I’m speaking of Siargao Island, the famed site of the annual International Siargao Surfing Cup and a host of other events that have thrust it onto the global stage. They also, of course, have filled local coffers to overflowing with the coinage of tourists from around the world.
The latest brouhaha pits the newly elected provincial governor, Robert Lyndon Barbers, against Sol Matugas, wife of the former governor he booted from office. She is also the mayor of General Luna town, where most of the surfing occurs.
The controversy erupted recently when Barbers announced plans for Siargao’s first Governor’s Cup National Surfing Competition, slated Oct. 5-13, as a qualifier for the international event. No national or international surfing contests had happened on the island since 2019. The problem with this one was that Matugas—whose clan has been feuding with the Barbers clan for years—had an upcoming event of her own; the first Mayor Sol’s Cup National Surfing Competition, just concluded last week. The argument centered on whether the governor could do his own thing without the mayor’s permission.
In the end, after weeks of bickering, the mayor prevailed. A judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the governor’s planned event. And the city installed restrictive rope fences preventing entry to the beach where it was supposed to occur. So, last week—just hours before the judge announced his decision—Barbers tearfully called the whole thing off, blaming rising political tensions.
“I decided to cancel this tourist-attracting event,” he said, surrounded by weeping surfers, “to prevent the people of Siargao from being caught in the middle of two boulders heading for a collision. We think this is sabotage. It’s just a matter of annoying me.”
Congressman Bingo Matugas, whose district includes Siargao, argued in a Facebook post that the forced cancellation stemmed from Barbers’ own failure to apply for a city permit. “The mayor’s sacred oath ‘to obey the laws, legal orders, and decrees promulgated by the duly constituted authorities of the Republic of the Philippines,” he wrote, “compels her to abide by the law… it is not difficult to secure a permit. Someone just has to take full responsibility for the event.”
Congressman Matugas, not surprisingly, is the mayor’s son.
The world-renowned international surfing competition, meanwhile, is still set to kickoff this weekend as planned. But now it has a dark cloud hanging over its head; in the wake of Barbers’ cancellation, Minda News reports, the sponsoring World Surfing League (WSL) is considering imposing a five-year ban on surfing competitions in General Luna where most of them occur.
Should that happen, unfortunately, the most likely outcome would be Siargao Island’s slide from a three-year sleep into what could become a full-fledged coma.
(David Haldane’s latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino,” is due out in January. A former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where he took part in Pulitzer Prize-winning stories, Haldane is an award-winning journalist, author and radio broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.)