Woman leader is also Mangyan peacekeeper
WHEN Mangyan villagers could not accept the outcome of an election of officers in their Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Mangyan Alangan (Sanama) on the belief that the canvassers favored one party, they approached a quiet woman to resolve the dispute.
“I was surprised. Maybe they liked what they see in me, that I do what I say and I would say sorry when I’m wrong,” said Ligaya Bunsoy-Lintawagin, overall coordinator of the multi-awarded community-owned Tugdaan Mangyan Center for Learning and Development at the foot of Mt. Halcon in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro province.
Fondly called “Ate Gay,” Lintawagin went to all 54 sitios involved in the political exercise. “I listened to them, validated their votes and asked what they think would be good,” she said.
That was 2004 and it took two years before the villagers decided to forget what happened and move on.
Now 47, Lintawagin saw an important lesson in the case. Misunderstanding arose because the leaders “failed to thoroughly inform the community about the elections and there was a lack of coordination,” she said.
The making of a leader
The woman learned early about leadership from the men in her family, particularly her father, Gregorio Bunsoy, who was barangay captain of their village of Arangin in Naujan. “The food that we were about to take, they would still share with others,” she said.
Lintawagin said she finished her primary grades in Arangin. When she was in Grades 5 and 6, she would walk one hour each way to the public elementary school in the next village of Mulawin.
She exhibited in school the same virtues she learned from home and received awards for being Most Helpful, Most Industrious and Most Obedient. “My teachers gave me responsibilities. So when I was absent, they would look for me,” she recalled with a giggle.
Yet, Lintawagin said she never found her life wanting even as her family mainly subsisted on cassava and kamote (sweet potatoes) they planted in their kaingin (farm).
The Servants of the Holy Spirit sisters, who were doing apostolic work in the area, came to know about Lintawagin and sent her to Holy Infant Academy in Calapan City for her high school education. After graduation, the Mangyan pursued a Bachelor of Science in Education course at Divine Word College of Calapan.
As a college student, she stayed at Mt. Tabor Mangyan Formation Center in Barangay Calero and where lay missionary Casimira Villegas trained her to become dormitory leader. The facility is now supervised by the church-based nongovernment organization Mangyan Mission, which provides board and lodging subsidies to Mangyan students, mostly scholars.
Lintawagin learned to deal and bridge the cultural differences among Mangyan tribes. She was also entrusted with the dormitory’s financial management by Villegas. Later, she was sent to the Holy Spirit school in Tarlac and took a catechism course from 1996-1998.
Her first community work was so difficult she almost quit, Lintawagin said. Then in her late 20s, she was assigned to a far-flung area called Herrera up on Mt. Halcon where food was hard to come by and where she had to relearn the Mangyan language because she was already speaking Ilokano and Kapampangan since her stay in Tarlac.
She persevered in her task to organize the youth in the village. Along with then Jesuit volunteer Joy Quiaoit of Cagayan de Oro City, she went on to work as a paralegal officer, documenting the ancestral land, history and culture of the community.
“I would not forget when we measured the Paitan reservation, which turned out to be more than 200 hectares, to report to the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources). The alleged owners, who laid claim to the land even if it was proclaimed a Mangyan reservation in 1935, ran after us with bolos,” she said.
She said she could not give up despite the danger. “If a non-Mangyan like Joy was concerned, the more I should be. Mangyan people are usually friendly to the point of being taken advantaged of, their lands being titled by those who are called ‘educated,’” she said.
Then Tugdaan coordinator Benjamin Abadiano, (who received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership in 2007), told Lintawagin to trust her leadership abilities because others trusted her. When she succeeded him in Tugdaan, she drew strength from the lessons she learned from the Holy Spirit sisters who had worked closely with the Mangyan Mission and helped mold her.
“Sister Magdalena (Leykamm) showed simple living, not to talk negative. Sister (Maria Consolacion) Maco (Matnao) taught me the value of community organizing, to be able to reflect. Sister Pat (Pumuhic) told me not to fear. Sister Ester (Polo) also taught me to balance assertiveness and gentleness,” she said.
This author observed recently a community meeting she facilitated where participants, having removed their footwear, comfortably sat on the Tugdaan room’s floor, while sipping their native coffee from coconut shells. She would listen intently to the youth, barangay leaders, parents, teachers, elderly and Sanama members, and made a good synthesis of the proceedings.
Midway through her life as a community worker, Lintawagin got married to Bernardo Lintawagin Jr., chief of Barangay Paitan, Naujan. And like most working wives, she juggled work and motherhood.
Her daughter, Maria Bernalyn, grew up on bottled milk. “I would come home at midnight from work and would hear my daughter pray ‘that my mother may not leave me.’ It hurt but I knew the day would come when she would appreciate I sacrificed our family so they will have a good community,” she said.
In 1992, two years after she got married, Lintawagin suffered a miscarriage on the fourth month of pregnancy. “Others did not know this. I was overstressed and then my husband got very sick for us to take him to a parayaw (healing ritual),” she said.
“The NPA (New People’s Army) would try to indoctrinate us. We thank the nuns who taught us to value our culture of peace, not to take up arms in defending our ancestral land. That’s why the Tugdaan school is very important to us,” she added.
Her daughter, now 23 and a teacher, also began working with the Mangyan Mission. “She tells me, she’s surprised that many people know me.”
Lintawagin stressed that she was not attached to her position and hoped that more youths take the challenge of leadership—to offer their time, talent and themselves—in their community.
“We wish for more Mangyan professionals, like engineers and electricians, so we can directly manage development projects and guarantee genuine benefits for the community,” she said.
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