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Traditional knowledge, modern systems: Nurturing government talent and Indigenous culture in the Cordillera

By blending traditional knowledge and modern systems, Kalinga scholar improved government human resource practice and promote the indigenous culture in the Cordillera region.

Cornelia “Nel” Rillera, a member of the Kalinga Tribe, an indigenous community in the Cordillera Administrative Region, was 51 years old when she pursued postgraduate studies in Australia. Through the Australia Awards Scholarship, she completed Human Resource Management at the University of Newcastle.

“In Australia, I saw the value of strategic human resource management. There is a critical partnership between management and the HR unit compared to traditional HR practice that I have observed in the Philippines where HR is a side function only and not a major key element.”

On her return from Australia, Nel did not lose any time in applying what she learned to to develop a Strategic Performance Management System Manual for her team at tge Civil Service Commission (CSC) Cordillera.

As the chairperson of the performance management team of the CSC in Cordillera, Nel and her team dealt with recurring HR problems such as the lack of standards on quality, efficiency, and timeliness in self-rating personnel; time-consuming review and calibration processes; and inconsistency in applying performance measurements.

To address these challenges, Nel focused on developing policies and rolling-out a Strategic Performance Management System for her office as her re-entry action plan (REAP) for Australia Awards.

Teresita Biteng, Chief Human Resource Specialist at the CSC Cordillera regional office, underscored the relevance of the manual. “The Strategic Performance Management System Manual that Nel developed has served as a guide in implementing performance management system in regional and field offices and as reference for other agencies in crafting their performance standards. These standards are continuously revised to align with the CSC’s overall performance objectives”.

Meanwhile, Ruby Verceles, former Head of CSC Cordillera’s Human Resource Division said “It was beneficial for me – I used the manual as a reference in helping other government agencies develop their agency performance standards. The agencies appreciated it because it allowed them to understand performance standards as measures in evaluating the individual performance of their employees”.

The implementation of the Strategic Performance Management System allowed the CSC Cordillera staff to be more focused on essential duties – and that is providing better services to almost 2 million people in the Cordillera region. As a result, even with just 43 staff in the regional office, CSC Cordillera ranked as number one among 16 CSC regional offices for three consecutive years (2016-2018). They were also categorised as “Best Office” under the guidelines of the Performance-Based Bonus, which benefitted all CSC Cordillera officials and employees.

Empowering the IP Community

Nel continues to apply her learnings in Australia to other initiatives beyond her REAP. Aside from her dedication to her work at the CSC, Nel is also passionate about promoting Cordilleran cultural heritage. As an advocate of wearing indigenous or traditional Cordilleran attire, she encouraged the use of authentic weaves such as inabel produced by local women weavers for the gala uniforms of CSC CAR . She also encourages employees to wear colourful Cordillera-inspired attire during events such as awards programs and ceremonies, conventions, and symposiums.

“This advocacy was also inculcated in me during my stay in Australia. Indigenous Australians have been the owners and custodians of a vibrant culture in Australia – the oldest living culture in the world – which continue to flourish and enrich the country up to this day. It is my dream for our indigenous culture to continue to thrive and be carried into future generations in our country, said Nel.

As part of her advocacy, Nel also ensures that CSC CAR events incorporate native chants and cultural presentations. Every October, to mark National Indigenous Peoples’ Month, she and CSC staff share indigenous stories, poems, and riddles. During the pandemic Nel also coordinated with the Department of Trade and Industry-Kalinga to promote and sell face masks made of Cordilleran weaves to support women’s groups.

Nel’s passion for service continues to inspire indigenous communities in Kalinga, especially women. Recently, inspired by Australian natural parks , Nel also developed a passion for gardening, which led her to set up her own “Ivy’s Garden” Resort and Farm in La Union, where locals can commune with nature. The farm employs women gardeners which became an essential source of livelihood specially during the pandemic.

After 33 years of service at the CSC CAR, Nel was reassigned to CSC Regional Office I in San Fernando City, La Union as Director III, effective 1 January 2022.

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