Helping fulfill a young girl’s dream

A young girl from the mountain village of Malibatuan in Arakan town is on the way to fulfilling her dream of earning a college degree from the country’s premiere state university with the help of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

In a letter to Board Member Rodrigo Escudero (2nd District, North Cotabato), Chairman of the SP Committee on Education, 18-year old Keizel Fernando asked the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to endorse her as a nominee of the province for the “Iskolar ng Bayan” ladderized curriculum program of the University of the Philippines-Manila in Palo, Leyte.

The provincial board granted her request in a resolution passed upon the motion of BM Escudero in last Tuesday’s 100th SP Regular Session.

Keizel, 10th in a brood of 11, graduated valedictorian at Malibatuan High School last year. Her parents however cannot afford to send her to college. Her father Pelagio Fernando and mother Myrna Marcelino are both ordinary farmers.

Keizel said inclusion in the program will help her greatly in pursuing a college education and building a better future for herself and her family.

There is now new hope for Keizel.

When Peace Sings its Song

Living in a place where the barrier between Christians and Muslims is very visible and knowing that it has been existing for years, I had reason to believe that it will take a very long time to break the walls that divide these groups.

Until one Wednesday afternoon, two young Muslim girls were invited by Vice Governor Manny Piñol to sing a song to the listeners of his radio program, Vice Gob Manny ug ang mga Panday sa Balaud.

To the accompaniment of an electric organ, the girls’ combined voices sang the Lord’s Prayer, a Christian religious song. They were so comfortable with the song it was as if they have been singing it for years.

I am a Catholic and hearing a prayer so fundamental to my religion being sung by two young girls who had different beliefs from mine made me think that maybe, just maybe, our beliefs somehow hold some things in common, and would somehow meet in understanding someday .

When they sang the words of the Lord’s Prayer in their own dialect, I had goose bumps all over my arms. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These children, who have been witnesses and victims of the cruel realities of a conflict with religious undertones are praying to the same God whom I adore. They were singing my prayer with passion, with a heart that feels and a soul that humbles itself to the Lord. I said to myself, perhaps the healing process in Mindanao is already slowly taking place in these two young girls.

I always knew that people might have different religions, but they worship the same God. My mother taught me that and I’ve always believed it. But sometimes, because of certain differences in beliefs and traditions, these religions tend to clash with each other and misunderstanding among their followers happen.

When the song ended, I grabbed the chance to talk to these young girls. The first thing that I noticed was their smiles. They were so innocent and so full of life. They were the smiles of hope, of love and of faith. I should say I have loved those smiles, those smiles that inspire and comfort.

We started introducing ourselves to each other. Being a few years older than them made me feel more interested about them. They were young and I wanted to know what they feel, what they want and what they dream of.

Corrine, 15, is a Maguindanaon and Iranon mestiza. It was her father who taught her to sing, she said. Born to a poor family, she dreams of finishing her studies and becoming a nurse someday.

Aishalyn, a pure Maguindanaon, is 16 years old and the eldest of five children. Her father works as a tricycle driver in their hometown, Midsayap. Aisha dreams of becoming a midwife. When I asked her why, she said “Gusto kong ako ang magpaanak ng lahat ng mga babae.” Then she laughed, adding that she loves little kids.

In January 2009, Midsayap Vice Mayor Vicente Doletin formed a group of singers who will sing Christian songs in Maguindanaon. The objective of creating this group is for the Maguindanaons to understand the message of the songs sung by Christians. With this, Maguindanaons may realize that the God of Islam and the God of Christians is the same. So there is no need for us to fight over religion.

Corrine and Aisha are two of the seven chosen singers, and sadly, the only ones left in the group. This has not dampened their spirit, though. They go to different events to perform, backed by a collection of 26 songs translated in Maguindanaon by their official translator, Ms. Fatima Palte.

Just recently, they performed at a youth camp held at the North Cotabato Provincial Capitol compound in Amas, Kidapawan City. They were also invited to sing the opening prayer during the May 12, 2009 Regular Session of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan where Vice Gov. Piñol invited them to sing in his weekly radio program.

Among all the events where they have performed, they said their most unforgettable experience was when they were invited to perform in a youth camp in Mt. Carmel. They said the audience were very attentive and it overwhelms them when they see people are deeply moved by their songs. They said sometimes they see people crying and it makes them happy because they knew that they have delivered very well not only the message of their songs but the more importantly, they have delivered very well the message of peace and love and unity.

In their four months of friendship, Corrine and Aisha have established certain similarities. Both want to visit Baguio City. They said they would surely enjoy the cold climate of the country’s summer capital. They also both like to sing the Christian song entitled I will Run to You. I asked them if they dream of becoming famous singers on TV. They said going to different places to perform would be the best achievement that they could have.

Corrine dreams of going to Ireland, saying she really loved the Irish scenery that she saw in pictures. Aishalyn chooses Indonesia. As a pure blooded Maguindanaon, she says she wants to visit the country with the biggest Muslim population in Asia.

A seed of hope grew inside me after my conversation with Corrine and Aishalyn. I remembered them singing their song, the melody, the words, the emotion. I wish Corrine and Aisha would have many more performances to come. I wish the whole of Mindanao would hear their songs, experience the same feeling I had while was listening to them, and realize that peace is within our reach.

(The preceding article was written by Ms. Princess Martin, a volunteer staff at the office of Vice Gov. Manny Piñol. My appreciation for her permission to post the article here.)

Selling North Cotabato in Thailand

Have you ever imagined a province like North Cotabato, known for bloody conflicts between Moro rebels and government soldiers, supplying the needs of Thailand for hog meat?

That isn’t really an unlikely situation especially with the efforts recently of Vice Governor Manny Piñol, with the support of Land Bank of the Philippines, to position the province as a source of hog meat for one of Thailand’s biggest business conglomerates, Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group, which has interests in agri-business and food manufacturing among others.

Vice Governor Piñol was a recent visitor to Bangkok with Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Land Bank Vice-President Willie Maldea, Mindanao Business Council Chairman Vic Lao, and Mr. Rico Geron who is General Manager of Sorosoro Ibaba Development Cooperative which is Batangas City’s foremost hog meat producer.

Why North Cotabato?

Why not? The province has the potential to become a major player in the hog industry given several distinct advantages. For one, North Cotabato is located in the livestock disease-free island of Mindanao where bio-security measures could easily be implemented.

Hog-raising has always been a major income-generating backyard activity for North Cotabato farmers providing funds required for immediate needs especially in the area of children’s education. 223, 340 of North Cotabato’s total hog population of almost 235,000 are in backyard farms.

The province is a major producer of raw materials for feed production. North Cotabato is the leading producer of corn in the SOCCSKSARGEN which is the country’s number one corn producer. The province has a total of 82,000 hectares planted to corn, the biggest in the region, with an annual production of 492,000 metric tons. North Cotabato is also among the country’s top rice producers, ranked 9th nationwide, ensuring a readily available supply of rice bran.

North Cotabato has codified provincial investment guidelines which provide for tax incentives, and an established agro-industrial park in Pag-asa, Mlang which could be expanded and converted into an export processing zone.

To top all of these, the province has available technical manpower produced by the region’s top state agricultural university, the University of Southern Mindanao which produces graduates in veterinary medicine, animal science and agriculture.

Vice Gov. Piñol believes that given these assets, the province can easily provide CP’s needs – hog meat or corn for feeds. And if realized, a tie-up with CP will assure North Cotabato hog raisers and corn farmers a steady market and a better price for their produce. Even the possibility of the North Cotabato-CP business relationship providing jobs for local labor is not far-fetched.

Is CP buying?

The meeting at the well-furnished conference room in the CP office in Bangkok ended with the Thai conglomerate agreeing to send a team to look into the viability of establishing trade ties with North Cotabato and SIDC.

That definitely is another ray of hope for North Cotabato and its people.

Bravo Braveheart!

(Photo courtesy of


North Cotabato’s Braveheart Boxers really showed Cebu fight fans what our boxers here are made of.

The Braveheart boys rocked Cebu Coliseum in last Saturday’s “Battle of the Bantamweights” and wowed Cebu boxing fans. Cebu sportswriters are all praises for our boys, products of North Cotabato’s “Paboksing Para Sa Masa” program started by then Governor now Vice Governor Manny Piñol.

Vice Gov. Manny has reason to be elated. Eight of the Braveheart boys who fought in Cebu won. More than that, Rolando Magbanua of Pigcawayan now holds the World Boxing Organization Oriental bantamweight champion’s belt, and Jundy Maraon who is from Molave in Zamboanga del Sur but is now based in Kidapawan City is now the new WBO Asia Pacific bantamweight champion.

Vice Gov. Manny had this to say in his article in The Pinoy Boxers Portal.

By Manny Piñol

On a night when World Boxing Organization (WBO) bantamweight champion Gerry Peñalosa fought before Cebu boxing fans for the last time, three young bantamweights from the Southern Philippine Island of Mindanao proved to Filipino boxing fans that there will still be hope and excitement in the sport even after the great champions today will hang their gloves.

Cebu boxing fans who came to watch Peñalosa’s tune up bout against Mexican German Meraz prior to his April 24 fight against Puerto Rican Juan Manuel Lopez for the latter’s WBO superbantamweight belt, were obviously pleasantly surprised that the so-called Boys from the South could make them cheer, stomp their feet and clap their hands.

One after the other, bantamweights Glenn “The Rock” Porras, Jundy “Pretty Boy” Maraon and Rolando “Smooth Operator” Magbanua thrashed their opponents in different fashions and successfully gained entry into the consciousness and the hearts of Filipino boxing fans.

Porras, 23, the gentle farm boy from Luz Village, M’lang, North Cotabato who joined the provincial amateur boxing team at 14, displayed spectacular body punching, tremendous power and a lot of heart as he took a few good shots from lanky Thai fighter Daothon Sithsoey before finally putting down his opponent twice in the first round of a 10-round non-title bout.

Porras, a southpaw, who is handled by Braveheart Boxing Club chief trainer Noli Piñol, my younger brother, along with assistant trainer Bruce Lerio and assisted by Nonito Donaire Sr., improved his record to 21 wins, 3 losses with 15 KOs.

Maraon, who turns 24 this week, a village chief’s son from Molave, Zamboanga del Sur, showed his tremendous punching power and ability to absorb a good shot as he stood toe to toe with WBO Asia Pacific defending champion Jason Egera before unleashing a deadly and picture perfect left cross that knocked out the champion even before he could hit the canvas.

The punch was so powerful that Egera had to be revived, placed in a stretcher and brought to the dressing room where he recovered after several minutes. The 5′ 6″ tall Maraon, also a southpaw like Porras, improved his record to 13 wins, 1 draw and 10 KOs and is now the new WBO Asia Pacific bantamweight champion. He is now handled by Nonito Donaire Sr., with Noli, Bruce Lerio, Joy Angcog and Rex Peñalosa assisting him.

Magbanua, also 23, the right-handed fighter from the frontier town of Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, showed boxing fans why he is called “The Smooth Operator.” For five straight rounds up until Mexican Jose Angel Cota’s corner waved the white towel, Magbanua displayed exceptional ring-cutting skills as he stood right in front of Cota unleashing crisp combinations that practically shredded the Mexican’s face.

Even with his sharp eyes Magbanua took several good shots from the game Mexican but showed he could carry a punch while at the same exhibiting fluid movements as he peppered Cota with short but powerful punches that ended the fight in the 6th round.

Magbanua, who is handled by Noli Piñol and assisted by Nonito Sr., now has a record of 14 wins, 0 loss, with 9 KOs.

Five other boys from Mindanao scored spectacular victories in their first big exposure in Cebu City with only Glenn “Rapid Fire” Gonzales suffering the lone loss for the Boys from the South. Glenn who was making his first outing as a junior lightweight was tagged with a powerful uppercut as he was coming in for the kill in the 2nd round and was never able to recover.

Knocked down twice (the second was not officially declared by the referee but it was a clear knockdown), Glenn lost by unanimous to an unknown but powerful puncher from Manila.

But other than the big letdown in Glenn Gonzales’ fight, Richard “Lion Heart” Betos of Barobo, Surigao del Sur showed why he is called such as he recovered from a near knock down in the first round to stop his foe in the 6th.

Undefeated Lorenzo “Thunderbolt” Villanueva, 22, displaying raw talent and a big heart, scored his 13th knock out win in as many professional fights stopping his opponent Joy Pol, who was three pounds heavier. Still awkward in delivering his punches, the 5′ 7″ tall fighter from Midsayap, North Cotabato showed a lot of power that could make him a big star in the featherweight division in the coming years.

Diminutive Rommel “Little Assassin” Asenjo, 19, also provided a lot of excitement as he punished his opponent with tremendous body shots while at the same time taking several good shots to the head himself. Cebu boxing fans applauded Asenjo after every round as the young boy from Pigcawayan, North Cotabato showed the exceptional big heart that Braveheart boxers have in abundance.

Completing the 8 wins, 1 loss card by the Braveheart Boxers were the unanimous decision victories of Edrin “The Sting” Dapudong and Jermie “The Worm” Jabel.

Judging by the reaction of the fans that packed the historic Cebu Coliseum, the Boys from the South succeeded in entertaining the discriminating boxing fans of Cebu and perhaps the millions more who watched the fights on ABS CBN, Studio 23 and The Filipino Channel which is beamed internationally.

The Battle of the Best Bantamweights achieved what it aimed for: prove to boxing fans that there is life and excitement in Philippine boxing after Gerry Peñalosa, Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire, Jr.

Another one bites the dust

North Cotabato boxing pride is up in the clouds.

It’s three for North Cotabato and zero for Thailand in the two most recent boxing events featuring some of the Braveheart Boxing Club boys.

(Photo courtesy of

(Photo courtesy of The Pinoy Boxers Portal)

In the “Show Of Force” pro-boxing event in the jampacked Midsayap Municipal Gymnasium on November 25, featherweight Lorenzo “Thunderbolt” Villanueva dropped Sommai Suksawaeng to the canvass 48 seconds in the 4th round of their 10 round match to score his 10th knockout win in as many professional fights. Villanueva, from Bual Norte, definitely did his townmates proud as they celebrated Midsayap’s 72nd Foundation Anniversary.

Glenn “The Rock” Porras, ranked by the Philippine Games and Amusement Board as No. 3 bantamweight, was equally victorious against Boonphrom Kamsriphon. Porras relentlessly pressed Kamsriphon to the ropes and  bombarded the Thai journeyman with powerful body punches. Kamsriphon fell to the canvass at 2:26 in the 2nd round, the latest victim of The Rock’s winning streak against Thai fighter since losing by a very close decision to Tabtimdaeng Na Rachawat for the PABA bantamweight title in Tamaka, Thailand in February this year.

But more impressive and telling perhaps was Philippines No. 6 junior featherweight contender Rolando Magbanua’s 3rd round TKO win over Thiti Sithkosol in the Daytime Boxing international card dubbed “Thai Invasion” at the Mandaue City Sports Complex Sunday, November 30.

Sithkosol is no patsy as shown by his record of 10 wins against 5 losses going into the fight. His loss to Magbanua is his first knockout loss.

Magbanua, called “The Smooth Operator” for his artful and smooth fighting style, definitely showed Cebu and Mandaue fight funs the stuff North Cotabato’s pro boxers are made of, completely dominating the young Thai jr. featherwieght prospect Sithkosol from the start of the bout.

Magbanua, a native of Pigcawayan, staggered Sithkosol with a left to the head in the 2nd round and brought the Thai down with a powerful right to the body in the 3rd. Referee Ted Alivio stopped the fight at 2:04 in the 3rd round after Magbanua again threw a barrage of punches to the body of the battered Sithkosol following the resumption of the fight.

(Photo by King Catriz/

(Photo by King Catriz/

So what’s next for the Braveheart boys?

Philippine bantamweight prospect Jundy “Pretty Boy” Maraon and featherweight Glenn “Rapid Fire” Gonzales will go up against still unnamed opponents in the undercard of the Urbano Antillion-Juan Ramon Cruz superfeatherweight encounter in Maywood, California on December 12.

Our hope, of course, is that they win.

Reviving Kalibongan

The Kidapawan City Government is reviving Kalibongan, a festival celebrating North Cotabato’s tribal roots.

Started in the 70’s, Kalibongan – Manobo for “grand festival” according to – gathered together the Manobos, Bagobos, and all other highland tribes in the then municipality of Kidapawan to celebrate their tradition and cultural heritage with their music and dances.

They came in droves on board sugar cane haulers, brought color to the streets of North Cotabato’s premiere town with their costumes, and festively danced as they paraded down the asphalt main street from the plaza and back again.

Kalibongan became so famous in those days that it was included in the Department of Tourism’s list of festivals foreign and local tourists should see and experience.

After EDSA 1, Kalibongan bowed out of the festival scene.

News of its revival is undoubtedly a welcome one, especially in Kidapawan which is considered as one of the centers of tribal culture and tradition in North Cotabato.

Perhaps, another facet could be added in this revived Kalibongan – one which celebrates the progress that tribal people and communities in these parts have achieved.

More than just highlighting their costumes, music, dances and traditions, celebrating their achievements in their struggle for a better life would make Kalibongan truly meaningful and a real festival for the indigenous  people of Kidapawan and North Cotabato.


Homegrown heroes

It has always been a source of pride for the people of Mindanao that Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao is from down here. People from SOCCSKSARGEN – or Region XII made up of South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Saranggani and General Santos – find even greater pride that the world’s top pound-for-pound boxer is a “kababayan.”

Nothing beats having your own hometown hero, though.

North Cotabato can take pride in the fact that in Philippine boxing today, the top contenders in a number of weight divisions are promising young boxers from the Kidapawan City-based Braveheart Boxing Club.

Yes, folks. We have our own national champions and even world titlists in the making, honed and polished down here in our own beloved “Home of the Brave.”

In its September ratings, the Games and Amusements Board ranked Edrin “The Sting” Dapudong, Glenn “The Rock” Porras, and Reynaldo “Boy of Steel” Belandres number 1 in their respective divisions.

Their records show why.

Dapudong, ranked number 1 miniflyweight in the September GAB ratings, has a record of 12 wins with 6 knockouts against 2 losses by decision. His last defeat was dealt by former IBF world miniflyweight champion Muhammad Rachman in Jakarta, Indonesia in April. He recorded successive victories in August and September. In his last fight, he decisioned veteran Julius Alcos in 10 rounds.

This 23-year old from Pag-Asa, M’lang, who now campaigns in the jr. flyweight division, has had the distinction of being the WBO Asia Pacific Minimum Weight Champion.

Porras, number 1 jr. bantamweight in the September GAB ratings, boasts of a record of 16 wins with 12 knockouts against 2 losses by decision.

Porras, who now fights in the bantamweight division, is a picture of power and guts in every fight. In August, he brought down Thai Jackeylec Sithsoie three times for a fifth round TKO in their 10-round non-title match in Magpet. In their September fight in M’lang, he pummeled veteran Dondon Jimenea to submission, again in the fifth round, for another TKO victory. In his last fight on Oct. 19 in Pigcawayan, the 23-year old from Luz Village, Mlang knocked out Roland Malinao in the first round. His last loss was in February in a PABA bantamweight championship in Thailand which ended in a very close decision.

Like Dapudong, he has held the WBO Asia Pacific Youth Champion title.

Belandres has shown the most improvement in the rankings. From no. 5 in August, he has gone up to no. 1 jr. featherweight in the September ratings following a first round knockout in August against Thai Bureerunpor Palungchai in Magpet.

The former national amateur boxing team member from Dalapitan, Matalam, also 23, has a record of 9 wins with 7 knockouts with 1 draw. The draw came in the fight against Jun Eraham for the PBF jr. featherweight championship Oct. 11 following a cut suffered by Belandres in the 4th round.

Two other Braveheart Boxing Club fighters made it to the September rankings. They are US-based Jundy “Pretty Boy” Maraon, 23, a bantamweight with a record of 10 wins with 8 knockouts and 1 draw, rated No. 3 in the bantamweight division and former amateur standout Rolando “Smooth Operator” Magbanua, 23, a jr. featherweight who is undefeated with 11 wins with 7 knockouts rated No. 11 in the jr. featherweight division.

North Cotabato has always taken pride in producing championship caliber fighters. Best remembered in the amateur ranks are brothers Arlan and Danilo Lerio of Antipas. Arlan fought in the bantamweight division and Danilo as a jr. flyweight in the Sydney Olympic Games, the first time in Philippine history that siblings represented the country in the same event in the same Olympics.

With the Braveheart boxers, products of a grassroots amateur boxing program started in 1998 by then Governor Manny Piñol, now Vice Governor of the province, the tradition lives on.


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