Karen Davila and family’s Shocking Experience in Siargao

Filipinos are always looking forward to their Holy Week happenings on account of the long weekend. Different strokes for different folks since it is summer some would like to spend it on a place where the climate is cold like Baguio or Tagaytay. Others take this opportunity to visit their relatives in the province. Karen Davila, her husband DJ Sta. Ana with their two sons Harvey and Lucas flew to Siargao to enjoy what the island has to offer.

For those who are not familiar with Siargao, it belongs to the province of Surigao del Norte and considered as the “Top Surfing Spot” in the Philippines. The island has lots of natural attractions made more alluring with beautiful vegetation. Beaches are immaculate white made lovely with sand bars, coral reefs, and rock formations serving as backdrops. The blue ocean is impeccable for scuba diving and snorkeling, the pristine water is teeming with fantastic marine life. Explore the forest seething with exotic wildlife and mysterious caves, bathe in enchanting lagoons and magnificent waterfalls. Feed your hungry tummy with the freshest catch of the sea.

People who are tired of the hustle and bustle of city life would surely love Siargao that offers a laid back and relaxed atmosphere. But this was not meant for everyone.

Karen Davila, a veteran journalist, took to social media last March 30, 2018, to describe her family’s shocking experience in the island of Siargao. Instead of a leisurely vacation for the Holy Week break, they suffered a terrible ordeal.

They stayed at Isla Cabana, a popular resort with a white sand shoreline, and booked surfing lessons her 2 sons for an authentic Siargao experience. The tutorial was outsourced to Junrey Taroy, a seasoned surfing instructor who handled the coaching chores for the hotel’s visitors.

The family proceeded to Boardwalk Cloud 9, a popular surfing spot in Siargao, where Junrey endorsed Jocol Valerio to train her eldest son, David.

“I specifically told Junrey and Jocol (Valerio), David needed special attention as he has challenges in coordination – being on the autism spectrum. David, however, is sporty and trains regularly, swims quite well, boxes and runs. Jocol said, almost flippantly, ‘madali lang yan, kaya yan’,” she wrote in a Facebook post.


The ordeal

The siblings, David and Lucas, trained at Jacking Horse, the surfing space for beginners while Karen and DJ lounged on the beach.

Burt after 30 minutes, David came back bloodied with gashes on his body and his rash guard was in tatters.

“I WAS SPEECHLESS. 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,” she wrote.

The couple was in suspended disbelief for a moment then they gathered their wits. DJ attended to Lucas while she looked for Lucas who was still training.

What irked Karen the most was the sudden disappearance of Jocol, David’s trainer, after taking her husband to a sari-sari store to purchase Betadine, cotton, and gauze. The owners of the resort drove them to the nearby hospital along with Junrey, Lucas’s trainer, on his motorcycle and took them 45 minutes to reach.

To compound matters, the hospital did not have vaccines or other medicines to treat an emergency situation. Junrey had to look for other sources outside the hospital to buy the medication prescribed by the doctor.


Local government Action

The next day, Karen talked with Mayor Jaime Rusillon and his daughter Dra. Romina Rusillo to raise her concerns over the set-up in Boardwalk Cloud 9.

  • Surf instructors have no professional certifications, some trainers are habal habal, a motorcycle that is modified to seat passengers, drivers. There is no system for vetting trainers, any local who has a surfboard can earn PHP 500 on the side. Accidents happen and are unpredictable, but to instructors, it’s a normal thing and no cause for concern.
  • There is a lot of surfers and swimmers with hundreds in the water at any time but THERE ARE NO LIFEGUARDS.
  • There is no first aid clinic or trained medical personnel to attend to emergency cases at the beach. It’s up to you to take care of yourself in local lingo, “bahala ka sa buhay mo.”

Mayor Rusillon’s reason for substandard conditions was that Siargao was a 5th class municipality that lacks health care providers and is not ready for the inflow of tourist.

“WHAT?! I’m not going to detail… but wasn’t P1.2 BILLION allocated for Siargao to improve infrastructure to boost tourism? Wasn’t a multi-million sports complex built?! All this infra and Siargao can’t afford to professionalize its trainers, put full-time first aid clinic and lifeguard for tourists to support the VERY industry that put its name on the map?” she wrote.

Mayor Rusillon invited her to the surfing competition in September and disclosed that all her concerns will be addressed.

The exposé of Karen Davila opened a can of worms. According to the Department of Tourism, General Luna was the lone municipality that did not follow the directive of the Governor about the safety and waste management policies.

Let us find time to go to Siargao this September and see if Mayor Rusillon is true to his word.


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