Quarantined Within Siargao's Huge Rolling Barrels During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Malayang Ani | June 19, 2020
Forty-five days in the surfing capital, 45 days since I left Manila to avoid being lockdown in the city, I am now overwhelmed at how provident being here turned out to be. Who'd have known of the series of events that would surprise me during my stay?
It all started with Belle, a friend who supports my ideas no matter how crazy they may seem, someone who taught me to see a gloomy sky as a clump of happy clouds holding water. "Let’s treat this as if it is the last days of our lives, let’s go somewhere else,” she laughed. The next day I received a message from her and a one-way flight ticket to Siargao.
[related: Into the Realm of Sugba Lagoon]
However, Belle’s indecision whether to return to China or to attend to her business in Coron left me off alone again in a new place with just a few pesos and a huge bundle of faith to live by. Sunrise, March 15, the first official day of the Manila lockdown, I was in Cloud 9 physically and figuratively. At 5:30 AM, I watched my first Siargao sunrise over the ocean waves with the first surfing vocabulary I learned: barrel - the curl of the wave. This was how I was first swept away by the huge rolling barrels of Siargao: its interesting group movers and shakers.
Hardin ng Pagbabago
I first heard Hardin ng Pagbabago as a project initiated by PNP Chief of Police Captain Wise Vince Panuelos. Our nation's history has been ridden by the reputation of police trauma. It has witnessed a tether of heinous crimes perpetrated and condoned by the PNP. I must admit, this made me hesitant to join or place my interest in Hardin ng Pagbabago. Besides, I was already happy with growing food with a network of friends who share the same passion. Still, I opted to give these people a chance, to know them despite what others say.
Hardin ng Pagbabago is a community-based farming initiative led by the Siargao police team. Its mission is to mitigate crime and poverty by empowering the community and the promotion of environmental sustainability. Hearsayers would say this is just one of the propagandas of the local police.
At the age of 32, Chief Wise (as I prefer calling him), a native of Bicol, is not so different from other young men. It was a surprise to find out that Hardin ng Pagbabago is his personal initiative. I was further impressed by the feedback from the community. The project was well-received by both the local businessmen and the farmers.
Collaborating with him as a volunteer for the groundwork, I saw things differently. It became clear what Chief Wise was after. Though farming was a guise to bridge the gap between the police and the community, he is also using it as a measure of leadership among his team members. I discovered this during dinner when I showed him the photo of a compost pit in one of the barangays. His staff dug the whole thing. He was so upset. His idea was making the police work with the barangays and alongside farmers for implementation. He said, “If they cannot organize or handle a project as simple as this, how much more if things get complicated!" I kept quiet but was applauding him secretly: what a brilliant boy!
The thing that makes the Hardin concept work is the assistance readily extended to individual farmers if they need help. One example was a farmer in the north who harvested 10tons of watermelons. The Hardin ng Pagbabago team extended help from transport to selling the watermelons. Hardin ng Pagbabago continues to grow as more farmers are engaged to go back to till their lands and more sponsors are joining in to help. Hardin ng Pagbabago lives on through solid leadership and volunteerism. They have started the project a month before the community quarantine was announced. Siargao is expected to be the first island to rise and survive after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barter The Revival
On March 27, Caye Simpoo created Siargao Barter, paving the way for the comeback of an old marketing system. In a span of one month, it gained 2,500 members and the group is actively growing. I learned about Siargao Barter three days after, April fools’ day, a perfect gift for me: my thoughts turning into my reality. A dream come true with Caye as my hero.
I was intrigued, who’s Caye? Later on, I learned that she’s the offspring of gunsmiths, noticing her hands are quite beyond the average size for a petite lady. She began to play with a real gun at age 4, she can still shoot and identify what a good working caliber is up to now, I was mesmerized. A former HR Manager from Cebu turned into Siargao’s soap queen, Caye also makes a delicious chocolate moist cake with dark chocolate ganache. She is also a single mother of adorable tiny human beings: Jungle, Marajaw, and Isla, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist. Despite having 3 kids, she helps her surfing instructors by supplying them with food, through soapmaking barter. This woman deserves more than a gun salute for placing Siargao in liberation.
My realization, though, hit me when I ran out of things to barter. I needed a haircut and not having any money, I sold my speaker in order to have money to buy fruits in exchange for a decent haircut. I felt like I went back to history while I continued on checking the pattern of the system. It’s not a surprise that people ask for food, seedlings, or seeds in this time of crisis where businesses have been paralyzed resulting from being non-operational. Food, seeds, and seedlings have the highest value and became the most requested item. Barter made me think that this pandemic poses the question: what will you let go of and what for? Practically and figuratively, when everyone is immobilized, money no longer has value.
Malaya Salas is from Laguna & at the moment lockdown in Siargao, a wandering soul collecting stories along the way. A safe food growing advocate and coffee lover.