He may have dropped out of high school but his biggest qualification is his almost three decades of involvement in the struggles of fisherfolk.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Fernando Hicap or “Ka Pando” to his colleagues is up to a great challenge.
All his life, Ka Pando, chairman of the fisherfolk group Pamalakaya and first nominee of Anakpawis partylist, confronted difficulties.
He was born on May 8, 1961 from a poor family in Castilla, Sorsogon province. His father was a worker in a fishing company and would sometimes be hired as a seasonal laborer in coconut plantations. At the age of eight, the young Pando would help in copra production by gathering coconuts. At 12, he started going with adults fishing at sea.
Poverty compelled him to stop attending classes when he reached second year in high school. He chose to work full-time to augment the family’s income.
“I learned to smoke early,” Ka Pando confessed. “It was cold out there in the sea. The adults with me were all smoking.”
Later, he would also work in a fishing company. His first destination was Palawan.
Their average catch was ten tons per day but they received meager pay. He was paid P7 per day and often worked for 24 hours. “Every four hours, we would throw in the fishing net. In between, we would be busy in the storage room.”
Such difficult life made it easy for him to embrace a movement that espouses genuine change in society.
Sometime in 1984, a group of organizers reached their village. “They spoke about our situation and how to change society. I was convinced,” he said. Since then, he began organizing farmers and fishermen.
In 1987, when a strong typhoon hit the province, Ka Pando, then chairman of the Samahan ng Mangingisda sa Tomalaytay, a cooperative, helped the affected fishermen. “Almost all of the boats were ruined,” he recalled. Through the assistance of the Redemptorist Church, their cooperative was able to obtain a loan from a bank for the rehabilitation of the fishing community in Castilla.
It was at the Church where he first learned public speaking. “I was trembling as I read the liturgy,” Ka Pando said, smiling. “I was too shy.”
He managed to overcome the stage fright eventually. In fact, in 1989, he ran for barangay elections as a councilor and won. He served as a village councilor for nine years.
Molded by struggles
In 1992, Ka Pando served as chairman of Lambat Bicol, a regional organization of fisherfolk in the region.
Lambat Bicol led the campaign for the welfare of fisherfolk. The most prominent of these struggles is the fight against the Unified Fisheries Ordinance in 2000.
“It’s the local version of the Fisheries Code and would have displaced thousands of fisherfolk in eight municipalities in the region,” Ka Pando said.
The proposed ordinance sought to set boundaries in fishing areas called zones. Private entities and corporations expressed interest to bid for exclusive fishing rights. “Of course, the fishermen, even if we have cooperatives, could not compete. The ordinance was passed to pave the way for commercial fishing,” the fisherfolk leader explained.
Ka Pando’s organization led the campaign against the said ordinance. From petition signing, dialogues to fluvial parade, caravan and rallies, thousands of small fishermen frustrated the passage of the said ordinance.
Ka Pando would have wanted to run as barangay chairman in 2001 but he later chose to respond to a more important work. In 2002,he became chairman of Pamalakaya and has since led campaigns against threats to the livelihood of fisherfolk.
Ka Pando’s family has come to accept and respect what he does.
He and his wife Amelia have ten children. To sustain the needs of the family, Ka Pando cultivated a small piece of land and planted palay. He also tends animals such as carabao, cow and pigs.
“During difficult times, we would sell a cow or a carabao,” he said.
Ka Pando said he would always explain to his children that their poverty is a result of an unjust system. “I always tell them we need to help one another. They must know how to be thrifty. In that way, they are helping the family.”
His children also availed of scholarships. His older children managed to finish vocational-technical courses. Four of his children are still studying, the youngest is in Grade 4.
Like any activist leader, Ka Pando was not alien to threats and harassment.
During the height of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) in 2006, soldiers stationed in front of the house of Ka Pando. “They would even stay at our bahay kubo (nipa hut),” he said. “From the national highway too our house, the military set up 16 detachments.”
At that time, Ka Pando is already based in Manila. The soldiers targeted members of his family. “My father was interrogated by soldiers six times,” he said. “They asked him my whereabouts.”
Ka Pando said soldiers never talked to his wife but soldiers, armed with high-powered rifles, would often stay at their neighbor’s house. Ka Pando said that for a time, his wife showed signs of paranoia. “She could not trust anyone,” he said.
Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya claimed more than a thousand lives, mostly activists, according to human rights group Karapatan.
Ka Pando eventually asked his family to move out of their town and join him in Manila.
Up to the challenge
Ka Pando has been chosen as the first nominee of Anakpawis.
“This is challenging. Legislation is a different work,” he said. “And I would have to confront enemies of the exploited classes.”
But Ka Pando has no worries. The representatives of the exploiting classes, he said, may have high educational attainments but he has an advantage over them, the mass movement. “I would not be alone,” he said.
“In order to change society, the people have no one to rely on but their collective action,” Ka Pando said.