MUNI Meet-up in La Union on Sustainability & Community

Last May 25, MUNI, a community of cause-driven creatives and entrepreneurs for mindful living, held a meet-up in La Union. Like all other MUNI meet-ups, it aims to gather cause-driven individuals to talk about meaningful issues that will hopefully inspire collective action towards positive change. For that day, the discussion was around the importance of driving movements and keeping our communities sustainable.

Being only a few hours away from Manila, San Juan, La Union has become an accessible tourist destination. The “Surfing Capital of the North” has brought many here for the waves, but lately also because of the people. There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the community and the water, giving this surftown its soul. With tourism booming and tourist arrivals increasing in the past few years, many voices have emerged to encourage others to preserve the integrity of La Union.

Some of these voices joined us at the meet-up: Toby Tamayo of Lotus Valley Farm, Tina Antonio of La Union Soul, and Camille Pilar of Clean Beach.

Tiny Antonio and Toby Tamayo

Toby lived and worked with indigenous people in the Cordilleras, where he learned the importance of biodiversity. He’s been surfing since the 1980s, and his affinity to the sea was inherited by one of his daughters, who loved marine turtles so much that they decided to start a sea turtle hatchery, which eventually became the CURMA (Coastal Underwater Resource Management Actions) conservation program. Lately, he has been living in the hills of San Gabriel, La Union, where he has been rehabilitating a rainforest for nine years already. Here, he helps nearby communities in apiculture (beekeeping), agriculture, and bamboo weaving - to name a few. His experience was recognized by the Provincial Government of La Union, whom he advises on agritourism and waste management. His efforts in taking care of marine turtles and bees is part of a big picture issue on food security.

Tina Antonio’s family is from San Juan, but it was only recently that she moved from Manila to take care of her family business, Urbiz Garden. Her environmental inclinations started when she and a friend joined one of the sea turtle workshops of CURMA. Now, she is the President of the San Juan Resort Association, where she works with different business establishments and the municipal government to change operations that can improve sustainability.

For Camille Pilar, it all started with her love for surfing, especially when she moved to La Union. She observed the conditions of surf spots, which were pristine before and are now no longer as clean. “You cannot unsee these things,” she said. It moved her to drive change, not just in herself, but the people who visit La Union. That’s why when she had the chance to open up a coffee shop, she used it as a platform for her advocacy, naming it “Clean Beach.”

But, they also talk about hope.

Toby is hopeful in the changing of the guard, saying that “the younger generation inherited these problems and sees what is happening.” He believes that the youth will do something about the problems that we currently face.

Camille highlighted the role of education, especially when it comes to our impact on the environment. She believes that in order for awareness to spread, it’s important to use even your own business as a platform. When she opened up Clean Beach, they implemented a “no take out cups and straws” rule. Since then, people have followed suit and they even see a shift in consumer behavior, like bringing their own water containers. This encourages her to continue to push for sustainable business practices.

In her roles in La Union Soul and in the San Juan Resort Association, Tina works in the spirit of collaboration, “In the end, we all need each other and we need to talk to each other.” What makes her excited is that resort owners now understand that "taking care of the environment is good for business”

Alongside the meet-up, there was also a package-free pop-up featuring homegrown La Union brands and businesses curated by Open House: Abut Bamboo, Human Nature - San Fernando, Tali ti Amianan, Capco, La Emporium, and Ronnie & Hyde. It was a great way to showcase La Union’s skills, talents and products. The pop-up vendors were also part of the discussion, showing La Union’s vibrant and participative community.

After the meet-up, we saw how La Union‘s community can be an example of how change can only be made together. The participants imparted some last words that could help others in building communities for change:

- Be a model yourself, so that people can see that what you espouse for can be done.

- Training and modelling is important when working with grassroots communities.

- Love the locals - they are usually the last to benefit but they should be the first.

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