‘Magtinabangay’: Bantayan Island’s new tourism slogan

Helping each other is the new slogan of the storm-shaken people of tourist haven Bantayan Island

PRIZED POSSESSION. Amid the debris from what once was her home in Haiyan-hit Bantayan Island, Lorliza Batiancela finds a prized possession. Photo by Ayee Macaraig/Rappler

BANTAYAN ISLAND, Philippines – Hotel assistant Lorliza Batiancela is her usual hospitable self. “Come,” she said with a smile. “I’ll show you our house.”

Batiancela led Rappler through a maze of logs and broken furniture in her barangay (village) in Okoy, Sante Fe municipality in Bantayan Island in northern Cebu. She walked under the harsh heat of the sun, with no more trees providing cover.

She stopped and pointed to a patch of land strewn with wood and nipa debris. “Here, here is our house.”

Batiancela tried to put up a brave front as she recounted her ordeal during Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that made one of its 6 landfalls in the island she lives in on November 8. The world’s strongest typhoon brought storm surge and winds of up to 300 kilometers per hour.

She said she was heartbroken when she returned from the evacuation center and found that her home was now a wasteland. She clung to her wedding photo, one of a few items she was able to recover. Yet it was something else that made her cry.

“Sa mga nagbigay sa amin ng mga relief goods, maraming salamat talaga sa inyo. ‘Di niyo kami pinabayaan dito sa Bantayan Island. Kung wala kayo, wala kaming magawa dito. Ang mga tao dito, may trauma pa talaga,” she said in an interview on Monday, November 18.

(To those who gave relief goods, thank you so much. You did not abandon us here in Bantayan Island. If not for you, we would be helpless. The people here still have trauma.)

The national government, aid workers and Cebuano families have been mobilizing to help the shaken island. 

The carpenter’s wife made one more plea. “Sana ang mga mabuting loob, tulungan kami sa Bantayan Island na makatayo kami uli ng aming mga bahay.” (To those with kind hearts, I hope you can help us here in Bantayan Island to rebuild our homes.)

PRE-HAIYAN. Bantayan Island is a tourist haven and sanctuary of marine life. This is a photo of the island before Haiyan's devastation. File photo by Melvyn Calderon

Barren island, homeless people  

A tourist haven known for its white sand beaches, marine sanctuary and rare tranquility, Bantayan Island in central Philippines is now a shadow of its old self. Its people who have been welcoming tourists for years are now homeless.

Parang kinalbo talaga ang lugar namin,” Santa Fe Mayor Jose Titing Esgana told Rappler. (It’s as if our place was shaven.)

Esgana said Haiyan damaged 95% of his municipality. He said officials informed him it will take at least 3 months for power to be restored. While there is a steady supply of food from donations, the primary need is shelter and livelihood.

“We already made an appeal for tarpaulins and tents. Initially, we gave out tents and temporary shelters but that’s only good for 800 families. The total damaged houses reach 5,000 so we are appealing to people to help us,” Esgana said.

Fishermen and farmers who harvest coconut are all affected. Toppled coconut trees are the new sight in the once lush island.

Tourism, a key source of income, also took a beating. The Santa Fe mayor said out of 30 establishments, only 5 are able to operate.

The sole fully operational hotel, Anika Island Resort, already got cancellations despite November and December being peak season.

“Business is really affected. We only have a few guests coming now, mostly the relief workers. It’s usually just overnight bookings instead of the long vacations,” Anika manager Rey Adlaon said.

Batiancela’s work at the Beach Placid Resort is also on hold. She and her colleagues were asked to report in January yet.

Nasira rin talaga lalo ang restaurant namin. Wala talaga kaya ang hanapbuhay ko nawala talaga,” she said. (Our restaurant was destroyed so my job is also lost.)

TOURISM DOWN. The Anika Island Resort in Bantayan Island is the only fully operational hotel after Haiyan. It was only slightly damaged by the typhoon. Photo by Ayee Macaraig/Rappler

Visayas egg basket empty

Also struggling with loss is poultry farmer Permo Pescartin. Haiyan destroyed his boss’ poultry farm and chickens can no longer lay eggs. Some farm owners just sold their chickens for P20 to feed people.

Mosquitoes fed on the carcasses of chickens and broken eggs in the farm in Santa Fe. Still, Pescartin reports for work to help clean the farm and make a new house for the chickens.

He only took one day off to build a makeshift home for his 6-year-old twins. He too lost his home to the storm.

“Wala tay mahimo. Amo lang tabangan among boss kay luoy sad. Maayo sad among amo kay wala man mi pasagdi.” (There is nothing we can do. We just help our boss because we also pity him. He is also compassionate because he did not abandon us.)

Esgana said the typhoon’s impact on the poultry industry will be felt beyond the island.

“Bantayan Island is the egg basket of the Visayas so the egg industry will be affected and there might be high prices of eggs because the island is the number one supplier of eggs to Cebu, Negros and the region so everyone is affected,” he said.

KEEP WORKING. Permo Pescartin still reports for work in his boss' poultry farm, saying he cannot abandon his compassionate employer. A key business in Bantayan Island, the poultry industry is down after Haiyan. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

Rediscover Bantayan

Esgana said the municipality is looking into a livelihood and relocation program for the residents, especially those living near the shore. Yet he said the local government does not have the resources to do it alone.

He urges tourists to still visit the island. The experience may be different but it will help the community.

“Siguro makikita natin ano ang nangyari in the past na walang kuryente, pumupunta tayo sa isang magandang lugar, magandang beaches. Magandang makapunta sila talaga dito kasi makikita nila what is Santa Fe 30 years ago. Kaunting adjustment kahit walang aircon.”

(Perhaps they will see what the island was like in the past without electricity, what it’s like to visit a beautiful place with beautiful beaches. It’s good for them to see what Santa Fe was 30 years ago. Just some adjustments like not having aircon.)

Esgana said he tells his constituents to try to make the best out of the situation.  

“Gusto ko isipin ng lahat, ‘di kami biktima ng Yolanda, isipin na lang na pagsubok uli. Ang mga trials na ito, kaya naming tumayo, bumangon uli. Ang mga kababayan naming nasa ibang lugar, ito na ang panahon na sila ay tumulong para makabangon muli ang bayan namin.”

(I want everyone to think that we are not victims of Yolanda, to think of this as another challenge. These are trials and we can recover. To our fellow Bantayanons in other areas, this is their chance to help our island rise again.)

He sums up the message and the spirit of the people in what could well be the island’s new slogan.

Magtinabangay kita.” (Let’s help each other.) – Rappler.com

VISIT BANTAYAN. Sante Fe, Bantayan Island Mayor Jose Titing Esgana urges tourists to still visit the island and help the communities recover. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler