The Fun Battle in ‘Online Cluster Talbugan sa GenSan’

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupts the lives of the people around the world. It affects many aspects of life including the economy, socialization, and others. Health officials around the world urged their citizens to stay at their homes and observe proper hygiene, wearing face masks and practice social distancing when in public. These guidelines help flatten the curve of the pandemic.

In the Philippines, the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) has been strictly implemented throughout the country. The government is discouraging the public to go outside, except for essential workers like health personnel, and for vital travel like buying medicine or going to the hospital. 

The Local Government Unit of General Santos, headed by Mayor Ronnel C. Rivera, has issued an Executive Order No. 24, series of 2020, on Friday, April 3, 2020. The E.O. includes the implementation of clustering the 26 barangays into 12, with guidelines involving the availability of resources in combined clusters. It states that “No resident could travel outside of their own clusters unless for medical purposes, bank transactions, or other emergencies.” 

Cluster 1 has barangay Calumpang, Fatima, and San Jose; Cluster 2 has barangay Tambler and Siguel; Cluster 3 has barangay Sinawal, Apopong and Labangal; Cluster 4 has barangay Dadiangas North, East, West, and South; Cluster 5 has barangay City Heights; Cluster 6 has barangay San Isidro; Cluster 7 has Mabuhay; Cluster 8 has barangay Bula to Aradaza St., Lagao; Cluster 9 has barangay Lagao, Katangawan and Ligaya; Cluster 10 has barangay Baluan and Buayan; Cluster 11 has barangay Conel and Olympog; while Cluster 12 has barangay Tinagacan, Batomelong, and Upper Labay. 

As a result of this clustering, creative individuals like Harlem Jude Ferolino had a fun idea of creating an online community for the 12 clusters called Online Cluster Talbugan sa GenSan. As of this writing, it has 57, 000 members. Harlem, popularly known as “Papa Lem,” is one of GenSan’s social media influencers, and the Managing Director and National Coordinator of Voice of the Youth Network. He is also the 2020 Secretary-General of Junior Chamber International (JCI) General Santos Twin Star. Harlem works at the Philippine Information Agency (SARGEN) as Multimedia Assistant. 

In an online interview, he shares his ideas about the Online Cluster Talbugan sa GenSan (OCTG), how it started, and how this online community helps the citizens of GenSan express their creativity and comedic side, as well as how to remain sane in this time of crisis. 

Yadu Karu: What motivates you to create the Online Cluster Talbugan sa GenSan? 

Harlem Jude Ferolino: When COVID-19 became a pandemic, people look for positive things that could lessen the negativity of this health crisis. I just want to have an avenue of positively-charged contents featuring the creative and funny posts of the “Generals” (a term for the people of GenSan). Filipinos know how to lighten a serious event or situation like this pandemic through making social media memes and funny videos. I take advantage of that good trait to help minimize our emotional and mental fatigue. Anxieties could not be avoided at this time. So why not help decrease the negative vibes by diverting our attention to a more positive and productive activity like creating this online community. 

It boils down to the Executive Order No. 24, series of 2020 released by Mayor Ronnel C. Rivera. As a member of the government media who attended the press briefing that time, I am fully aware of the guidelines and exemptions and posted my simplified explanations for the public’s clarifications. For example, there was a question regarding shopping malls, which is located in Cluster 9. Based on the EO, everyone is just allowed to travel within their assigned clusters and use resources based on what their cluster can offer. Cluster 9 is fortunate because most malls in GenSan are located in Brgy. Lagao. 

I guess this question sparked people's creative minds. It resulted in posting statements in social media describing that their cluster has products or services which other clusters do not have: from fast-food chains and restaurants with delivery services to the airport and fish port, from rice fields to the appetizing balut. It somehow created a pattern of posts that flooded our Facebook newsfeed at that time. 

The following day (April 4), I remembered my post the previous night about a joke on having a festival in the future, commemorating our experience during the entire COVID-19 crisis – from Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to this current barangay clustering, where the 12 clusters could compete in street dancing competition wearing masks and virus-themed storylines, or search for cluster ambassador/ambassadress, and community singing featuring the song We Heal As One

Since online groups are becoming popular again due to the ECQ and travel restrictions, I was asking my friends if we could create a group for cluster "rambulan" or match off so we would know which cluster is the strongest. Then I thought to myself it is really a good platform for social interaction in contrast to the social distancing in the real world, thus the creation of ONLINE CLUSTER TALBUGAN SA GENSAN. 

Filipinos know how to lighten a serious event or situation like this pandemic through making social media memes and funny videos. I take advantage of that good trait to help minimize our emotional and mental fatigue.

YK: Can you briefly explain how this online community works? 

HJF: OCTG, according to my group description, is only for FUN and no trouble is intended or promoted. It is purely showing off what each cluster can offer. The Filipinos take pride in anything and that is the strength that inspired me to continue managing the group. All funny, creative, witty, or entertaining entries are highly welcome to be posted in the FB group. We only allow healthy discussions and discouraged online bullying and other bad online behavior like posting of nude photos and shameless selling of products. 

YK: What are the initial reactions of the members? 

HJF: So far as I read their comments and private messages, they are thankful for the creation of the page since they forgot their problems, including hunger (laughs) just by participating in the group or just scrolling through funny memes and videos highlighting their clusters’ best. 

Some members said that Gensan deals with this crisis in a positive manner by using social media responsibly. Instead of writing rant posts, the Generals are now busy squeezing their creative juices to present what their clusters have and at the same time laughing on what they see or read in the FB group. The Generals associate OCTG to Hunger Games since it has 12 districts just like LGU GenSan’s 12 clusters. 

The government employees from LGU GenSan are also thanking me for my initiative. They said that it helps for the peaceful participation of the residents to follow the stay-at-home policy and travel restrictions, and deters the proliferation of fake news. 

YK: How do they participate? 

HJF: Aside from posting their parodies and funny memes, OCTG has various online contests and challenges. 

For example, we have the first Poster Making contest featuring representations of their own cluster. Cluster 1 has airplanes; Cluster 2 has Aquaman and other sea-themed characters; Cluster 3 has coffin-themed posters since they got all the memorial parks; Cluster 4 has the city hall; Cluster 5 is the milk tea capital; Cluster 6 has the TV and radio stations; Cluster 7 has the power switch since they got the NGCP; Cluster 8 has Sr. Santo Niño and their fluvial warriors; Cluster 9 has most of the malls; Cluster 10 is the balut capital; Cluster 11 has the highest peak through their mountains; Cluster 12 has the farm and the best of rural life. 

Logos and emblems emerge for each cluster so that it represents them like in a real competition. Facebook Profile frames are also changed based on their respective clusters. We have concluded our 1st Inter-cluster Tiktok contest, and I'm overwhelmed with prizes donated by sponsors to ensure the participants’ interest. We also have other upcoming contests such as the Group logo making, yell/chant competition, funny movie dubs, best gardening practices, and many more. 

Since the LGU GenSan recently announced that the ECQ will be extended from April 14 to April 30, we just hope it would be finally lifted after the 30th. We are still planning for more online contests or "pakulo" for that duration.

YK: What's the best thing about being an admin, so far? 

HJF: The best thing about being an admin is that I could easily combat the spread of fake news or hate speech and channel it through the positive use of social media. 

When anxious people are influenced by peace-centered and fun-loving individuals, they are more likely to be the same as the latter. So being an admin of the OCTG is about securing that my advocacy of positive mental health and nationalism is being delivered through fun platforms as this online group. 

As a content creator, it helps me realize more of our roles in society. We lead people to greatness and they will find their own ways through their own creative minds since they are encouraged and inspired by the positive and fun posts. Because of this initiative, I gain more friends and most people talk to me politely and with respect since they know I only aim for the best of GenSan and for its people. It's a good thing to be surrounded by a supportive community, which makes us mentally healthy. 

Like in other online groups or organizations, ill-mannered people are always there willing to infect others with their negative energy. For me, it is very challenging since the goal of the FB group is to fight the public hysteria caused by the virus through a fun online environment.

YK: What are the challenges you've encountered? How do you deal with it? 

HJF: The main challenge is battling with negativity. 

Like in other online groups or organizations, ill-mannered people are always there willing to infect others with their negative energy. For me, it is very challenging since the goal of the FB group is to fight the public hysteria caused by the virus through a fun online environment. 

How I deal with it also comes with listening to the members about their concerns. At first, the online group is a free-expression of funny posts – meaning all posts are automatically approved without my intervention. However as the group becomes more and more populated, most members complain of seeing unwanted posts, like posting nude photos and posting nasty comments. Some members are just there to look for dates, which I believe is fun for them, but unrelated to the group’s purpose. Since most of us are aware of its risks and consequences, we decided to screen the posts before it will be available to the members of OCTG. Some members, especially those who practice bad online behavior, cannot take this rule. But most of us members stand on it to avoid online sexual exploitation and harassments, and to protect our young members against it. 

Whenever I reiterate this rule, I usually explain that rules are important so that our group is in order and civilized. But when some members defy, posting their demeaning comments, I automatically block them and save screenshots just in case the police search for shreds of evidence of cyberbullying, harassment, libel, or even grave threat (laughs). Well, I just want them to know that I can file a case against them. 

YK: After the health crisis, what's your plan for the FB group? 

HJF: Well, it depends if people still want to participate or post in the group. I'm not deleting it. Some suggested that we could organize a mass gathering in the city with LGU GenSan to show support in commemorating what we have done in the city (laughs). Just kidding. If that happens, I think we would still wear face masks during the gathering, unless there would be a vaccine for the virus. 

Honestly, I don't know. I am not deleting it as I mentioned, and hopefully, fewer people will be posting in the group so that my moderators and I can get enough sleep from approving or declining 7,000+ pending posts every hour (laughs). 

If fewer people post each day after the health crisis, it also means we are really done with the problem of battling our anxieties. And that's great. I just think the group is serving its purpose during this trying time. I have no plans so far. We'll continue screening posts, I guess? But with fewer online contests, like any other festival, we can also culminate with a bang. 

I hope we continue supporting each other (positively) even after the crisis.

YK: Do you have a message to the public? 

HJF: To the people participating in positive movements like the Online Cluster Talbugan sa Gensan Facebook group, I hope we continue supporting each other (positively) even after the crisis. 

Positivity works wonders. Our mind is so powerful that if we fill it with negative thoughts it could cost our life. If we sink in with our anxieties and stress, then our overall health is also at risk. The Facebook group is only my little contribution to stop our supposed social unrest. I am happy that we are all having fun by participating in our online showdown and contests just to show how we are doing well with what we have. Even celebrities and athletes are getting involved in this trend, including our home-grown talents. 

To the people who are thinking that I am using the online group for personal gain, it is actually true. And this is applicable for all since everyone who enjoys the online activities really gains good health just by being exposed to good energy. What I want to clarify is that when I created the Facebook group, I was only thinking for fun and wanting to have a fixed platform for entertaining posts that relate to the best representation of each cluster, which I think represents the “Magandang Gensan” as a whole. 

To those online influencers and other people who think negatively despite the fun, always remember that when we use our influence not because of personal gain, but for the cause that we want to advocate. It is not always about oneself, but about the good outcome; it is not about fame, but the social impact. It is about surviving creatively amid the crisis. It is about bringing what's best in people, what's best in our areas, in our attitudes, and in our city. May we all be the best versions of ourselves after the crisis. 

Let us continue showing to other cities and countries that we can respond and react to worst-case scenarios with positivity and still with precaution. This is a lesson for all of us. And we will all become heroes someday telling this story about how General Santos City survive COVID-19 with our little contributions during the online cluster showdown, combined into one great Bayanihan – which includes your financial and in-kind donations to your own neighbors, which really helped! Thanks to you. 

As we always say, stay safe, stay sane, stay healthy, keep following precautionary measures by staying home, observing physical distancing and proper hygiene, and wearing face masks when in public. Pray for our front liners. Pray for our families. Thank you so much. And let the TALBUGAN continue!