It’s the Solstice season and the spirit of the Bantayan Back To Sea (BTS) team is buoyant. They have just formed a fishing association in a seventh ward, with residents of Barangay Okoy in Santa Fe electing their officers. The project team helped establish a boat repair station and a schedule of master-builders to assist the locals in getting the vessels back to the sea. In an impressive show of resilience and grit, Bantayonans are rebuilding their lives and in the process empowering their community.
“Never felt more alive than now with the sense of fulfilment and the satisfaction that we are making a difference in the lives of people and their communities,” shares Allan Monreal of BTS in his Facebook post. “This is the best Christmas gift given to me.”
Allan is also the president of the Bantayan Island Association of Resorts, Hotels, Bar and Restaurants. Even before the storm, he was already seeking ways to integrate the locals into a communal, local development strategy. He wants everyone in the island to benefit from the economic activities that tourism brings—from employment opportunities, to reinvestment from resorts to local development priorities.
After the storm, in a conversation with Tourism Officers of the Island , Allan said “We could only say that tourism in Bantayan has fully recovered when all communities in it has recovered as well.”
Last December 21, TIGRA initiated a fundraising event in Berkeley, California to support the project. The event highlight was a Skype conversation with the BTS team, accompanied by the elected president of the newly-formed Guiwanon Fishermen’s Association, and one of its members Jimmy Fernandez and his family. After Jimmy’s boat was repaired, he named it “Concepcion” as a request of one of the donors in Oakland. (Fittingly, Concepcion was a migrant farmworker in the United States who knew about poverty and hardship. She passed away last year, and her daughters thought their mom would be proud to lend her name to the plight of fisherfolk.) BTS calls this the “Love Boat Project” when donors can adopt a boat and name it in honor of someone they love.
The event proved successful, encouraging more people to donate. Most notably, a representative from the Service Employees International Union pitched the project to fellow members after the event and got a commitment to adopt 20 boats in the name of the Health Workers Organizing for the Philippines Effort (HOPE). There will be purple and yellow boats (SEIU’s colors) plying the waters of Bantayan for years to come—a show of solidarity across the seas.
As a sign of ongoing commitment and a recognition that the work has just begun, the Back To Sea team is planning on becoming a formally constituted non-government organization in the area. TIGRA-Philippines and JSM are helping BTS develop a plan and infrastructure for best servicing the newly-formed associations and to ensure that grassroots leadership development becomes a central component of the effort. They are considering a social enterprise approach in sustaining the project financially. They are initially looking at two performance indicators in organizing the fisherfolk communities. First is having the fishermen with their boats and implements back to sea; the second is for them to be able to manage their community’s resources.
With TIGRA’s help, the BTS project is looking at a third performance indicator, i.e. making the fisherfolk associations more meaningfully participate in the overall development plans of their communities and municipalities. For example, in another fishing community in Aloguinsan, the association flexed their political power by sponsoring a candidates’ forum and invited all Mayoral aspirants. Each was asked on whether they support the Association’s platform, which included a request to build toilets in every household in their Barangay. Their candidate won and toilets are being installed.
In line with this, TIGRA is joining a four-day seminar in Bantayan Island that will be attended
by 100 barangay and fisherfolk association officials. This will be held in the Bantayan Island Nature Park on December 26-29, 2013. Melissa Gibson of TIGRA-Philippines will be talking about Assets-Based Community Development as a participatory process for associations to map their assets and manage them according to their needs.
As you can see, residents of Bantayan Island have begun to forge an exciting path forward since the storm. In an ironic twist of inexplicable fate, Haiyan/Yolanda has ushered in a new era of hopefulness that Bantayanons have seized, fervently!
Let’s continue to support our brothers and sisters realize their dreams. Give today.