Virtual Barter | Bacolod online community goes cashless

A cashless society — a decades-old dream of most digital payment advocates in the Philippines — has recently taken an alternative twist. Barter trade, or the ancient practice which predates money, is the exchange of goods and services without need for cash.

Online barter groups were put up as early as March when the government put the country on lockdown. On May 8, information and communications technology (ICT) advocate Jocelle Batapa-Sigue opened one such community in Facebook, which eventually caught the attention of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, here and abroad.

The Bacolod Barter Community, now popularly known as BBC, marks its first month anniversary this June with more than 200,000 members. Although it is not the first barter community in the country, BBC’s mechanics have since replicated not only in the Philippines but abroad. The community founders continuously share best practices with one another to improve their respective barter communities as part of the Global Barter Communities founded by Barapa-Sigue a few weeks after BBC.

Any member of BBC can post an item and provide a caption stating its description, the reason for barter, and preference for items in exchange. Once approved by moderators, the post gets seen in the wall of BBC and other members can start to comment with their offer. After several offers or even at the first offer, the one who posted can choose to accept an offer or not by saying “deal” or “pass”.

A whole lechon, fighting cocks, microwave ovens, industrial coffee makers, electric fans, television sets, sacks of rice and 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, jewelries, guitars, chandeliers, and dog food are just some of the items being exchanged at the Bacolod Barter Community.

The pandemic has triggered a mode of exchange of good and services that existed some 6,000 BC to surface again. The barter system which was started by the 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. Barter, in fact, is being done for decades in Zamboanga and many parts of Mindanao. This traditional activity has become more inspiring today since there is a need to create innovative solutions to the adverse effects of the lockdown restrictions.

Batapa-Sigue, 2014 Philippine ICT Individual Contributor and 2016 TOWNS Awardee in the Field of ICT, said innovators will reach higher levels of frustration in times of crises to see that many things could have been made faster and more responsive if leaders embraced digitization.

Since March, she had been helping promote startup solutions to various government leaders, such as automated registration and payments for social benefits, farm to table solutions, telemedicine and virtual bots to answer legal queries. But of the ideas she pushed on social media, the revival of the barter system was hardly noticed so she took it upon herself to build one on Facebook, which she considers an easy and accessible virtual platform for people from all walks of life.

Using the United Nations Covid-19 response badge “#SpreadKindness, Batapa-Sigue said “because the pandemic has no borders and the coronavirus has claimed millions of lives around the world — kindness, too has no borders and can touch millions of lives.

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