MONUMENT, a DAR ARMM bi-annual newsletter

Vice-Mayor Ingatun “Tong” Istarul of Tipo-tipo Municipality, Basilan graciously received his copy of MONUMENT, a DAR ARMM bi-annual newsletter. In this January-June 2016 issue, he was featured as model agrarian reform beneficiary (ARB) in DAR’s regular documentation of #KwentongAgraryo#umaarangkaDAR #EndMereCompliance #KwentoSaBawatKwenta

Read more about his inspiring story…


Do not call me mayor. It’s only a temporal thing. I prefer to be known as a farmer because it is my lifetime profession.” So says this man of Yakan descent who rose from a lad of humble beginnings to a father of a town.

Ingatun Lukman Istarul, Tong to friends and family, was no stranger to hard work and sacrifices in life. His father worked for a wealthy Christian landowner, Dr. Alejandro Infante, who owned Tipo-tipo Development Company or TIDECO, a rubber plantation, in the far-flung mountain town of Tipotipo in Basilan. He himself was a tapper at a tender age of 16 and worked for a couple of years that translated to stopping school for him. Luck struck for the young Tong when the Infantes took him into their folds and gave him a college scholarship. It was something his peers would not likely experience as life was designed for them to become tappers like their fathers’. Seeing the importance of agriculture in his hometown, he obtained a degree in Agriculture major in agronomy in Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City. Right after graduation, the company offered him work.

The advent of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in 1988 changed the lives of TIDECO’s 107 workers who stood to inherit the rolling plantation that sat on 286.5871 hectares. When the CARP Law took effect, TIDECO was the first to offer its property under a voluntary offer to sell (VOS) scheme, identifying Istarul as one of its agrarian reform beneficiaries. Though the landowners suffered the low valuation formula then established by the Department of Agrarian Reform, they nevertheless gave in to the social needs of time. In 1992, the cooperative of agrarian reform beneficiaries took over the management of the plantation under the name of Tipo-tipo Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Agricultural Development Cooperative (TARBADECO) with Istarul as the assistant plantation manager.

Back then, labor strikes were frequent and work was disrupted. Rubber latex could not wait for the working hands. Production suffered. So, Istarul sat down with the workers to hear their grievances and observed that 95% of them were unschooled. In a bid to transform them into learned people, he negotiated with the
schools division superintendent for a non-formal education. Sessions were held every afternoon after work hours. Related trainings were also conducted to fit in the educational requirements of the workers pertaining to cooperative management and operations.

When the top management of the company left, he also thought of leaving especially there were tempting offers of higher-paying jobs outside. However, Dr. Infante, who pinned his high hopes on the young man, reminded him that no one would lead and take care of the workers. He decided to stay and eventually became the plantation manager. Times proved hard and difficult for Istarul. There was an uphill battle with finances, a challenge that tested his managerial skills. For six months, each worker was paid a month’s worth of work for an equivalent of 15 days only. Those were the dark days of perseverance and sacrifices. The young manager, who has known hard work and sacrifices at a tender age took them like a duck to water and geared the cooperative out of its financial turmoil in two years’ time.

Years later, he became the municipal agriculturist, aiming to uplift the lives of the farmers through modern agricultural techniques. He pondered that if he had worked outside government services, he would have limited access to assistance on agricultural development. And in 2007, when the people clamored for a leader who could bring them good services, he found himself in the forefront. The people wanted him to run for mayor. There was uncertainty on his part because he was then facing not an ordinary opponent, but someone who belongs to a big political group of the province. Added to that, he had no campaign funds to his name, but the people’s high trust and confidence put him through the polls and paved the way for him to the municipal hall.

When he took the helm of leadership as the new mayor of Tipo-tipo, he noted there was no semblance of government. Basic social services such as health care and water system were not fully delivered. He set his initiative mind working. He sought and availed of assistance he could find and gave the town a refreshed physical image by providing a new town hall and office spaces for other government agencies. Concreted farm-to-market roads made agricultural produce easy to transport to the market. Constituents now enjoy water services being piped in to their individual homes.

There is a functional health center with his son, a medical doctor, serving as its municipal health officer. It is a given fact that a doctor’s visit to far-flung rural municipalities are far and in between and many have died without seeing or even knowing a physician all their lives. People could be lucky to get medical attention during civic actions and medical missions mostly conducted by the military.

His humble beginnings kept both his feet planted firmly on the ground. He remained down-to-earth and approachable, stressing education as the best legacy he could leave behind which his contemporaries failed to achieve. He identified poverty and ignorance as the root cause of insurgency in the area. Very young men or even boys in pre-adolescent years are recruited for their malleable minds into terrorism, leading them to believe that there is better quality of life in that kind of act. Because he knew the importance of education, he worked with the Basilan State College administration in the capital town of Isabela to establish an extension school in Tipo-Tipo. He defended all the way up to the Board of Regents the need to set up a tertiary education in his hometown. One of the requirements was to enroll a minimum of 100 pioneer students.

The requirement fell short at 85 enrollees. Driven as he was, the local government of Tipo-tipo subsidized the education of the remaining 15 students. At present, the Basilan State College Tipo-Tipo Extension has in its fold 265 students enrolling in Agriculture and vocational courses. The pioneers will graduate in March next year.

Mayor Istarul also counted his children as his achievement. This father of nine has two of them serving the municipality as engineer and doctor. One also earned a degree in accountancy while the rest of them are still in college and high school. He stressed to them the importance of education and instilled them a life of humility by being contented of what they have and living within their means. He also taught them to be practical and not to be arrogant.

Truly, from one sleepy town to a bustling place, this 52-year old agrarian reform beneficiary- turnedmayor has a lot to dream about for his beloved Tipo-tipo to make it a better place to live. He attributed his success to the Almighty Allah for shaping the kind of person he is now.

He was also thankful for Dr. Infante for giving him the opportunity of a college degree and to lead the people. Now on his third and final term, there is no stopping Mayor Istarul from making Tipo-tipo a vibrant and progressive community to live.

pp. 37-38, Ingatun Istarul: From Coop Leader to Town Leader Kwentong Agraryo, Monument, January-June 2016 Issue.

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