaders Development Foundation Inc.

Together with his wife Levesita, also a doctor, they established free clinics to cover even the remotest areas in the T'boli's boondocks. Potable water can now be accessed in five (5) barangays, especially in Salacafe, some 20 kilometers away from the town proper.

With the help of foreign donors, a 60-hectare abaca plantation is now run by the Afus Abaca Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative. The hardworking doctor also formed a literacy program which catered to 1,600 adults which finally graduated from a six-month adult literacy works.

Doc 'Waning' has never felt tired in serving the South Cotabateños because of the support of his number main inspiration - his family. Now at fifty-six years old, he is the current Technical Division Chief of the Integrated Provincial Health Office of South Cotabato.

On the life's purpose, the Doctor Dagang reveals in an e-mail correspondence that it is “to create opportunities for the underprivileged ethnic groups and the rural poor”. He adds, “men by nature seek more challenges to life to achieve more, to maintain mental and physical alertness, to be blessings to others”.

The Bangsamoro Revolutionary Against Poverty and Inequality
Bainon G. Karon (Cotabato City)

Activism was at her blood even at her younger years. At the tender age of 18, Hadja Bainon was already an active member of the Federation of Muslim Students in the seventies to protest against Muslim prejudice while studying at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City.

A feisty advocate of peace through development, she empowered Bangsamoro women all over Mindanao, and opened livelihood opportunities to the communities. She founded the Federation of the United Mindanawan Bangsamoro Women Multipurpose Cooperative (FUMBWMPC). It has 137 member cooperatives across Mindanao that operates on the principle of proactive participation of women in peace-building and development.

Hadja Bainon was appointed Regional Secretary of the DSWD for ARMM in 2006. In the span of three years, the DSWD Emergency Assistance and Core Shelter programs was able to aid 609,328 displaced people because of the armed conflicts and natural calamities. A sizable number of 2,369 shelters were also constructed during her time.

At almost 60 years old now, Bai Karon is still energetic in effectuating change in the community, being a Bangsamoro and a devout follower of Allah. Seeing firsthand the ill-effects of armed conflict, she reveals that ‘providing  sustainability and economic empowerment to the Bangsamoro People are mechanisms in helping build justice and peace’.

The Innovative Doctor
Ray L. Catague (M’lang, North Cotabato)

In the early nineties, after four years devoting his residency to rural practice in Iloilo, Doc Ray for the first time moved to Mindanao and served as Municipal Health Officer of M’lang, Cotabato.

He was able to maximize his training as a medical doctor and a health officer by creating various programs and made health services more efficient to meet North Cotabato’s problems on population, poor health conditions, violence against women, adolescent reproductive health, malnutrition, and sexually-transmitted disease. He also helped establish Teen Centers as venues for youth activities and counseling.

Despite being a diabetic for more than 20 years, it did not stop the persevering doctor’s quest to uplift lives. An effective community organizer, he partnered with LGUs to effectuate his advocacies on health-related and other social programs.

Doc Ray organized people to provide additional labor and serve as his partners in rural health.  This later became a pioneer program called the Barangay Health Workers Federation. He also started the Barangay Nutrition Scholar (BNS), which gives students the opportunity to help implement the government’s nutrition programs in the villages.

To entice underweight children to partake foodstuff dole outs, Dr. Catague came up with the “Nutri-Pak Calamay Hatì”, a complete candy-like nutritional food. This was distributed all over M’lang and was even recognized as one of the “Top Ten Innovations” by USAID in 1999.

He currently leads the Provincial Quick Response Team of North Cotabato which is on the go when disasters strike.

The Man for All
Eddie M. Alih (Tawi-Tawi)

A man that values the sharing of knowledge, Sir Eddie is well-loved by his constituents in the academe having served as a Chancellor of the Mindanao State University – Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography. His administration brought about a sudden increase in the student enrollment due to the campus’ physical development and administration.

A polyglot, Sir Eddie’s skill in speaking five languages (Sama, Tausug, Cebuano, Tagalog, and English) enabled him to mediate and settle conflicts being a member of the Muslim religious council. He also maintains personal contact with former Moro National Liberation Front rebels in the remote areas in order to bring about salutary effects to the islands.

His involvement in the Couples for Christ - Gawad Kalinga bolsters the value of Muslim-Christian unity and peace. Definitely a man for all, he reveals that “when you share yourself with others, life begins to find its meaning. The time you touch the lives of others is the moment you truly live”.

Eduardo Aboitiz Award for the Outstanding Institution

Save Mindanao Volunteers, Inc. (Agusan del Sur)

Established in July 2000, the Save Mindanao Volunteers, Inc. (SMVI) became the most visible group providing for institutional development of the Manobo tribespeople in Agusan del Sur.

Anchored on the literacy needs of the marshland natives, the foundation designed and implemented a functional literacy program for the adults and children, instead of directly instituting livelihood programs. The foundation had seventeen (17) full-time volunteers and more than a thousand residents benefited from the literacy curriculum as of 2005.

The Manobo lumads used to shy away from direct trading of their fresh catch. But with SMVI’s aid, they are now able to read and write which greatly helped them in trade and their business dealings.

Working hand-in-hand with the American organization “Books for the Barrios”, thousands of books where shipped to the marshland for the Manobo children. This led to the first ‘floating library’ in the Philippines; with the libraries moving from one marshland community to another.

With forged partnerships with funding agencies locally and internationally, SMVI received donations in terms of transportation and other equipment: a motorized boat which serves as a clinic, a ‘water ambulance’ speed boat, and a motorbike.

Now, the local politicians began considering the marsh residents as viable and productive. Health maintenance, aquaculture, forest protection, livelihood, tourism among other public services became available in the area thanks to the hard work of the volunteers.

Truly, the integrated development brought about by the efforts of SMVI are like strong torrents that would enable the Manobos to traverse the marshlands of life.

Brokenshire Integrated Health Ministries, Inc. (Davao City)

BIHMI is a church-owned organization of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City which focuses mainly on the health and general well-being of Mindanaoans. Since its establishment in the seventies, it has already initiated health services to 1,657 households in four barangays in Southern Mindanao.

An innovation in development works, BIHMI’s holistic program is for community development through community-owned and managed health coops. Their “50+1” approach encourages the townspeople to have more than half the population in a barangay to be enlisted in the cooperatives.

Now, there are almost 300 first liner and second liner community health workers were trained through the initiated community building activities in the selected communities in Davao del Sur, Sarangani, and North Cotabato.

Decades back, the Barangay Sinoron in Sta. Cruz town in Davao del Sur succumb to the constant attritions between the New People’s Army and the government Armed Forces. The constant fighting left the barangay desolate. But when BIHMI came, it introduced social development through health cooperatives. Income generating programs such as convenience stores, marketing centers, and demonstration farms were initiated which brought back the humanity in the once ‘no man’s land’.
Muslim-Christian Agency for Rural Development, Inc. (Cagayan de Oro City)

Good things come in threes for the history of this foundation. The Integrated Services Program (ISP) in Marawi, People’s Alternative Program for Action (PAPA) in Margosatubig, Zamboanga, and Paglaum Community-Based Development Agency (PaCoBDA) in Bukidnon being long-time partners for four years decided to fuse their foundations into one in 1984.

The foundation had a long list of carefully selected programs to imbibe change: technical support for socio-economic projects, cooperative development, sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, income-generating projects, community-based primary healthcare, community animal healthcare management, draft animal dispersal, daycare and adult literacy, ecology, environmental protection, and linkage- and partnership-building.

During the all-out-war policy of the Estrada Administration some ten years ago, together with its partners, MuCARD fed thousands of displaced families in the war-torn communities.

Micro-finance has also been the medium for technology transfer provided by MuCARD. The new technology that it offered its cooperative farmer-members attracted a thousand others. Due to the foundation’s efforts, various cooperatives sprouted within Lanao del Sur,too.

In protecting the mangrove areas, MuCARD collaborated with the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (now the Civilian Volunteers Organization) which established outposts in the coastlines in Zamboanga del Sur. This apprehends big and even armed illegal commercial fishers.

One of the largest foundation networks in the country, it has a total membership of 5,361 household beneficiaries with over 32,166 direct and indirect individual members (2002 data). By 2002, it has organized 152 people’s organizations including 9 federations and one confederation which covered Regions IX,X, XII, and the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao spread to over 104 barangays in 19 municipalities and two cities.

Maharlika Charity Foundation, Inc. (Davao City)

Established in 1973 by Dr. Rizal Aportadera and his colleagues, Maharlika evolved from a small group of philanthropic individuals to a team of volunteers who are concerned with the medical condition of Mindanao’s poorest communities.

MCFI has a team of volunteer surgeons and nurses who travel to remote areas and operate on patients with cataracts and harelips. The institution brings with them detachable beds and tables and improvised wheelchairs.

The foundation not only influenced local governments to prioritize health care in their districts but also encouraged private institutions and individuals to support their missions through cash or in-kind donations.

MCFI, with the collaborated effort of a foreign funding agency Liliane Fonds Foundation, was able to assist hearing-impaired indigent children. In a separate program with the Davao Medical Center’s Mindanao Burn Center, the two institutions served around 9,000 patients in the span of four years from 2000 to 2004.

Serving mainly in South Cotabato, Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, and Marawi City, it has served almost 10,000 patients with more than twenty medical missions. The first of its kind in the Philippines, the foundation has a 40-footer van equipped with sophisticated surgical equipments is capable of performing two eye surgeries at once.

Mahintana Foundation, Inc. (Polomolok, South Cotabato)

In 1977, one of the country’s leading pineapple exporters, Dole Philippines, Inc., formed Mahintana Foundation only as a response to the ‘corporate social responsibility’. The name was taken from the B’laan words mahin which means “sea”, and tana, which means “land”.
Starting out as a small private social development institution, it inflated with the help of linkage expansions and foreign funding that by 1999, it was accredited as a ‘donee institution’ by the Philippine Council for NGO Certification.

The Mahintana Foundation was successful in many social development programs like in microfinancing and entrepreneurship. Mahintana Foundation’s Landan Multipurpose Cooperative has, as of December 2006, the total assets of about P157, 990 million, with a total of 1,593 member-beneficiaries, composed mostly of B’laan natives.

In 2005, the coop is already assisting a total of 1,700 hectares. From this number, 1,688 hectares are devoted to pineapple, while the remaining 12 hectares are planted to papaya.

With regards to sustainable development and environmental protection, it formed various programs and extension projects in South Cotabato. It gave birth to Mt. Matutum Integrated Conservation and Development Project (MICADEV), the Gully Tree Planting project, the Community Investment on Trees and Environment, the Tools for Trees Program, the Chair for Trees Program, and the Kapatan Marine Reserve and Development Project.

Mahintana Foundation also provides free basic healthcare and dental services in the indigent communities within the Mt. Matutum vicinity.
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Imbibing the social change we so desire, according to a Chinese proverb, is “not a picnic”. These success stories were not made in a day, these ordinary people wrestled with extraordinary hardships and struggles in order to help carry out positive societal change. Yet the drawing of the portrait of an optimistic change for Mindanao entails the hard work of not just a handful of the RAFI awardees.

A tiny bristle of the paintbrush only leaves a miniscule mark on the canvas for it is just one; but still it is one. Everyone's positive action is like that tiny strand in the paintbrush that, when bound together, with each stroke can make beautiful shapes and lines on the life's canvas.

The power to make simple increments of the country's portrait is in our hands. The drawing of our portrait of change still needs strokes from each one - that is, before we do the  finishing touches.

This is an official entry to the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI) Triennial Awards Blogging Contest.

Picture Credits:
Profile Pictures are from the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th RAFI Triennial e-books accessible at
Paintbrush image from

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7 comments The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.Triennial Awards: "Drawing Mindanao's Portrait of Change"

  1. may nanalo na ba dito?

  2. Meron na po. Uhmm, I bagged the First Place.

  3. Wow! This piece is a indeed a winner! It warmed my heart! Congrats!

    1. Thank you, Rosilie. I'm glad you felt that way after reading this post. :)

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