Twenty days after the disaster, the people of Bantayan Island are far from forgetting Typhoon Yolanda. Houses and boats are in pieces and trees felled or turned bald of their crowning husks. The island used to look like an oasis, but now there is nothing to protect the land from the scourging heat of the sun. With only the rough road cleared from debris, the island’s natural environment and its 120,000 people are facing years of recovery and rehabilitation work.
Out of the 25 Barangays (similar to a ward or district in the United States, usually comprised of at least 100 families) in Bantayan, 20 are majority fisherfolk communities. Since Yolanda destroyed their boats, fishnets and crab cages, the people have no other choice but to rely on relief efforts for food.
“One to two weeks,” one of the survivors answered when, Allan Monreal, TIGRA’s key partner in Bantayan asked a leading question: “how long will your supply of relief goods last?” Bantayanons realize that they cannot go on like this forever, waiting for food to come. Out of the many organizations sending aid, only few are really concerned with long-term impacts. TIGRA is one of them.
Through its local partner the Bantayan Island Association, TIGRA is supporting the Back To Sea Project. It is a project that encourages fishing communities to organize themselves and administer the repair and replacement of boats and fishing implements damaged by Yolanda. Where there is no organization, TIGRA is helping to form community associations who elect their officers, list the damage and cost of replacement, and begin planning for the future. In each barangay there will be a boat repair station that hires skilled local boat-builders.
TIGRA has pledged up to P100,000 to each barangay so that they can buy materials for repairing their boats. In the long run individual beneficiaries of the Back to Sea project will have to pay half of the money back to a rolling fund of the association. It is an initiative that recognizes the capability of the community to trust each other, organize, and decide amongst their membership. The project recognizes that community organizing is the core requisite for real resilience.
We were able to visit with residents of a few Barangays. In Barangay Atop-Atop, we saw a fisherman rebuilding his boat with materials from his destroyed house. The houses and boats were destroyed either by strong winds or fallen trees. In Barangay Malbago, we spoke with a fisherman in his relief tent, having canned sardines for lunch. He said that he and his family have 20 more cans of sardines for the coming week. It was pretty ironic to see a fisherman eating fish from a can.
The scene in Barangay Bantigue was similar. Houses and boats destroyed and the community subsisting on relief goods. In one area four massive tamarind trees crushing boats and houses. However, Bantigue is the first place to organize their association for the Back to Sea project. Hope was in the air as the Bantigue Fisherfolk Association elected its officers.
After choosing their leaders and completing their list of estimated damages to boats and implements, TIGRA , on behalf of all its donors, proudly gave P107,000 (or $2,500) through the barangay and association officers. With this money, they can buy the necessary materials and hire builders to repair their boats. It was agreed that Luckie, a local resident and staff of the Bantayan Nature Park and Resort, will monitor the project as it rolls.
The following day, we went with Luckie to survey and verify the submitted list of damages in Barangay Sillon, Bantayan. It was sad to see boats ripped in two, parts scattered meters across the sandy beach. People gather whatever is salvageable, pieces of wood, fishing nets, and boat engines. As a sign of hope, however, some of the boats in Barangay Sillon have been repaired and are out at sea.
While the Back to Sea project is beginning to revive the spirit of bayanihan (similar in meaning to Ubuntu in the African tradition) TIGRA is very aware that this is a painstaking and long-haul process. Fisherfolk are frontrunners to feel the impact of typhoons. But more than that, fisherfolk are frontrunners to feel the impact of big problems like climate change and overfishing. With the long-term recovery of Bantayan still in its early stages, we are hopeful that community organizing will mobilize people to find local solutions to big problems. Lack of education, commercial overfishing and the dearth of local value-added fishing infrastructure are among the big problems that have kept fishing communities the poorest of the poor across the Philippines. Building resilience to disasters needs to also acknowledge that coastal communities are vulnerable to typhoons in large part because of poverty and marginalization.
We have begun to ask some of those hard questions regarding the sustainability of fishing in Bantayan Island and the potential for alternative livelihoods. Other means of livelihood include, planting corn, selling fruits, raising chickens and eggs, seaweed farming, and community-based ecotourism. While livelihood issues are certainly different in each place, there is an overwhelming need to empower local people to assert community participation and community-based solutions. We are looking forward to a more thorough organizing and consultation process in the coming months as we help build local governance capacities through the Back to Sea Project.
If you’ve already given, please consider making another modest gift. If you haven’t, then make a donation to support us in our work to restore boats and re-build lives!
Maraming Salamat! Thank you!
For more information on TIGRA’s Relief & Resiliency Campaign click HERE