One million. That was the expected income this summer of Sabang Daguitan Surf Camp, an ecotourism site in Leyte. 

Kasi ‘pag summer, it’s peak season talaga,” explained Ailyn Caballero, Site Specialist of Bantay Kalikasan. 

Kasi kung i-compare mo siya last year, for April and May, it was Php 900,000. So posible na mas umabot siya ng milyones every month kasi we're really preparing for it.” 

Yet all these preparations came to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was also implemented in Philippine provinces, greatly affecting the agriculture and tourism industries in the country. And Sabang Daguitan is one of them.

Sabang Daguitan Surf Camp is a model partner community of ABS-CBN Foundation (AFI)-Bantay Kalikasan (BK). After the devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, this site was one of those aided by BK through the establishment of sustainable livelihood programs such as farming and ecotourism. 

Rene Dumaguit, the surf camp’s chairman, fondly remembered how Gina Lopez loved their site: 

Nung buhay pa po siya, kami po ang kauna-unahang ipinagmamalaki niya.”

She loved their herbs, he said, and encouraged them to plant more of those so they can serve them straight to their restaurant. 

But the usual noise of the 50-seater communal area that buzzed with energetic conversations and laughter of local and foreign tourists slowly died down until it was completely silenced on March 18, 2020. 

Nag-temporary close kami,” said Rene, recalling the negative comments they heard when they still continued operations while the news about the virus started circulating. 

Sabi, 'Ano pa ang hinihintay ng surf camp na ‘yan? Inaantay pa yata nila na magkaroon ng positive dito ng COVID.’  Kaya minabuti na lang naming magsara temporarily.” 

Sabang Daguitan is operated by an association of fishermen, farmers, surfers, and senior citizens turned into a cooperative called the Nagkaurosa nga Sabangnon Katilingban Service Cooperative (NASAKASECO), with 208 members and 69 employed staff. 

It manages a restaurant, floating cottages with spa, and water sports activities like surfing, kayaking, as well as a river cruise. They also maintain a demo farm, poultry, piggery, and currently building the “Garden of Love” dedicated to AFI’s late chairperson, Gina Lopez.

They have grown remarkably over the years as an organization and as a community-based social enterprise. In recognition of their success, they bagged the Lopez Achievement Award and the BPI Sinag Award in 2019.

Crossing The Hurdle

With no revenue coming in at the moment, how then can they maintain and tend to an 8.3 hectare property? 

Their solution:  Through volunteering. With only Php 1,000 cash allowance for each employee, they agreed to continue their work, while observing social distancing of course. 

“Nandito yung mga naglilinis, nagdidilig. (Tuwing) umaga at hapon nagpupunta po dito yung mga kada-department (tulad ng) restaurant at housekeeping. Ganun din po sa aming garden, yung mga landscapers po. Sa katunayan po, nung tumawag ka, nag ga-grass cut po ako,” said Rene. 

He explained that this decision came naturally to them, recognizing that their efforts in maintaining and caring for their environment will ultimately benefit their community. 

“Nakakataba po ng puso na makikita na mahigit sampu, bente na nagpupunta pa rin dito para suportahan at pangalagaan ang kabuuan ng aming surf camp,” shared Rene.

An empty tourism spot also left them with an abundance of produce in their farm, particularly lettuce. Though they are able to sell them to the community at a cheaper price, they also decided to give kilos of these vegetables to their province’s COVID frontliners – health workers, policemen, and the municipal staff.

“Nagbubuwis (sila) ng buhay para suportahan yung kaligtasan ng mga taga-Dulag, so naisip namin na magbigay din sa kanila. Ibigay nalang yung lettuce namin,” said Rene.

As the community of Sabang Daguitan enjoys the sound of the sea’s crashing waves on the empty shore and the peaceful flow of their two rivers, uncertainty rocks nature’s stillness. A month of the resort’s closure makes them long to get back on their feet and work again. 

“Sana pagbalik namin, pagnatapos na itong problema, ganun pa rin po ang daloy ng aming mga bisita. At saka ang income po namin sana ganun pa rin, (para) tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang kabuhayan dito sa surf camp,” said Rene.

Ailyn, as their site specialist, encourages the community that they can recover, “Tuloy lang ang laban. I know na pagkatapos nito, we can always go back, find a way, strategize to earn, na bumalik naman yung sigla nila.” 

With all these volunteer activities going on, the Sabang Daguitan community will surely be ready to swing their doors open to welcome guests and get back on their surf boards again when this crisis is over.