Guimaras fishers live not by fishing
GUIMARAS ISLAND, Philippines—Here, the fisherman is a fish out of water. In a twist of fate, fishermen of this little bit of paradise are pinning their hopes on livelihood projects like handicrafts and agriculture to bring their lives back on track after the August 11, 2006 oil spill.
But the fishermen of Guimaras aren’t complaining. After despairing over the loss of a big chunk of their livelihood, the small tragedy is that they will take anything that comes their way.
In the early hours of August 11, 2006, the cool blue-green waters on the south side of the island were polluted after the MV Solar 1 tanker operated by Sunshine Maritime Development Corp. sank, spilling 2.1 million liters of industrial bunker fuel.
They had never seen anything like the oil spill. The accident changed their lives.
Agustin Magluyan, 44, has been a fisherman all his life. A resident of Buenavista on the northern side of Guimaras, Agustin fished off the waters of Dagsaan village. He remembers the day of the oil spill clearly.
When he pushed off his boat to fish, he noticed that the sea was unusually black. His catch for that day was all dead fish. He learned about the oil spill later from other fishermen. “The first thing I thought was how would my family eat without any fish in the sea.”
As the days passed, he saw his usual take of P300 a day vanish. “My children were crying because of hunger,” said Magluyan, a father of four.
In desperation, he turned to planting sweet potato in the uplands and managed to feed his family.
Nanoy Celis, a fisherman from Taklong Island in the southern municipality of Nueva Valencia, went out fishing on the day of the oil spill and wondered why the sea was dark, the water slimy and the fish dead. He learned of the oil spill later also from other fishermen. In the next three months, his catch was gone.
Celis joined the coastal clean-up in exchange for P300 a day.
“I will never forget that day. We didn’t know what to do. Our whole lives depended on fishing,” Celis said.
Magluyan still fishes as much as he can these days. But when he stays ashore, he makes the one-kilometer trek upland to the livelihood site where fishermen were taught to make animal statues and weave baskets out of bamboo.
A bamboo statue sells from P200 to P350 while a basket sells for P60.
The fishermen from Magluyan’s area were also taught to plant medicinal plants like lagundi and lemon grass.
These days, Celis, a village councilor in his area, will only fish when he hears of big catch by other fishermen in the southern waters of the island.
On other days, he organizes residents to make Taklong Island, with its short beach and clear waters, a tourist destination. The island can be reached after a five-minute boat ride from shore.
The Buenavista handicrafts project was launched recently with the income still coming in trickles, mostly from a handful of private buyers and from trade fairs. The medicinal plants have already been spoken for by buyers.
The Taklong Island project has not started as funds to build the structures have not arrived. But the fishermen have already organized themselves for the boating service.
Alicia Lustica, Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ regional technical director, said the government would make sure the livelihood projects for the affected fishermen would succeed.
“We are marketing these projects and we will ensure the success of all projects. We are confident of this,” she said.
The rehabilitation of the waters of Guimaras from the oil spill is a difficult process. Thirty-six coastal barangays (villages) in the province were affected by the oil spill.
Earlier reports said the DENR was allotted P130 million for the rehabilitation of the island. Lustica said they requested for P130 million but were given P65 million, which has already been released.
Hardest hit were the mangroves of the island’s southern waters where fish and crustaceans breed. Lustica said the total affected mangroves spanned 301 hectares. As of February, Lustica proudly reported that 89 ha have been rehabilitated and planted.
Rehabilitation efforts have also drastically reduced the pollution of the waters. Lustica said that just after the oil spill, as much as 24 micrograms of oil and grease were found in every liter of seawater. Today, only two areas exceeded the standard of three micrograms of oil and grease in every liter of seawater.
But Lustica said more could have been accomplished if there were more funds.
“The fund was good for one year but it lasted three years through our efforts to prioritize certain areas and projects. The fund is lacking, what was released is only one-half of what is needed if the plan is long-range,” Lustica said.
But the problem is not confined to lack of funds.
In last year’s second anniversary of the oil spill, Guimaras officials led by Governor Felipe Nava scored the DENR for implementing rehabilitation projects in areas not affected by the oil spill.
“I’m not contented with what’s happening. We are in the dark and we don’t know if these are beneficial to the people of Guimaras. I think we should correct this (because) we are wasting precious money,” said Nava, in an Inquirer report.
Jimmy Baban, provincial planning and development officer, had said the projects should be focused in Nueva Valencia and Sibunag towns.
Baban said Buenavista, located northeast of Guimaras and where the DENR projects are located, was hardly affected by the spill.
Lustica responded that upland residents were also affected by the oil spill. She added that the DENR also has livelihood projects in Nueva Valencia but she said other agencies also have projects in the area, which the DENR did not want to duplicate.
But the disagreements among local officials are lost on the fishermen. Their concern is what to eat in the here and now.
Celis said an amount was given to them by the firm that owned the oil that was spilt. But he also batted for speedy release of funds and more capital for fishing.
“Livelihood seminars are good, but when you have an empty stomach, the lectures go in one ear and out the other,” he said.
Provincial environment and natural resources officer for Guimaras Raul Lorilla was also confident the projects would benefit the fishermen.
“We needed to do this, or we starve. Partly, it’s finding the courage to do something different to secure our future. But it’s been a big help,” Magluyan said.
“We take anything that is given to us, rather than take nothing at all. But we will never leave this place,” Celis said.
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