POLOMOLOK, SOUTH COTABATO – Members of different indigenous people’s groups from South Cotabato and nearby Sarangani Province gathered last May 25 at the Polomolok Gymnasium in Barangay Poblacion in South Cotabato for the 1st Flalok Congress organized by the Conrado & Ladislawa Alcantara Foundation Inc. (CLAFI) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The event gathered representatives from various Blaan communities in Region 12, local government executives from South Cotabato, Sarangani, General Santos City and Koronadal; officials from the Department of Education; and non-government organizations to celebrate the success of the Flalok project of CLAFI – the corporate social responsibility arm of the Alsons Power Group.

With funding from the USAID, CLAFI embarked on project to revive the Blaan art of storytelling to improve literacy and develop a community of readers in South Central Mindanao by adopting the Department of Education’s mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) approach in improving literacy outcomes particularly among young learners.

Flalok is the traditional art form of oral storytelling of the Blaan tribe. Over the years, the art of Flalok has been gradually fading away due to the dearth of written records about the Blaan tradition and the stories that have been passed orally from generation to generation. The Flalok congress also served as an opportunity to drum up support in reviving the Blaan story telling tradition.

Through collaboration between the government and private groups, efforts are being made to preserve and revive this vital aspect of Blaan culture. For instance, the Department of Education (DepEd) trains Blaan writers and teachers on different genres of the Blaan language and literature as well as orthography (the conventional spelling or writing system for a particular language).

As part of the Flalok Project, CLAFI also supervised the production of “big books” that contain stories highlighting Blaan values and traditions. During the congress, CLAFI presented the big books that contain colorful illustrations to go with the stories, making each big book an excellent tool not only to engage the attention of grades 1 and 2 Blaan pupils but to also encourage their love for reading, improving their literacy skills in the process.

CLAFI collaborated with the DepEd to train the teachers on how to utilize the big books and the complementary teacher guides plus other learner materials to reinforce the MTB-MLE paradigm by using Flalok as the platform.

Aside from helping young learners become more engaged in the preservation of their culture, the Flalok Congress also highlights the need to bridge the cultural gap that has seen the traditional forms of art and other indigenous cultural practices slowly dying due to the dwindling interest among young members of the tribe in knowing their heritage and preserving their cultural identity.

“We at CLAFI are happy to be a part of this project because we are not only focused on enriching the lives of our community partners, we also want to help them preserve their culture,” remarks Richard Lyndon Magtulis, executive director of CLAFI.

Other stakeholders also pledged their continuing commitment to the Flalok Project and its future programs, among them the Sarangani Energy Corporation (SEC), a subsidiary of the Alsons Power Group that operates a 210-coalbased power plant in Maasim, Sarangani, that reiterated its unswerving support for the project.

“Our host community has been very good to us and we want to help community members especially the indigenous people achieve their full potential. But at the same time, we also want to help them preserve their culture and traditions so that these can be passed on to future generations,” said Ruben Tungpalan, SEC’s corporate affairs manager.

Former Sarangani Governor Miguel Rene Dominguez who is now the Alsons Aquaculture VP for operations also highlighted the importance of the Flalok congress. “We are very proud to be a partner of the Flalok Congress, as it is very important to document the cultural stories and cultural traditions of our Blaan brothers. All of their stories can serve as inspiration as well as examples that children can learn from, especially those that underscore values that can help them in facing the challenges of the future. Before you enter and face the challenges of the future,” he said, adding that one must be proud of his heritage to appreciate one’s cultural roots.

“All the stories contained in the Flalok big books will now be passed on to future generations to ensure that their culture and identity as a people will not be lost,” Dominguez concluded.