When Karen Davila, a broadcast journalist of some acclaim, booked surf lessons for her sons David and Lucas in Siargao, she didn’t expect one of them to come running back looking like he fell headlong onto a cheese grater. That, however, is exactly what happened—and hell hath no fury like an angry mother, as evidenced by her indignant Facebook post and the ensuing panic at a governmental level.
Davila, along with her husband and two kids, was vacationing at Isla Cabana, a 4-star resort within spitting distance of Cloud 9. When they got there on March 28th, she decided her kids should learn to surf, so she asked the resort to hook them up with a couple of instructors. Her older son, David, needed a little extra attention. “He has challenges in coordination—being on the autism spectrum,” she wrote. “David, however, is sporty and trains regularly, swims quite well, boxes, and runs.”
Two instructors were wrangled up and lessons were booked for 4 pm, at high tide. They did the usual with the boys—a few pop-ups on the beach and a few quick warm-ups before heading out to Jacking Horse, a beginner wave just around the corner from the world-famous Cloud 9. “Waves were still strong,” Davila continued. “And I have to say, crowded with tourists—foreigners, locals, many with families and small kids.”
Davila and her husband lay back and relaxed, happily kid-less for an hour in paradise. Until about half-an-hour later, that is, when David ran up the beach with a case of reef rash so bad it looked as though he was the victim of a potato peeler accident. “David ran to us BLOODIED, with his rash guard ripped apart and said, ‘Mom, I had an accident!'” she wrote. “I have to say, I was in a moment of suspended disbelief. My husband immediately attended to my son, as they searched for a lifeguard, a medic or a small first aid station in Boardwalk Cloud 9. I, on the other hand, started calling out for my smaller son, Lucas who was still surfing on the beach.”
Within moments, Davila had other people screaming her son’s name, causing what she called a “minor commotion.” Lucas emerged unscathed with his instructor, who was probably a little confused. After a few minutes, Davila and her young son found David and her husband at the end of the boardwalk, where she had a good look at the damage. “I WAS SPEECHLESS,” she all-capped. “My son’s whole chest was bleeding from crisscrossing abrasions with a deeper gash under the right rib, clearly from hitting the rocks on the shallow waters, his chin bruised and covered with blood, his right hand in cuts like that from a small knife.”
As it turned out, her husband, David’s instructor, and David had gone searching for first-aid supplies. At some point, the instructor decided he’d better cut his losses, so he took off. “My husband said after showing him the sari sari store where to buy the Betadine, cotton and gauze, he left them,” Davila fumed. “No one was there to assist my husband or my son who was bleeding! No nurse, no first aid, NO ONE.”
Soon after, the owners of the resort heard about the mishap. They arrived in a van and offered to drive the family to the hospital, which was, according to Davila, an outrageously far distance. “Owners Dingdong and Mildred Pabillore offered to drive us to the nearest hospital, which was at Dapa,” she said. “Would you believe, some 45 minutes away by car!”
Once they got to the municipal hospital in Dapa, Davila just got angrier. The hospital had no “tetanus vaccines available.” It should be noted here that tetanus shots are not a common practice reef rash. She went on to describe the conditions at the hospital. “While there was a doctor and a nurse on duty, very helpful and attentive—there were no medicines,” she wrote. “Foreigners were at the ER with us and I wondered, ‘how do they attend to so many foreigners visiting the island with this setup?’…UNBELIEVABLE.”
Davila, with her son’s soft belly in tattered ribbons, went off like a bomb. “Junrey, Lucas’s surfing instructor, informed us that Jocol didn’t take David farther out to sea, which is safer for beginners as there are no rocks,” she seethed. “Clearly, Jocol IS NOT CAPABLE AND TRAINED TO TEACH MINORS. Once a town is SOLD TO TOURISTS, the primary responsibility of both the national and the local government is to ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THE TOURISTS. PERIOD.”
Oh, but she wasn’t done yet. The next day, after Lucas’s surf instructor went and bought tetanus shots, antibiotics, and painkillers for her older son, she decided she had to speak with the mayor Jaime Rusillon and his daughter Dra Romina. She was horrified by what they told her and listed why.
“My major points for concern:” she wrote.
1. I found out anybody who surfs in Siargao can train in Siargao. Some of the trainers are habal habal drivers, who train on the side for extra income. The instructors have no professional certifications. No requirement to be certified. No system of vetting trainers. Anybody with a surfboard, who wants to earn P500 an hour can train. Period.
2. There are NO LIFEGUARDS on the beach. NOT ONE. This is crazy. The rising mecca of surfing, with hundreds in the water – and NOT ONE lifeguard to save tourists from possible drowning or injury.
3. There is NO FIRST AID CLINIC or trained medical personnel at the beach. NONE. Sari-sari stores sell Betadine, alcohol, cotton, gauze, tape—proof that injuries are quite common, with supply meeting demand. Problem is, they are able to sell the first aid meds but essentially don’t know who to assist you. In other words, “bahala ka na sa buhay mo.”
4. The attitude of some instructors on Cloud 9 is, “ay nasugatan”…. and stare at you like it’s absolutely natural. No panic, no rush, just local chit chat like it happens all the time, and it’s not that big a deal. Safety clearly isn’t a top priority.”
As it turns out, Siargao doesn’t have lifeguards on its beaches or government trained surf instructors for tourists. Nor does it have a fulltime first aid clinic on the beach for them, either. Is that too much to ask? Apparently not. Not for an enraged lioness like Davila.
“I call on the DEPARTMENT OF TOURISM to act on Siargao right away,” she said. Lifeguards and first aid clinics at the beach ARE A MUST. AN EVERYDAY RESPONSIBILITY. It’s time we professionalize surfing instructors as they do in other countries. Let’s stop being a backyard operation that may cost the lives of people.”
Davila made it her mission to yell loud enough for something to be done, and it worked. As she has a social media following in the millions and is not afraid to shout at them, the powers-that-be were shitting in their pants. Within hours, they responded with this: “The Provincial Government of Surigao del Norte is sad to hear about the unfortunate incident that happened to the son of Miss Karen Davila while having his surfing lessons in General Luna, Siargao Island. Gov. Sol F. Matugas has already issued an Executive Order requiring all Municipal Mayors in the island to provide 24/7 medical assistance for the public thru their RHUs and ensure that there is sufficient supply of medicines, being the frontline in the provision of health services in their respective areas of responsibility.”
So what’s the lesson here? Well, there are a few, I suppose. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. And whatever you do, don’t mess with an angry, powerful mother.