It was last week, October 28 to be exact, in the wake of typhoon Quinta, when photos of a man wearing a soiled shirt and jeans doing construction work caught the Internet’s attention. The reason the post became viral was not because he was doing construction work at night. The reason why it became viral was because he was actually also the principal of Habana Integrated School in Buruanga, Aklan.
The unassuming principal, 59, is Elmer Lumbo, who has been serving as principal of the said school for ten years now. The person who posted the photographs was his 21-year-old son, Jose Elvis, who visited his father that night to remind him not to forget his dinner.
Sir Lumbo, as his students address him, explains to ANCX in an interview that it was never his intention to get media attention. “Pinagalitan ko pa nga ang anak kong si Elvis nung pinost nya yung mga litrato sa Facebook. But he told me he only did that only for fun and to bring good vibes among his Facebook friends.” Through the post, Lumbo earned the admiration of the education community.
ANCX was luckily able to interview Sir Lumbo Monday via Zoom to ask about the story behind the photographs. He said he was out for a seminar that day when he got a call at 4pm from the division office informing him that they need to submit an accomplishment report the following day, otherwise they won’t be able to receive the next tranche of their MOE. The principal was referring to the Maintenance and other Operating Expenses that partly goes to the printing of modular materials for their students. Since there’s no internet connection in their area, they’ve been adopting DepEd’s modular learning, a form of distance learning where children use self-learning modules to study their lessons.
“Wala talaga kaming pagkukunang iba [ng budget],” he said, expressing concern over what could have happened if they were not able to submit the requirement. During our interview, Lumbo was seated outdoors in the school grounds so his phone data could catch a signal. He is very fatherly and self-effacing.
The Buruanga born educator tells me that typhoon Quinta brought some heavy downpour to their area, so they had to postpone the construction work that was scheduled to be done days prior. Photos posted on Facebook showed the area being constructed was a concrete ladder with riprap. It was intended to be a play, waiting and/or study area for the students. “When we submit the accomplishment report, it has to include photos before, during, and after the construction,” says the principal.
He asked the school’s utility workers to do overtime work so they could finish the project, then when he realized it was already getting late, he allowed the two others to go home. “Salamat naman na hindi umulan noon, hindi nag-brownout, at talagang in high spirits ako kaya natapos namin ang trabaho,” he said, his smile revealing a few wrinkles around his eyes.
Lumbo’s eldest son, Jose Elmer, who’s also a teacher in the integrated school, sent me photographs of Habana, showing what his father was describing during our interview. The school, which has a land area of close to 12,000 square meters, was constructed on a sloped terrain. “Parang hagdan itong paaralan namin, merong mataas, merong mababa. Hindi patag, bulubundukin,” said Sir Lumbo. So in order to prevent erosion, they have been building ripraps or layers of stones or concrete. He says it’s also one way of making the school’s landscape even more beautiful.
Lumbo said he’s been doing construction work for his own alma mater—because he also spent his elementary years in Habana—since he assumed the post as principal in 2010. This is because he feels the workers need guidance. He would really make sure he’s with them to make sure they are doing things correctly. “Kasi kung hindi maganda ang pagkagawa, maaring ipaulit ko yan, magiging karagdagang gastos pa,” he said, adding how he’s very meticulous when it comes to the quality of construction work, even at home.
The school is over 40 years old. Some of the buildings—there are 11 of them—were built in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. But when he arrived ten years ago, there weren’t any ripraps yet. “Ibang-iba na ang itsura ng school, yan ang madalas na binabanggit ng mga bumibisita ditong guro at mag-aaral,” he happily shared.
While his work as principal is already quite demanding—he’s fulfilling the roles of three administrators: for elementary school, junior high school, and senior high school—he says doing construction work for the school has been a source of joy for him. “Inaalalayan ko ang mga manggagawa para maganda ang resulta, kasi pag di maganda, hindi rin maganda ang pakiramdam ko. Ginagawa ko lang ito para makatulong para gumanda ang aming paaralan,” he says.
He doesn’t mind going the extra mile, even if that would mean being in school at 2am or 4am to do the needed paper work such as liquidation reports, to water the plants at 5am (“Pagdating kasi ng alas-siyete, wala ng tubig), or to be the one to switch the school lights on and off as they have no security guard to do so.
“Kasiyahan ko po talagang gawin ito. Likas lang talaga sa akin ang gumawa ng ganito,” he says, careful not to sound like he’s bragging.
Sir Lumbo was only six years old when he lost his father; he died at the young age of 26. “Ang tatay ko ay konduktor at ang nanay ko ay second year high school lang ang natapos,” the principal shared. In order to help his family, he worked as a porter in a hardware in Quezon City after finishing high school. “Yung gawain ko noon, tagabuhat ng malalaking tabla, mabibigat na kahoy,” he says.
He never thought he could still continue his education, until an aunt offered to send him to college. And that was how he was able to take up Bachelor of Science in Practical Arts at Iloilo School of Arts and Trades in La Paz, Iloilo City, which led him to the teaching career. He has been in the teaching profession since 1983. In 2004, after 19 years in the profession, he was promoted to become head teacher in a barangay in Buruanga. In 2019, he was promoted to become the principal of a school in Altavas, Aklan, before he was re-assigned to his hometown in Buruanga in 2010 to serve as principal of Habana Integrated School.
“Talagang na-appreciate ko ang pagiging guro at pagiging principal. Awa ng Diyos, kahit na hindi tayo nakatapos ng masteral degree, naging principal pa din,” he says smiling.
As head of a school in a far-flung area, he sees it as part of his mission to inculcate in his students the importance of education. “Kasi ngayon ang pag-unlad ng tao, nababatay sa edukasyon. Mahirap na ngang makahanap ng trabaho ang nakatapos ng pag-aaral, what more yung hanggang senior high school lang?” said Sir Lumbo. “Ang pagkakamit ng edukasyon ang paraan para sila ay makatulong sa pagpapaunlad ng ating pamayanan. At para din mapaunlad ang kanilang sarili.”