Mang Mario never stopped picking stones during the interview. He would glance and smile occasionally but kept on looking for stones. Amazingly, there was no trace of exhaustion in his face. He was determined to fill up his pail with Lune stones before sundown.
“Mahirap kasi kung minsan wala ring kita. Kaya kailangang magsipag kasi kung hindi, walang kakainin ang pamilya ko. Wala naman akong magagawa kasi ganun talaga buhay,” Mang Mario said. (It is hard because sometimes we do not earn. We need to be industrious because, if not, my family will have nothing to eat. I cannot do anything because that is just how life is.)
The Non-associated Stone Pickers
In Nalvo Sur, another coastal barangay in Luna, Northern Dispatch met Manang Amy Daffun, 47, widow, who has been a stone picker for 15 years. Like other stone pickers, she also relocated her house along the beach where she gathers. She lives with her three children and their respective families.
Nalvo Sur offers more variety of stones – coral, marble, brighter colored and flat. She said that they do not have a stone pickers’ association or cooperative in Nalvo Sur at present.
“Meron kami dating asosasyon pero nawala rin kasi sa pulitika. Hindi magkasundo sa lahat ng bagay. Wala rin naman naitutulong kaya binuwag na lang,” Manang Amy said. (We had an association in the past but it disintegrated due to politics. The members did not agree on all matters. It also did not help so we just abolished it.)
Manang Amy said that stone pickers work separately. They agreed on a uniform price to minimize the pressure of competition. She accepts pre-paid orders. The customers provide the plastic or sack for the stones while Manang Amy picks and cleans the stones. She also arranges the delivery.
“There are times when we do not earn enough from stone picking,” she said. Whenever these times come, her sons go fishing.
Manong Mario and Manang Amy are just two of the many stone pickers in Luna who stay under the scorching sun for hours just to fill up a pail with stones. Their lives greatly depend in stone picking. All their hard work for at least P25 ($0.49) a pail, while those who buy stones from them profit more.
Reaching Out to Luna Stone Pickers
Last year, the Provincial Government of La Union launched a Basic Cooperative Financial Management and Operations Seminar (Sagip Luna Project) to reach out to stone pickers of Luna. Based on the official website of the local government of La Union, the training was an idea of the Office of the Provincial Agriculture to provide people with working knowledge and skills in recording cooperative business transactions and preparation of basic financial statements.
City officials also assured the Stone Pickers Development Cooperatives of Luna, La Union that they will be one of the priority beneficiaries of the funds from the tobacco excise tax amounting to P600,000 ($14,760.15) which will be equally divided among the 12 existing cooperatives to serve as their seed fund.
This project is a huge step for Luna stone pickers who belong to the 12 cooperatives. Unfortunately for those like Manang Amy whose community does not have a cooperative, the government support means nothing.(Bulatlat.com)