BY JANESS ANN ELLAO
RAPU-RAPU ISLAND, Albay — Three decades ago, the Department of Sociology of the University of the Philippines provided interesting insights into the actual power of women. Its study showed that women from the lower classes have more say in decision-making and holds the purse strings compared to their counterparts from higher-income groups.
But since there is barely enough money to meet household needs, there is no political power attached to women holding the purse strings. Finding additional income for the family falls on the shoulders of mothers, wives and daughters.
Antipas Belanto, 48, a resident of Barangay (village) Tinopan of this town knows only too well the struggles a family must make to earn a living.
Loss of livelihood
Belanto could still remember the day her husband complained of an unbearable stomachache. The next day, as she was approaching their house, she was astounded to hear that he had died. Shattered and devastated, Belanto felt she had to be strong for her four children.
Nine years since then, Belanto has been striving for her family’s daily needs, selling root crops and vegetables that she personally grows in her backyard. “Sobrang tipid kami (sa pagkain),” she said. (“We had to severely limit our food intake.”)
Belanto told Bulatlat that her father used to tell her not to be complacent even if they could somehow meet their daily needs, saying that someday no one in the island would be able to feed their own selves. Her father’s insight began to unfold in 2005 when the Belanto family, along with the rest in their community, was affected by the widespread fish-kill that resulted from the cyanide-laden tailings spills by the then Australian-owned Lafayette Mining Ltd. This was followed by another spill in 2007.
Since almost all her children now have a family of their own, Belanto’s 17-year-old son and youngest among her four children, Rogee, now stands as the family’s breadwinner. At his tender age, he sails with older fisherfolk to be able to bring home food to his mother.
“Palala na nang palala ang buhay ngayon,” Belanto said. (“Life is much worse now.”) She said the decreasing number of fish catch in their area has made it difficult for Rogee to bring home food. The root crops and vegetables she grows are being destroyed by the typhoons.
“Dati sa isang linggo, nakakabenta ako ng sampung kilong talong pero ngayon wala na,” she said. (“Before I could sell as much as ten kilos of eggplant in a matter of one week.”)
Belanto said the demand for abaca, another source of income for the residents of Rapu-Rapu, has stopped.
“Isang linggong kahig, isang tuka” said Belanto. (“One week of hard work could purchase just one meal.”)
Belanto said that one of their problems is the expensive rice since there are no rice fields in Rapu-Rapu. A kilo of commercial rice costs 37 pesos while NFA rice is 33 pesos. “Kung noon ay tatlong takal, ngayon ay isa’t kalahati na lang [ang sinasaing].” (“We used to cook three cups of rice, these days we could only afford one and a half cup.”)
“Masarap na mahirap,” she said. (“Living is both sweet and bitter”). She would sometimes ask the help of her relatives but since all of them lost their livelihood due to the spills, she doesn’t expect anything from them.
“Makita ko lang ang anak ko,” (“I just want to see my children”) Belanto told Bulatlat when asked about the what makes her happy despite the poverty she is facing every day. “Ang buhay ko ay nasa anak ko na lang. Luluha ako para sa mga anak ko lang,” (“My life is for my children. I will only suffer for the sake of my children”) she added tearfully.
Belanto is just one of the many families whose lives have been affected by the large-scale mining operations on their island. For Belanto and the rest of the residents of Rapu-Rapu, poverty has worsened with the entry of foreign mining corporations. (Bulatlat.com)