The Retelling Of The Philippines’ First Eco-Activist Movement
Advocacy

Raising Hope: How Ciara Marasigan Serumgard And Farrah Rodriguez Are Retelling The Story Of The Philippines’ First Peaceful Eco-Activist Movement

Ciara Serumgard wears Urban Revivo vest and skirt set; Atelier 818 necklace; Suki earrings; Aldo heels. Farrah Rodriguez wears Vania Romoff dress; Suki earrings; Charles & Keith heels. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

Vogue Philippines celebrates International Women’s Day through “Raising Hope,” in a call for nominations of inspiring women. In San Juan, Batangas, Ciara Marasigan Serumgard and Farrah Rodriguez continues the legacy of eco-activism through establishing Barako Publishing.

Nominated by Juan Miguel Marasigan

The Philippines is blessed with over 7,000 islands full of natural treasures. With such natural gifts, they must be protected. This is precisely what the people of San Juan did in the 1970s, when the town was threatened by a copper smelting plant that was to be built in the area. The residents’ successful opposition marked the first peaceful environmental activist movement in the country. As much as it is a significant moment in San Juan’s eco-activist history, it has been too easily forgotten. “Only a few people know that something like this happened,” says Farrah Rodriguez. Together with Ciara Marasigan Serumgard, Rodriguez established Barako Publishing to tell the story of environmental activism in San Juan.

Ciara Serumgard wears Urban Revivo vest and skirt set; Atelier 818 necklace; Suki earrings; Aldo heels. Farrah Rodriguez wears Vania Romoff dress; Suki earrings; Charles & Keith heels. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

 It took a whole town to protect San Juan from the looming threat, but it was Serumgard’s grandfather, Horacio Marasigan, and her father, Zaldy, who led the movement by educating the residents. “At first, people were so excited about those jobs, roads, and schools that were promised by Pasar, the semi-government corporation during that time. But he was able to establish the opposition through the Concerned Citizens of San Juan’s use of the educational system,” Serumgard shares. “They were able to cascade the information down to the school teachers, public and private schools, changing the hearts and minds of the people through the educational system.” Through their efforts, 9 out of 10 residents voted against the project, leading to the success of the movement.

 After almost 50 years, both Serumgard and Rodriguez believe that the story is still relevant today. “The people of Sibuyan Island and Masungi Georeserve are battling the exact same issue that San Juan won 50 years ago,” Serumgard says. To introduce the story to a new generation, Serumgard and Rodriguez have collaborated with historians, writers, and artists to bring forth the book entitled Barako 77, which is set to launch on April 22, 2024.

Farrah Rodriguez wears Vania Romoff dress; Suki earrings; Charles & Keith heels. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on
Ciara Serumgard wears Atelier 818 necklace; Suki earrings; COS dress. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

 In addition to preserving the historical event through Barako 77, Serumgard and Rodriguez lobbied for the ordinance declaring every October 22nd as a celebration of “Pagkakaisa Para Sa Kalikasan.” Together with the municipality and the national government program, the day will be celebrated with various activities honoring San Juan’s environmental heritage and legacy.

 The powerful act of remembering and storytelling

 Serumgard and Rodriguez encapsulate their mission by using a motto from UP Kamalayan: “Mapanganib ang paglimot, ang pag-alala ay pagkilos.” “By putting this book project together, we believe that it’s a form of action to remember,” Rodriguez says. Serumgard adds, “What we’re really pushing is for advocacy to preserve heritage, to preserve environmental legacies, and, of course, to educate our youth.”

Ciara Serumgard wears Urban Revivo vest and skirt set; Atelier 818 necklace; Suki earrings; Aldo heels. Farrah Rodriguez wears Vania Romoff dress; Suki earrings; Charles & Keith heels. Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

The pair also hopes that younger generations will continue the legacy. “I hope that more younger ones will feel empowered to tell their story and their local history because no one else can do it but them,” Rodriguez says. “Me and Ciara are writing this because we’re in our thirties, and our experience tells us that people forget, so we have to write things down.”

Juan Miguel Marasigan, who nominated Serumgard and Rodriguez, weighs in on the significance of San Juan’s eco-activist history. “For the people of San Juan, the tourists of San Juan, and our fellow Filipinos, the story is a timely reminder that San Juan’s beauty is not just God-given wonders but were also fought for, and being fought for: hindi lamang ipinagkaloob kundi ipinaglaban, at patuloy na ipinaglalaban ng mga barako.”

Visit vogue.ph everyday this month for daily features on inspiring women, as nominated by the people whose lives they’ve changed.

BY DAPHNE SAGUN. Photography: Kim Santos. Styling: MJ Benitez. Digital Editor: Andrea Ang. Makeup: Apple Fara-on. Hair: Patty Inojales. Producers: Bianca Zaragoza and Daphne Sagun. Set designer: Andrea Ang. Styling assistants: Teresita Gabat, Jia Torrato, Chelsea Sarabia. Makeup assistants: Jane Mission, John Glen Aquino. Hair assistant: Emma Hernandez. Production assistant: Patti Co
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