The cultural work of Michael Angelo Yambok

The cultural work of Michael Angelo Yambok

MICHAEL Angelo “Yumi” Yambok mentions that being a cultural worker for the Tboli people is a tradition in his family. He has witnessed how his aunts, uncles, grandparents, and parents have been profoundly impacted by this role. Yambok believes that being a cultural worker is vital in empowering their tribe.

In the past, Yambok sometimes felt excluded during cultural events. He would observe the Helobung Cooperative, a group of Tboli artisans, with great interest and feel inadequate because he did not possess the same level of artistic skills.

“Unlike my other family members, I had to accept that I don’t possess the same skills. Whether it’s dancing, playing musical instruments, chanting, or crafting handicrafts, I’m not naturally inclined toward any of these. I always felt as though I was being left behind,” he confesses.

Yambok studied community development at Santa Cruz Mission School Inc. in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. During college, he participated in street dancing, unknowingly preparing for his future. His involvement deepened his love for Tboli dance.

After college, Yambok taught at his alma mater while also working as a volunteer cultural worker. He immersed himself in Tboli communities in South Cotabato and even in Kiamba, Sarangani Province.


Taking charge as the Helobung Cooperative’s former members faded, Yambok rebranded it as the Helobung Community Dance Troupe, Inc. He honed his managerial skills to lead effectively, recognizing the group’s significant impact on the community.

The Helobung Community Dance Troupe now receives invitations to events nationwide.


Yambok ensures to share the knowledge gained from these experiences with Lake Sebu, his hometown, showing his commitment to giving back.

If you only think about yourself, you can’t truly feel the happiness within you. You need to pay it forward and always give back to the community. Opportunities become useless if you remain passive towards them.

Michael Angelo “Yumi” Yambok

Diverse roles in the community

After teaching at Santa Cruz Mission School, he moved to the Department of Education (DepEd) and worked as a teacher at Lamlahak Elementary School from 2013 to 2020. Later, he transferred to Tboli Sbu Senior High School, where he taught from 2020 to 2021. Despite his commitment to DepEd, he still actively pursues his cultural interests and has successfully built a network.


“I don’t want my passion to overshadow my teaching job. Despite my full-time role, I dedicated my weekends to volunteer work. There were occasions when I took a ‘leave without pay’ to engage in cultural initiatives for the community.”

Yambok openly admitted that working for DepEd presented a difficult situation for him.

Juggling his dedication to education with his love for cultural initiatives proved to be quite challenging. The education field came with its own set of obstacles, sometimes affecting his cultural projects. Nevertheless, he was thankful for the understanding and support he received from his school principals, who acknowledged the value of his cultural contributions.

In his capacity as an educator, Yambok also held the position of National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Tboli/Ubo Cluster Head from 2017 to 2022. In this role, he advocated for the interests of the Tboli/Ubo group and submitted project proposals on their behalf to the NCCA.


Apart from overseeing the Helobung Community Dance Troupe, he was the founder of the Lake Sebu Youth Network. This active network organizes annual events centered on arts, culture, tourism, community development, and education, led by enthusiastic Tboli youth volunteers.

Yambok, together with Prima Hower, established the Tboli Community Library in 2020. His idea for a local library was inspired by his involvement in the DepEd Community Mobile Reading Program, which assisted elementary students struggling with reading every Saturday.

The Tboli Community Library is open on weekends. Recently, Yambok has been collecting Tboli references to enhance the library’s book collection. He is also arranging a summer reading camp and aims to motivate others to replicate the library model in different Tboli communities.

Furthermore, Yambok co-manages the School of Indigenous Knowledge with his sister. They are planning to relocate it near the library, adding a Helobung house to provide cultural education to young Tbolis.

“Education provides us with the light and inspiration to persevere in life. It’s our weapon against ignorance, discrimination, and cultural stereotyping. Because of education, we feel empowered,” he asserts.

Currently, he is the President of the Lake Sebu Cultural Workers Association, a dynamic platform where cultural enthusiasts collaborate energetically. Alongside other cultural workers in their community, they lead efforts in cultural preservation and education. They also actively work to influence policies that protect their heritage and advocate for their rights.

Observing the changes

Yambok closely observed the changes that have occurred in his hometown, including infrastructure, economy, and culture. He reflects on these transformations, contemplating how they have impacted the town and its residents.

“In the past,” he reflects, “our culture was rich and abundant. However, the current times bear witness to its evolution, most noticeably in our language and practices. For instance, the Tboli people are now fluent in Hiligaynon, yet many would struggle to converse in their own native tongue.”

The intermingling of Ilonggo and Tboli cultures in Lake Sebu, coupled with external influences, has ushered in a unique blend of impacts, both positive and negative, on the town and its people.

Within the realms of anthropology and sociology, the term “cultural acculturation” is used to describe the process wherein an individual or group alters their existing culture by assimilating or adapting characteristics from another culture, typically as a product of sustained interaction.

For example, as a result of cultural acculturation, a majority of the Tboli youth now show a preference for attending local discos over participating in traditional cultural events. The challenge remains in fostering a deep appreciation and love for their own culture and identity among the youth.

He has also taken notice of the “commercialization” of the Tboli culture. In his view, there is some truth to this, particularly in the context of socio-economic demands, specifically for their tangible culture.

“Previously, we regarded the Tnalak cloth as sacred. Now, due to its commercial value, it has transformed into a commodity. Some have altered its color or designs. This is also the case with other Tboli handicrafts. You really need to feed yourself in order to survive. As long as we do not lose ourselves in this economic endeavor.”

Yambok also recognizes the “bastardization” of their culture, citing the case of local fashion designers who are not deeply immersed in the Tboli culture. Yambok, along with other cultural workers, corrected them in a respectful manner, emphasizing the importance of cultural sensitivity and awareness.

These challenges serve as a driving force for Yambok and his fellow cultural workers in Lake Sebu to persist in their cultural endeavors. For him, the challenge is twofold: not only are they cultural workers, but they are also custodians of their own culture.

The cultural bearers

According to Yambok, engaging in cultural work does not necessitate a Ph.D. or any specialized education. What truly matters is the right motivation, passion, and understanding to excel in this advocacy.

“In your role as a cultural worker, knowledge is key,” he emphasizes. “Perfection isn’t the goal, but rather a commitment to learning and researching about the culture. The competition isn’t with others, but with oneself in the pursuit of knowledge.”

He underscores the importance of learning from those who have walked the path before you. Engaging with other cultural workers to exchange information is crucial, fostering a spirit of collaboration and continuous learning. His aunt and mentor, Maria “Oyog” Todi, serves as a beacon of inspiration in his journey.

Assuming the roles of cultural workers and bearers of culture comes with its own set of challenges and issues. These range from feelings of jealousy over others’ opportunities to the spread of malicious gossip within the group. These are just some of the hurdles that need to be addressed internally. As the president of their organization, Yambok emphasizes the importance of understanding, love, and unity and highlights the significance of their cultural work. 

“We are not perfect. We make mistakes at times,” he acknowledges. “We should be open to feedback from our fellow cultural workers, especially those who are more experienced. If we make a mistake, we should accept it and seek forgiveness. We should also respect and support the community projects of others. As cultural workers, we should move in harmony, like dancers to a single melody,” he advises.

Yambok acknowledges that he has grappled with his own undesirable behaviors in the past. For instance, he was quite outspoken on social media, particularly when he disagreed with the actions of his fellow cultural workers in Lake Sebu. He concedes that much of his commentary was misinterpreted, leading to misunderstandings. However, he eventually managed to dispel the doubts cast upon him. He expresses gratitude for these experiences, as they have been instrumental in his personal growth and learning.

“Often, the mission of a cultural worker is not readily understood by others. However, this very challenge serves to broaden my perspective and foster greater understanding. Given our educational backgrounds, we command a certain level of respect from the community. Yet, it is crucial that our hearts are truly aligned with the work we undertake.”

For Yambok, the most rewarding aspects of being a cultural worker encompass the knowledge he acquires and imparts, the experiences he garners, the opportunities that come his way, and the diverse individuals he meets.


His relentless efforts on Lake Sebu have not gone unnoticed. He has been lauded for his initiatives, earning him several accolades. Notably, he was honored as the “Hero of the Year 2020-2022 COVID-19 Pandemic Frontliners” by Women of Global Change.


Furthermore, he was recognized as one of the “Outstanding South Cotabatenos 2022” and was a regional finalist in the “Search for Outstanding Youth Volunteers of the Philippines” in both 2018 and 2022.

Lobbying efforts

When the chance to enter politics in the 2022 election presented itself, he seized this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and resigned from DepEd. He campaigned for the position of municipal councilor, but unfortunately, he did not win. However, this setback did not deter him from his cultural work. The experience only fueled his determination to advocate for culture-related policies in their town.


Yambok currently serves as Tourism Operations Officer 1 at the Lake Sebu Tourism Office, where his role primarily involves planning and generating tourism revenue. As a government employee, he ensures that the public is well-informed about government-related programs in their town.

He views cultural workers as the local government’s human resources and partners in the cultural empowerment of the Tboli tribe. He acknowledges the lukewarm support for cultural development in Lake Sebu and emphasizes the need for a long-term solution for cultural protection.

“We should safeguard our Tboli culture through sustainable policies and programs. I am aware of the minimal support for cultural development. Perhaps it is not the priority at the moment. Despite the lack of financial and policy support, our local government still extends their moral support to our initiatives. We are seeking a long-term solution. It’s insufficient if only private initiatives are addressing this issue,” he states.

Yambok notes that, to date, there is no local ordinance or adaptation of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act Law. They are hopeful for a local contextualization of the said national policy.

Big expectations

The Municipality of Lake Sebu recently celebrated the recognition of three new Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (Gamaba) awardees: Bundos Bansil Fara for Tboli brass casting, Barbara Kibed Ofong for Tboli textile weaving, and Rosie Godwino Sula for Tboli chanting.

This new recognition brings with it significant expectations.

Yambok challenges these cultural masters to mentor more students throughout their lives to ensure the survival of their cultural traditions. He underscores the role of cultural workers in supporting these cultural masters in Lake Sebu, emphasizing that without unity, their efforts would be futile.

He insists that cultural workers should not be passive or complacent in their advocacy work and that their service should not be half-hearted. He also highlights the importance of a support system among themselves and the community.

Acknowledging that he is not getting any younger, Yambok believes it’s crucial not to focus solely on himself but to allow others to excel in their respective fields. He underscores the vital role of the Tboli youth as their successors in their cultural work.

“I aim to empower others and share opportunities. I cherish being with my people and staying in the community. It’s never too late to work together for the empowerment of our tribe. It’s also time to multiply ourselves and train others,” he says.

While he admits that he lacks the means to measure the impact of his cultural work, he finds satisfaction and happiness in the positive feedback he receives from those whose lives he has touched through his work.

“Being a cultural worker is a gift. It’s a calling. We do cultural work as our health permits,” he concludes. Genory Vanz Alfasain/ Contributor


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