By DOM GALEON
Images by NOEL PABALATE
You’ve probably seen it by now. A video uploaded on Facebook showing an American girl somewhere along Manila Bay. “I never thought I would live to see the day I’m standing on the edge of Manila Bay, on the actual sand!” the girl says in the selfie video.
“Previously, for weeks and weeks and months, I’ve been walking by here every day and this whole area was full of trash—full of trash, not only on the sand but all the way to the water. Everyone here is enjoying the view, enjoying the sand, taking selfies, as Filipinos are known to do,” she continues.
And then she begins to choke, holding back tears that were slowly filling her eyes, as she says, “Filipinos deserve better. This is what they deserve. I’m very inspired by what I’m seeing right now.”
That girl is Liana Meyer, an American who has been in the Philippines since 2012. But she first came to the country as a tourist, back in 2009 and then again in 2011. Working for USAID for five years, she is no stranger to Manila Bay. Every day, she would see the bay when she commutes to her office from her condo near Malate. She would often walk home, too, occasionally glancing at the beautiful sunset on the bay’s horizon.
“I feel like the bay has a personality,” Liana says. “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that before, but for me, it has a personality. The sunsets are different every day. Sometimes, like right before it rains, it’s epic—nature really shows its force, with these crazy clouds, the waves. Nature is really awesome, right? And I just always felt that this bay has a personality.”
Before posting that selfie video, Liana had never really been publicly active in social media. Her posts were all private, meant only for her friends and her family in the US. It was a Filipina friend who asked her to make her Manila Bay video public and shareable. The results surprised her. The video became viral, getting nearly 30,000 thumbs-ups, hearts, and wows, and shared by almost 40,000 people on Facebook.
Liana says she’s never really done anything like that before, and she definitely does not consider herself to be an influencer or an internet sensation. She was touched by the appreciation of Filipinos who would comment on her post, saying things like “Thank you for loving our nation,” “Nakaka-proud naman yung foreigner na to,” or simply “Thank you, Miss Liana.”
And it all started because she decided to take a stroll along a newly cleaned portion of Manila Bay, barely a week after the government announced and started its cleanup efforts.
“So they had that weekend when they did that big cleanup, right? That weekend—this is going to sound weird—something was telling me to go there. Just go there. And honestly, I was really thinking just to go there and maybe take a selfie or whatever,” Liana narrates. “It’s funny. My colleague, after the video was uploaded, he was asking, ‘What did you see? Was it the people, the water?’ I don’t know, I said.
I just saw. That’s the only way I can describe it. I just saw. It’s hard to express in words. It’s awe. I just clicked. This is what people deserve.”
Liana’s love and appreciation for nature is something she got from her family. “I grew up on a farm in Northern California, where it’s surrounded by natural wonders, redwood trees, beautiful beaches open to the public. I come from that history of appreciating nature—my parents were hippies,” she says, adding that she has brought them to the Philippines before and her dad loved Red Horse beers.
“So I have that appreciation for nature. We all have that there. We’re total tree huggers,” she continues, laughing. “That’s in my blood and that runs deep. Then the other part of that is working at the organization in Santa Ana, California, which is very close to the beach.”
Prior to moving to the Philippines, Liana worked for a not-for-profit organization called Taller San Jose Hope Builders. There, she dealt with ex-cons who got a second chance in life, helping them find a livelihood and settle down in the community. Liana has a soft spot for those who are in need, and she’s carried that with her during her time at USAID here in the Philippines.
“Looking back, I wish I had appreciated my hometown more. But everyone says that. You only miss what you have once it’s gone, right? Maybe that’s a good message. You only miss what you had,” says Liana, applying the idea to Manila Bay. Filipinos, she says, are lucky because there is a real opportunity to bring back the beauty of the bay before it is too late.
At present, Liana has moved with her Filipino fiancé to Cagayan De Oro, where they plan to get married (within the year) and begin their life together. She came to the Philippines almost seven years ago now because of love, and it’s also because of love that she has decided to stay—love not just for her fiancé but for Filipinos and the country’s natural beauty.
But it doesn’t just love that Liana found here. “I gained my faith in the Philippines. Before that, I was a staunch atheist, as in,” she says. “It took me moving from California and leaving my family and my friends, everyone I loved, and going through a lot of difficult times here to find my faith.”
It is with this faith, in God, and in people, that Liana hopes Filipinos would continue to appreciate what they have, to love the environment, to demand that they get what they deserve, and to remain compassionate.
“I really hope that it lasts,” she says, speaking about the Manila Bay cleanup drive. “Judging also from also my past and working with out-of-school youth in Orange County, the worst thing is for someone to have hope and then it goes two steps backward. You’re worse off than before. And Filipinos don’t deserve that.”