GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 31 July) — The 43rd Commencement Exercises of the Mindanao State University-General Santos on July 14 showcased significant milestones in the history of the university: the return after two years of face-to-face ceremonies for the combined 3,505 graduates of Class 2020, Class 2021 and Class 2022; the awarding of its third Summa Cum Laude; and the graduation of a 66-year old barangay kagawad from the indigenous Blaans, the oldest graduate of Class 2022.
Berry P. Lauron, Summa Cum Laude and Class Valedictorian, finished Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with a mind-boggling GPA of 1.16. She is the university’s third Summa Cum Laude graduate, after Josh Elisa P. Octura, BS in Animal Science in 2008 and Lemuel Benedict Non, BS Biology in 2003.
MSU-GenSan has six colleges and a School of Graduate Studies.
Lauron represents the best and the brightest of Batch Hiyara while Davy Matugol, 66, fondly called “Tatay (Father) Davy” by his classmates and professors, is a testament to his enduring spirit.
Born on September 6, 1956, Davy Matugol is a member of the Blaan Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) from Batutuling, Glan, Sarangani province (Glan used to be part of South Cotabato).
The eldest among eight, he finished Elementary at the Big Margus Elementary School in 1979, and secondary education at the Big Margus Barangay High School in Glan Padidu Annex B.
Throughout his elementary and secondary years, Tatay Davy helped ease his parents’ financial burden in raising a family of ten by selling fruits and vegetables grown in their backyard. He would bring guavas, onions, dalanghita (oranges), and avocados and sell these to his teachers and whoever wanted to buy them.
Every school day, Tatay Davy would walk 14 kilometers to Big Margus from their house in Batutuling to attend classes and sell their farm produce. On his way back to their house after school hours, he would carry coconut seedlings that he got from his Blaan uncles and planted them during weekends on the land inherited by his father from their ancestors.
Around 1,500 of coconut trees that Tatay Davy planted in the 1970s are now bearing fruits and producing income for his family. More juvenile coconuts are expected to become productive soon in his farm estimated to be around 20 hectares. The seasoned farmer also planted different varieties of grains and agricultural crops that helped him feed his family.
First attempt at college education
After high school graduation, Tatay Davy at age 30, was sent by his family to Kabacan, North Cotabato to study Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in 1986. After two years in the BA English program, he returned to Glan due to his father’s untimely demise at the age of 59.
The death of the patriarch forced him to quit school in USM, to take care of his mother and seven siblings. As the eldest son, Tatay Davy acted as father to his younger brothers and sisters by taking over the farm left to them by their deceased father. As head of the family, he toiled on their ancestral land and made sure that he could provide for his family’s needs. Even today, Tatay Davy is a generous brother to his siblings and uncle to his nieces and nephews, many of whom were able to pursue college due to his unfaltering financial support.
Tatay Davy is also a respected politician in Batutuling. He entered politics in 2010, elected as a member of the Barangay Council. Kagawad Matugol has been serving his barangay for three consecutive terms. He recalls that he asked a favor from the late Chancellor Dr. Anshari P. Ali, for consent to be absent from his classes during the regular session of the Barangay Batutuling Legislative Council, which is scheduled either on the first or second Friday of the month. He is serving his last term as barangay kagawad (councilor).
Throughout his political career, Tatay Davy persistently advocated for the government to make education a priority development agenda. His undergraduate thesis was about the role of barangay governance in fostering local development and improving people’s welfare.
Senior high school grad’s journey to MSU
Although Tatay Davy had studied for two years in USM, he was no longer eligible to pursue a college degree directly when the Kto12 education policy took effect in the Philippines.
Unfazed, he enrolled in Grade 11 in 2016 when the first senior high school opened in Leonard Young Sr. National High School in Glan. In 2018, he was among the first senior high school graduates in the country.
According to him, it was his own conviction to pursue and finish grades 11 and 12, despite his advanced age. Tatay Davy was 62 years old when he graduated from Senior High.
While celebrating his Senior High School graduation in an eatery in Barangay Margus, Tatay Davy met two professors from MSU-GenSan — Jerry Dela Cruz, the Director of the Admission Office, and Richard R. Pernia, chair of the Department of Political Science.
Dela Cruz was the commencement speaker in a Junior High School in Margus while Pernia was passing by after delivering his commencement speech at a graduation ceremony in Jose Abad Santos, Davao Occidental.
Both professors were fascinated by this senior citizen Senior High School graduate. Hence, they encouraged Tatay Davy to seek admission to MSU General Santos. At 62, he took the Admission and Scholarship Examination in a testing center in Malapatan town in Sarangani. Unfortunately, he got a score of 50 which was below the passing mark of 75. He said Admission Director Dela Cruz told him that he was not eligible to enrol directly in any course at the University because of his low score but since he is a member of the Blaans, he was qualified to get admitted through MSU’s Cultural Bound Program (CBP).
As a CBP student, he spent 45 days of remedial classes during the summer of 2018. Afterwards, the Department of Political Science accepted him as a regular first-year student. In the BA Political Science program, Davy was treated dearly as ‘tatay’ by his classmates.
Student life and health secrets
Like typical students, Tatay Davy spent his university days attending classes and doing usual student activities. Like his classmates, he was also seen on campus wearing the MSU Physical Education uniform during his first and second years in college. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Philippines, which resulted in a widespread lockdown across the country and forced the University to implement online classes, Tatay Davy stayed in Batutuling and continued attending online classes, despite his advanced age.
Adapting to a new learning modality, Tatay Davy purchased a new smartphone and pre-paid wifi router to join his classmates for classes conducted via Zoom or Google classrooms. Like his batchmates, Tatay Davy finished four semesters at MSU through online classes.
Tataty Davy was able to avail of the Tertiary Education Scholarship from the Commission on Higher Education, which granted him a stipend of 20,000 pesos per semester or 4,000 pesos per month. His stipend helped defray food and transportation expenses during his stint at MSU General Santos. On top of his stipend, he is likewise receiving an honorarium of 6,000 pesos as a Barangay Kagawad in Batutuling. According to him, a good portion of his monthly stipend and honorarium pays for the education of his nieces and nephews.
Despite his senior years, Tatay Davy remains healthy and full of vigor, does not have any degenerative illness, and his health secrets are a combination of a healthy lifestyle and a simple diet. He does daily exercises and prefers walking instead of riding motorcycles. He is proud to say that he is still very much capable of climbing mountains without exhaustion. He is attributing his sound health to his diet, which is full of vegetables and less meat. Another interesting health secret he shared is a special type of concoction that he drinks when he is in his community.
Tatay Davy does not take any synthetic vitamins. Instead, he believes that his strength and vigor were reinforced by an esoteric Blaan brew made by boiling the bark of a particular tree called Kayo Linti, which is claimed by the tribe to have many potent ethnopharmacological properties. According to Tatay, he takes the Kayo Linti juice day and night whenever he is in Batutuling.
After his July 14 graduation, Tatay Davay is determined to learn and pursue further education. He wants to enrol in the Master in Public Administration Program of the MSU School of Graduate Studies and says if he finishes that degree, he will go for a Juris Doctor degree at the university’s College of Law.
The story of Tatay Davy is proof that MSU-General Santos is fulfilling its reason for existence and facilitating transformative change in the lives of Moro and Indigenous Peoples in the southern Philippines.
Tatay Davy’s graduation is also a testament that age is not a barrier to earning a university degree in a prestigious institution of higher learning, as long as one has the enduring spirit and unfaltering determination to reach the pinnacle of success.
(Dr. Jovanie C. Espesor is the Research Director and Chair of the Department of Political Science of the MSU-GenSan. He thanks Jessiebel L. Manansang, a member of the staff of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension of MSU-GenSan for transcribing his interview).