A whole lechon in exchange for anything other than food, large orchid plants for a sack of rice to be given to a poor senior citizen, a refrigerator for a COVID-19 testing center in exchange for a Red Cross pin, or a bowl of “aratiles for happy hormones” in exchange for a branded cologne. These are just some of the bartered items at the Bacolod Barter Community, which started on May 8, and now has over 16,000 members.
The pandemic has triggered an exchange of goods and services that existed long before modern times. The barter system, which was started by Mesopotamian tribes, Phoenicians, and Babylonians some 8,000 years ago has now been resurrected with a more meaningful dimension, triggering the Filipino “Bayanihan” spirit of giving.
On March 15, 2020, Bacolod was among the cities in the Philippines that was covered by the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Only selected individuals were given quarantine passes while the rest of the city, with a population of more than half a million, stays at home. This got me into thinking how the rest of us can get what we need without going through long lines in the grocery stores during limited hours. The pains of financial losses have started to affect workers, particularly daily wage-earners who have no cashflow during the lockdown.
Just when the country’s economy faces a potential collapse, Bacolodnons last week started to show the world that money is not everything. As councilor of Bacolod for nine years and an advocate for information and communications technology (ICT), I have always championed the use of social media for good. With thousands of Facebook followers, and more than 50 pages and groups that I manage on Facebook, I thought about starting a page where people can exchange goods without using money. Initially, I designed the group page only for women so we can exchange cosmetics and personal items.
I made the first barter on May 8, exchanging a new liquid eyeliner I have kept for months for a pineapple, squash, and some few vegetables. The friends that I initially invited, around 20 of them, started to invite others, including men. The following day, I changed the rules of the page to now accept male members.
In trade, barter is defined as system of exchange where participants in a transaction directly exchange goods or services for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money.
But this traditional activity has become more inspiring today since there is a need to create innovative solutions to the adverse effects of the quarantine. I am particularly inspired to see members letting go of expensive bags, perfumes, and other personal items in exchange for sacks of rice, sardines, noodles, milk, used foams, and blankets for poor families.
There is a wide range of items being exchanged at our Bacolod Barter Community: microwave ovens, industrial coffee makers, electric fans, television sets, sacks of rice, trays of eggs, orchids and large potted plants, garden soil, branded clothes, bags and perfumes, cakes and dishes, signature watches and shoes, cosmetics and toiletries, infant formula, baby cribs and toys, books and paintings, jewelry, guitars, chandeliers, dog food, and even a second-hand Ford Ecosport. I am inspired to see people finding what they need from other members like seafood, a can of Spam or corned beef, large water containers, used bicycles, electric mixers, seedlings, art materials, and even aratiles.
The mechanics of the page states that the medium of exchange are items and no cash is allowed. Buying or selling is strictly prohibited. Members can post pictures of the item they want to barter with its details or description and estimated worth. They can also mention the things they want or are looking for in exchange for the items they posted. Then other members can comment in the thread, particularly to ask questions or to offer an item. The process continues until the owner of the item chooses from the thread. Once the choice has been made the barter is now deemed completed and both parties are asked to shout out “deal.”
Once exchange is completed, the members are requested to edit their post and indicate that the barter is completed, done, or closed.
Initially, the page encourages food, ingredients, edibles, beauty products or toiletries, but after a week, it has become a source of a variety of items. No harmful, unlawful, expired, indecent, or unlicensed items are allowed. Members are also asked to immediately report posts that violate rules or appear suspicious, illegal, or bearing any misrepresentation.
The parties then agree in the thread, or through messenger or SMS for exchange or delivery arrangements. Members are encouraged to keep their contact numbers, delivery addresses and other personal information secure.
Strictly no minors are allowed in the page. Each member shall be responsible as consenting adults dealing with one another in good faith. It is presumed that all the items being bartered are owned or can be rightfully disposed by the person bartering them off. Members are also required to fully disclose the correct class, grade, model, state, or quality of the items.
As part of the mechanics, I encourage the members to keep the page fun, dynamic, useful, and inspiring in this time of pandemic.
The first week of the community page drew so much attention that private and public sector leaders and citizens of other cities and municipalities in the Province of Negros Occidental started to ask permission to copy the format. Today, more than a dozen cities in Visayas have already started their own barter community page.
The idea for the page is part of the suggestions I shared on social media at the start of the community quarantine in Bacolod. I knew then that the local economy will be seriously impacted by the lockdown restrictions. The other ideas I shared included a mobile botika, or drug store program; a community kitchen preparing vegetable dishes which we call utan in Hiligaynon; telemedicine through online consultations; farm to table digital solutions; a virtual site or bot manned by lawyers for people to ask questions during the pandemic and many more.
Of these ideas, I was able to start a page for laws and circulars called “Natty” in honor of Natividad Almeda-Lopez, the first woman lawyer in the Philippines. In a smaller scale, my husband (who cooks utan quite well) and I started “Utan4All,” which as of today already shared the dish for 28 days to poor communities. I also acted as mentor to a startup project called booqbcd.com, an online medical consultation website which now has more than 30 volunteer doctors in Bacolod.
As the awardee for ICT in 2016, I am also grateful for the opportunity to manage the TOWNS (The Outstanding Women in the Nations Service) Foundation Facebook page, regularly sharing the inspiring program started by the women of TOWNS. Our group has now gathered and donated more than 120,000 sets of personal protection equipment (PPES) to more than 400 hospitals around the country.
Although money is the standard and most effective means of economic exchange, these are not normal times and there is limited mobility of people, services and goods. The lockdown restrictions affect many families, even those in the middle class.
Today, modern barter and trade have evolved considerably to become an effective method of increasing sales, conserving cash, moving inventory, and making use of excess production capacity for businesses around the world.
Barter has taken on a new meaning amidst the pandemic. It has become a platform for people to find what they need and to let go of things that they do not need anymore. It helps the environment by making sure that things are used and not just wasted. It also allows members to raise resources using items so they can give out to communities in need.