From being ‘pulot’ boy, young Badjao now a Palaro 2018 tennis player

ILOCOS SUR, Philippines – Three years ago, Ignohassan Mustagid just watched tennis matches on the sidelines in Tawi-Tawi. 

The 11-year-old Badjao was a “pulot” boy – he picked up tennis balls when they go out of bounds and he handed them back to the players. He got P20 for every match. 

Now, Ignohassan is the the pride of Lamion town at the tennis elementary boys division of the Palarong Pambansa 2018.

He was discovered by his current supervisor and neighbor Haiver Ismah, who noticed Ignohassan started playing tennis with other pulot boys using pieces of plywood.

Kumuha sila ng mga lumang plywood, ‘yong maliliit, ginagamit nilang panglaro. Hanggang sa pumupasok na ‘yong mga bola nila,” Haiver told Rappler. 

(They got small, old pieces of plywood and used them to play. Until one day, they were able to hit the ball towards the other side of the court.)

Players eventually let Ignohassan borrow their tennis rackets while they rest at the court.

Ignohassan said Haiver approached him last year and asked if he wanted to join Palarong Pambansa.

Sabi niya, ‘Puwede ka sumama ng Palaro? Eh ‘di okay, tanungin ko lang magulang ko. ‘Anong sabi ng magulang mo? Sasama ka?’ Opo. ‘Sige, ‘wag kang mag-kulit doon ha?’” narrated the Badjao boy. 

(He asked me, ‘Do you want to join Palaro?’ I said okay, I’ll ask my parents. He then asked, “What did your parents say? Will you join us?’ Yes. He said, ‘Okay, but don’t cause mischief there, okay?’) 

According to Haiver, coaches in Lamion saw the potential in Ignohassan. (READ: Lone Palaro athlete from Marawi wants to play for UST tennis someday)

Nakita namin kung paano siya pumalo. Maganda talaga siyang pumalo. Tsaka ‘yong height niya, medyo matangkad, height advantage kasi dito sa sports,” he said. 

(We saw how he hits the ball. He has a good swing. He is also tall, giving him the height advantage in sports.)

Apart from training Ignohassan, Haiver said they also had to look for ways fund his trip to Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

Ignohassan’s parents do not earn much, with his father working as a porter while his mother does laundry for their neighbors. He is the 3rd among 4 siblings.  

Mahirap talaga ang buhay nila. Tapos nakakalaro ka ng tennis? Tignan mo ‘yong sa iba, mga anak-mayaman ‘yan eh. ‘Yon, nakakahabol na siya,” said Haiver.  

(Their life is hard. And yet he is still able to play tennis? Look at his peers, many of them are children of the rich. But he is still able to keep up.) 

All thanks to the local tennis community, Ignohassan made it to Palarong Pambansa. (READ: LIVE UPDATES: Palarong Pambansa 2018 in Vigan, Ilocos Sur)

Chipping in for Pendeg 

PULOT BOY. Ignohassan uses the money he collects from being a pulot boy to help fund his tennis career. Screenshot by Rappler

PULOT BOY. Ignohassan uses the money he collects from being a pulot boy to help fund his tennis career.

Screenshot by Rappler

To qualify for Palaro, Ignohassan had to make it through the regional meet. The Grade 4 student was supposed to just borrow shoes he can use during the match, but they were too big for him.  

So Haiver asked other tennis players from their town to chip in to get the boy a new pair of shoes. The gesture inspired Ignohassan to do better in the sport. 

Nagpatak din kami, binili namin ng sapatos, para maganda ‘yong paglaro niya. Gano’n ‘yong ginagawa. Parang nai-inspired na siya. Nakikihalubilo na siya sa mga ibang tribe,” said Haiver.

(We chipped in and bought him shoes so he will be able to improve himself. That’s what we did. It inspired him. Now he talks to kids from other tribes.)

The racket Ignohassan is using for Palaro was a donation from another tennis player back home. 

Bago siya pumunta dito, dapat may baon itong si – ang tawag namin sa kanya si Pendeg. Sabi namin, kahit P20 lang, nangogolekta kami sa mga tennis players. Nagbigay P500, may P100, may mga P20. Iniipon namin tapos ibigay sa kanya, parang baon niya papunta dito,” said Haiver.

(Before he went here, we said an allowance should be given to him, whom we call Pendeg. We told the tennis players to donate even just P20. Some of them gave P500, others P100, P20.We pooled the money together and gave it to him.)

Beyond the donations, however, Haiver himself spends money on Ignohassan. 

Alam mo yan, kahit minsan damit nahirapan sila bumili. Kung minsan, bumibili ako sa ukay-ukay ganyan, binibigay ko sila para lang, ‘Ito, gamitin mo, ganyan. Gamitin niyo sa laro. Tapos labhan niyo,’” narrated Haiver. 

(You know, sometimes it’s hard for boys like him to buy clothes. So I would go to the ukay-ukay and give them something to wear and say, ‘Use this when you play. Then wash them.’) 

Kasi iba kasi ‘yong culture nila. Maawa ka talaga ‘pag makita mo,” he added. (READ: Plight of the Badjao: Forgotten, nameless, faceless)

(Their culture is different. You’ll pity them if you see their situation.) 

The Department of Education’s office in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao also provided Ignohassan P1,500 allowance for the games. 

To the future

FATHER FIGURE. Haiver believes Ignohassan can go far in tennis. Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

FATHER FIGURE. Haiver believes Ignohassan can go far in tennis.

Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

Ignohassan said Haiver serves as his inspiration.

Sa akin, ang kumuha sa tennis court [ay] siya. Binibili ako ng damit, siya pa rin…. Sabi ko sa kanya, salamat po. Binibigyan mo ko ng damit,” he said.

(He discovered me at the tennis court. He even bought me clothes. I say to him, thank you. Thank you for buying me clothes.)

Unfortunately, Ignohassan lost in the elimination round on Wednesday, April 18. He was smiling after the match, however, happy that he was still able to travel all the way to Ilocos Sur and compete in the biggest sporting event in the Philippines. 

Sana ‘di siya magbago. Mag-aral siya. Ipapatuloy niya ‘yong pag-aaral niya para maging ano ba siya, parang maging halimbawa ng ka-tribe niya. ‘Yon ang gusto namin para yung iba bata do’on, susunod sa kanya,” said Haiver.

(I hope he doesn’t change. He should finish his studies so he can become a model for his tribe. That’s what we want for the other children back home – to follow in his footsteps.) 

And what does Ignohassan plan to do when he grows up?

Pangarap kong makatapos ng school, ng pag-aaral [para] matulungan ko ang pamilya ko… Puwede akong mag-tennis. Gusto kong mag-tennis paglaki ko,” he said.

(I hope to be able to finish my studies so I will be able to help my family… I think I can pursue tennis. I want to pursue tennis when I grow up.)

No way but up for Ignohassan Mustagid, the future of tennis in Tawi-Tawi. –

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.