Cebu, Philippines is known for its picturesque beaches, stunning mountains, and summery vibes. For its scenic views, it even attracted a whopping 1.4 million foreign tourists in 2019 alone. But there’s a problem.
20-year-old Maria Pacilan, a resident in Cebu all her life opened, “Tourists' experience of Cebu is mostly limited to beaches and mountains and while those are cool, the beauty they get to experience in those areas isn't reflective of life in local communities.”
Vehicles wedged in traffic. Smog and unclean waters. Decrepit sidewalks lathered in garbage. Spaces devoid of public parks and greenery. Immense flooding. Dying cultural practices. Underpaid workers in poor working conditions. Crowded hospitals and expensive healthcare. Rising theft and crime rates. Silence over dialogue – these are only some of the problems that chip away at the quality of life of locals.
“While some tourists enjoy going back to re-experience Cebu, locals are actually fuelled by the motivation to work hard so they get a chance at a better life outside Cebu.”
The contrast is chilling, but there may be hope.
Change Magazine went on the ground to locate local initiatives working towards a liveable Cebu. Among these are ANTHILL Fabric Gallery, Cebu Farmers Market, and Youth for Livable Communities’ (YLC) #EcoFriends.
ANTHILL Fabric Gallery
Above all else, it champions circularity, cultural continuity, women empowerment, sustainable livelihood, and community development – holistic and far different from many for-profit businesses today.
“Liveability has to be seen at a holistic perspective and not just anchored on one aspect,” according to Anya Lim, managing director of ANTHILL. This explains the brand’s array of active programs and yearly campaigns under its belt.
ANTHILL has an initiative rooted on environmental protection. Textile scraps are taken from Cebu designers and hotels, cut in strips by a partner working with out-of-school youth, and finally are upcycled into new fabric by a community in Argao, Cebu – the sole weaving community in the country that weaves textile waste.
The brand also has a Community Enterprise Development Program for their partner communities. They give a series of informal dialogue and workshops on topics like product design, financial literacy, and business skills to help them be self-sufficient and sustainable enterprises.
All this began ten years ago when ANTHILL witnessed the death of local weaving culture.
“Back then, it really was a dead industry… a dying craft and that disrupted not just their [weavers’] livelihood, not just their identity, but also family dynamics. There were a lot of consequences with having weaving gone. We really wanted to reclaim culture and change the perception of Filipinos,” Lim shared.
Presently, there are only a few players in slow local fashion, limiting Cebuanos’ options and resulting to lack of awareness around slow, ethical production.
“We grow so slowly because one, we wanted to do things right... In the beginning and up until now we always make sure we invest our resources in the right way,” Lim opened, citing as well that a lack of human and financial resources helped them take wise investments.
Now, ANTHILL Fabric Gallery has grown and continues to grow with over 50 corporate, design, craft, textile, production, and community enterprise partners nationwide. The brand is also taking weaves to a global reach, having pop ups across the globe.
“The best contribution we’ve been doing is really creating awareness on the existence of businesses that are for-profit and can be done and operate whilst addressing social issues.”
Cebu Farmers Market
On certain days and certain places, there is a market with a bountiful supply of fruits, vegetables, wheat, eggs, and crops. These produce are directly sold by farmers you can freely converse with for stories behind your food: how they’re grown, their benefits, and best recipes.
To the organization behind the market, Communities for Alternative Food Initiatives (CAFÉ-I), liveability means providing access to healthy, organic goods in contrast to GMOs which can trigger allergies and health concerns.
In 2004, Cebu Farmers Market came to life for this reason: to serve as an alternative space for slow, organic, and quality produce – a second option to consumers, and even farmers.
In the Philippines, organic farming is a way of life to many. Yet, these farmers have grown insecure because of the shift towards GMO. GMOs affect soil health making it harder for organic farmers to earn a proper living. Middlemen intervention doesn’t help, either, as profit goes to them instead of original growers.
Partnered with over 15 farmer associations, CFM takes away middlemen and lets farmers sell their wares and earn directly. In turn, this also informs consumers of where the produce came from. It becomes a warm community rather than a transactional marketplace.
Initially, there was a language barrier between local farmers and consumers. After some time, the farmers grew confident with their English, even teaching foreigners about the local language. Location issues were also remedied by partnering or negotiating with malls to occupy a space for free on certain days.
Currently, the market is working towards achieving organic certification and finding cheaper alternatives to plastic packaging. Cebu Farmers Market is steadily attracting a stream of marketgoers, too, even planning for an online delivery and order system to accommodate everyone.
Academically-exhausted, dead inside high school and college students go above and beyond expectations and capacities by volunteering for climate action and for the good of the earth – over 150 members in just two short years.
Spread out over seven local colleges and universities, Youth for Livable Communities’ (YLC) volunteer program dubbed #EcoFriends gathers like-minded, energetic youth who aim to manifest an eco-conscious, liveable society.
The #EcoFriends find environmental protection and climate action to be a growing priority as they themselves experience the drawbacks of current mainstream practices such as the implementation of single-use plastics and throw-away culture.
Primarily an event-organizing and collaborative volunteer program, #EcoFriends has spearheaded and participated in over 10 events and collaborated with around 15 notable figures and organizations.
Among its spearheaded projects is Recyclloween, a competitive event where participants are asked to make Halloween costumes out of recycled trash for a prize. The volunteers did everything themselves from securing a venue, designing promotional posters, decorating the area, establishing the program flow, among others.
#EcoFriends debuted strongly with a well-rounded launch party on June 2018 when it was mostly summer for its volunteers and they had more time to engage in their side hustle for the earth. They arranged a series of “eco-talks” from notable local personalities such as Michiko Gandionco, the founder of zero-waste brand Noble Folk. The volunteers also collaborated with local shops for an eco-friendly bazaar selling wooden and metal straws, organic soaps and shampoos, reusable cups, and washable napkins.
Overall, #EcoFriends is a doorway to friendships and networks.
Although active, Stacie Cayanong, director of #EcoFriends says that, “It continues to be a problem that we don’t have a ‘hangout’ spot we can store our supplies in, have meetings in, and hold events in. We don’t have a sustainable source of funds either.”
To date, YLC’s #EcoFriends is developing a sustainable “zero cost, high impact” program and a strong volunteer system.
“We’re definitely, one day, going to get a ‘hangout’ spot,” Cayanong added.
YLC’s #EcoFriends is acting for the environment and mobilizing the youth and the future. They are a manifestation of youth’s strength and passion, and show that there is power in a collective, in togetherness, and coordinated action. They show that we are never too young to start.
ANTHILL Fabric Gallery is reviving culture, providing sustainable livelihoods for women, and upcycling scraps that would otherwise end up in convoluted dumpsites and landfills, or worse, the waters. They prove that businesses can flourish without putting the environment or the workforce at risk.
Cebu Farmers Market is bringing back organic, offering healthier alternatives, and helping farmers earn their well-deserved keep. They’re fostering a community where farmers and consumers learn from each other, sparking dialogue on topics that matter.
Farmers, weavers, entrepreneurs and the youth – although their priorities and directions are different, their common ground is largely in working towards liveability.
Although small-scale, their little impacts are making slow dents in the system that will eventually make a huge change. Seeing these three organizations up close and personal, it’s not too soon to say that Cebu has got a bright future ahead thanks to their initiatives and more.
And we can always do more.
Together, let’s move in solidarity towards a more liveable planet. Invest in initiatives and projects that champion sustainability and holism. Join and support businesses that are genuinely socially responsible and circular in structure. Consume products and services with awareness and know what sustains your lifestyle. Encourage the youth to participate and most of all, pass good values forward.
All for liveability!