Samar is the third largest island in the Philippines. It is incredibly lush and rich, and it is really incredible that there is so much poverty in a place so blessed by nature. According to the Samar province website, 40% of families in Samar are poor. This was also my sad observation when I first went there in 2013. The fact that they are in direct path of typhoons makes them even more economically vulnerable.
J. Mallat, a French historian writing about the Philippines in the 1840’s, noted the industry of the locals who harvested these resources from nature: oil from coconut trees, rice and cacao, abaca, wax, mother of pearl, turtle shells, indigo and resin from trees. Furthermore, the people in Samar at that time made sinamay, pina, and mats called balangot. Clearly it was a very prized land for the Spaniards, which harbored all manner of natural wealth and treasures.
Nowadays the main industries are mussel, coconut oil, fishing and copra. In this place called San Andres in the town of Villareal in Samar, where my client and I visited last February, the people worked hard and made money from rice and coconuts. Thanks to these industries, many of them were able to build stone houses, which in the Philippines is a sure sign of having “made it” or at least social and economic advancement. Last February, most paved roads in their little barangay are covered with rice grains drying in the sun. However, recent typhoons felled many of their coconut trees. No sign of this ill fortune can be seen on their faces, however. The locals we passed by while we were joy-riding by motorcycle waved at us and smiled.
I certainly do not believe in the usual justification for why Filipinos are poor: that the abundance of nature and the hot weather makes them lazy. Although that is certainly true, I am more inclined to think that the lack of access to the tools with which to create wealth, like boats, land and financial capital, plays a much bigger role. Every time I visit far-flung areas in the Philippines, I see people working hard trying to improve their lot, working against all odds it seems, in a world where political and social systems and the wrath of Nature are beyond their control. But this is for another post.
Dogs sunning themselves in the early morning.
For a far-flung barangay in the middle of nowhere, which one can reach by land only by a 40-minute motorcycle ride, San Andreas is remarkably progressive, as you can see from the number of stone houses here.
The locals were very surprised and pleased to see tourists and strangers in their barangay.
Rice along with fishing, coconuts and copra-making is the main bread and butter of the locals.
To reach this barangay, one has to navigate through these narrow little roads in the middle of vast coconut fields.
The houses near the coast of San Andres, Villareal, Samar are more traditional and haphazard looking.
The long and interminable ride to the town of San Andres.