Sama Dilaut’s first magna cum laude joins MSU Tawi-tawi faculty

BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi (MindaNews/24 April) – Mindanao State University Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography (MSU-TCTO) – will welcome a new faculty member soon — a member of the Sama Dilaut community (also known as Badjao, Bajau, sea gypsies) who made history as the first from his tribe to have graduated Magna Cum Laude.

Class 2015 had one Summa Cum Laude and five Magna Cum Laude graduates among the 326 graduates during the 43rd Commencement Exercises on March 30, 2015 but 22-year old Roben S. Abdella became the star of the show, receiving the longest and loudest applause.

Abdella also received the Outstanding Pre-Service Teacher award given by the College of Education where he took up BSED in English.

Roben Abdella, first Sama Dilaut Magna Cum Laude, is from Sitangkai, Tawi-tawi, the youngest of five children of Abdella Pekok and Sarita Suwarani, with the author (left).
Roben Abdella, first Sama Dilaut Magna Cum Laude, is from Sitangkai, Tawi-tawi, the youngest of five children of Abdella Pekok and Sarita Suwarani, with the author (left).

Not only is he the first Magna Cum Laude from the tribe, he is also going to be the first Sama Dilaut teacher in MSU.

As a student, Abdella did not only excel in academics but was also active in extra-curricular activities. He was head writer of Sining Parmata, a theatre troupe based in MSU Tawi-Tawi that aims to “stimulate, celebrate and enhance” the capacities of the college students “through theatrical experiences and by raising awareness and appreciation of their rich cultural heritage.

A proud native of Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi (the first Magna Cum Laude from Sitangkai). Abdella has consistently topped his class since elementary. He graduated valedictorian at the Panglima Alari Elementary School and MSU-TCTO Sitangkai High School, also as valedictorian.

Roben is the youngest among five children of Abdella Pekok and Sarita Suwarani. Like most of their fellow Sama Dilaut, fishing and seaweed farming are their bread and butter.

He said he strove hard to finish a degree to help end the stereotyping and sweeping generalizations of Sama Dilaut as illiterate and inferior.

He said he wanted to encourage and inspire his tribe to take advantage of free education given by the Mindanao State University through its many scholarships and grants.

Furthermore, he puts premium on education as the solution to break themselves free from the bondage of poverty and discrimination.

On a personal note, Abdella dreams of helping his family. “Inshallah! If I could land a job, I will start uplifting my family’s socio-economic status,” he said.

Abdella is joining the faculty of MSU and hopes to inspire more Sama Dilaut into going to school.

MSU Tawi-Tawi Chancellor Atty. Lorenzo Reyes said the hiring of Roben as faculty member is an “affirmative action to empower the less fortunate, but a great supplier of food from the ocean to thousands of Asians including Filipinos for centuries.”

“MSU would like to send a message to the world that the Sama Dilaut, aka Badjaos, if given the opportunity, can be the equal of any citizen of the world, if not a better individual who can make this world a more peaceful, quiet and caring one! We earnestly pray that the world can help MSU Tawi-Tawi and Roben put up a high school for the Sama Dilaut so that more Roben, a Magna Cum Laude, can graduate from MSU Tawi-Tawi! We will not be surprised if MSU, can produce the third Summa Cum Laude in the future. With 3 square meals a day, a Sama Dilaut, can be a future Albert Einstein or a future Barack Obama!”

Dr. Filemon Romero, MSU Tawi-tawi Chancellor from 1989 to 1994 and Professor Emeritus of Ocenaography and Environmental Science, wrote upon learning of Abdella’s feat, that his achievement “represents the higher spectrum of what a Sama Dilaut can achieve.”

He urged the Sama Dilaut professionals “to bond themselves together and lead their tribe to fight for their rights as enshrined in the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA 8371) so that the discrimination and marginalization that they suffer now could be reduced if not totally eradicated.

Romero said Sama Dilaut professionals should also work for the implementation of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples’ administrative order mandating representation of Indigenous Peoples like the Sama Dilaut in local administrative councils.

“This national law is not being implemented in Tawi-tawi which is the ancestral home of the Sama Dilaut.

Romero recalled that in a recent forum of Sama Dilaut professionals sponsored by Anak Mindanaw where he served as resource person, he talked on the Impacts of Environmental Problems on the Sama Dilaut.

He said he “challenged the Sama Dilaut professionals to “get registered either with the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Department of Labor and Employment so they can constitute a juridical body and so they can legitimately address the issues and concerns affecting their welfare and protect and give them back their rightful ownership of their ancestral domain.”

(Basil Villacortes Sali is the Director for Alumni Relations of MSU Tawi-Tawi and Program Manager of 94.1 Nutriskwela Radyo Kasannangan. He teaches language and literature courses at the College of Arts and Sciences of the said university)