Batanes Honesty Coffee Shop wow foreigners, local tourists
- Rudy A. Fernandez () - May 17, 2011 - 12:00am

IVANA, Batanes, Philippines  – “I write to express my admiration to you for establishing your unique store called Honesty Coffee Shop,” then Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay now Vice President wrote on Feb. 23, 2009.

Reading a report about the store, Binay added, it was “a welcome treat to me, with all the corruption scandals, and unspeakable crimes that have dominated the news. It gives us reason to believe in the inherent goodness of every human being, that there is still hope for our moral recovery as a people.” Binay added, “I hope that you will remain undaunted by adversity and continue to nurture your shop so that it will remain a proud symbol of values of honesty, trust, and integrity among the Filipino people.”

Binay, now vice president, praised Elena Castaño-Gabilo for setting up in 1995 the unique store in this seaside municipality 12 kilometers south of the Batanes capital town of Basco in Batan Island. Later to be named Honesty Coffee Shop, it was put up by Mrs. Gabilo upon retiring as a public school teacher as a “Stop and Drink!” place for her transient island-mates from Sabtang while in the adjacent main island of Batan.

What makes the store one of its kind in the world is that nobody tends it, as Lola Elena, now 76, and her husband Jose, 71, do their regular farm chores and other day-to-day activities. The Gabilo couple grow agricultural crops (kamote, banana, sugarcane, corn, garlic, vegetables) on their farm nearby.

Here are the Honesty Shop rules, as listed by the couple and hung on the wall: Get what you need, please pay whenever you get. (Drop payment in a money box). If you have no change, knock at the next door. If no one answers, sorry, give more than the price. May your tribe increase, and remember – Honesty is the best policy!

The shop has become one of the “must-see” in Batanes, which is known worldwide for its picturesque and breath-taking scenery.

Tourists and visitors express their admiration for the store in a scrapbook.

Christopher Delma of the seaside Iloilo town of Miag-ao gushed: “Ang ganda talaga dito. Ang bait ng mga Ivatan.” (Batanes people are known as Ivatan).

Gee and Toffee, who dropped by last Aug. 14, asked: “Possible po bang magtayo kayo ng branch sa Maynila? Is it possible you set up a branch in Manila?)

The Batanes provincial government has also conferred the “Outstanding Ivatan Award” on Mrs. Gabilo in recognition of her “exceptional contribution and goodwill in preserving the time-tested Ivatan value of honesty through her Honesty Store.”

The store offers food items such as young coconut (buko – a visitor has to open it with the shop’s bolo), coffee, sugar, creamer, biscuits, soft drinks, noodles, etc. There are also souvenir products such as vakoul (the famous Batanes headgear), handicraft, and t-shirts.

Public service and not profit is always what’s on Lola Elena’s mind in maintaining the store. Anyway, she said, she has her retirement benefits while her husband (a former councilor and barangay captain) tends their farm. In fact, she does not record whether she is profiting or losing. All she knows is: “Hindi nauubusan ng pambili” (or replenishment items, which she buys in Basco).

“I do not want to find out (that some people are dishonest) because I don’t want to know that people are cheating me,” she said. Sometimes, a few people take advantage of the untended store.

Once, Lola Elena recalled, while scooping the proceeds from her money case, two women came in. As she had other things to do, she left them in the store. She later found that two of her t-shirt wares (costing 250 each) were gone. “Naawa ako sa manloloko,” she lamented. She somberly smiled when we volunteered: “Baka babalik sila para bayaran yung kinuha nila. Otherwise, they will not go to heaven.”

Bear the admonition posted on the store’s wall says, “This store is too small for dishonest people.”

BASCO BATANES BINAY HONESTY COFFEE SHOP IVATAN LOLA ELENA MRS. GABILO STORE
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