They may be in need of help from the government, but displacing them from their homes and stripping them off of their livelihoods to give way to foreign investors are the last kind of “help” they could hope for.
By DANIEL BOONE
PAN-AY, Capiz – Kuya Ronie, a resident of Buntod village in this town still recalls the huge waves that came to their shore at the height of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) three years ago.
“Some of us evacuated in elevated areas. Some, like my wife and I, chose to stay at home to safeguard our belongings,” he told Bulatlat, shifting languages from Filipino to his native tongue, Ilonggo.
Kuya Ronie said the impact of the super-typhoon in their area was not severe. Flashfloods destroyed a couple of houses, but everything went fine afterwards, even with little or no help coming from the government. Relief goods and promised monetary compensations did not even reach them.
Yolanda was among the strongest typhoons in recorded history. Wind gusts reached 275 kilometers per hour, enough to uproot coconut trees and ground huge shipping vessels to shore. Government put the death toll at 6,300; a total of 1,062 have gone missing; at least 28,600 were injured, while more than three million families lost their homes. All these happened in almost an instant, November 8, 2013: the longest 24 hours for the residents of the Visayas region.
Kuya Ronie’s home community of Buntod may have been spared by Yolanda’s wrath, but government now uses such disaster statistics to relocate them to give way to a more favored replacement: the expansion of mining firm operations.
Living in the danger zone
The local government in Capiz had been wanting to demolish their homes and relocate them because they are living in “danger zones,” said Kuya Ronie. After Typhoon Yolanda, there had been serious efforts from different organizations to help rehabilitate the affected areas. To designate a 40-meter danger zone from the shoreline was perhaps the best the government could do, Kuya Ronie added.
If it pushes through, the danger zones would demolish and relocate Kuya Ronie’s family, and around a hundred other homes in the community. However, leaving their homes would mean leaving the fruits of their life-long investment and hard work. It means a life in a relocation site, away from work, schools, and basic social needs and services, Kuya Ronie explained.
Essentially, leaving their homes comes down to allowing the government to pursue what it wants. For in the guise of helping the community and bringing them to safety, government hides the truth as to why it wants them relocated.
Source of hazard
Huge corporate and foreign mining firms are mining the seas because the shores of Panay are rich in black sand, all the more the land underneath the water, Kuya Ronie explained. Black sand is a good conductor of electricity. Some foreign mining companies are in pursuit of the raw material for electronic uses.
Kuya Ronie and residents of Panay have long fought these mining firms who have been destroying their rivers and seas. Demolishing their homes and relocating them somewhere else would mean one less hindrance to the operation of these mining firms, which translates to revenues to the local government.
The mining companies in their area have largely affected their livelihood, Kuya Ronie said.
“Umiinit ‘yung dagat. Halos [kalahati] na lang ng kita namin noon ang kinikita namin ngayon sa pag-aani ng talaba at lamang dagat (The sea is getting warmer. Our daily income from harvesting oysters and other seafood have decreased by half compared to the previous years),” he said.
But the problem of the sudden drop in their earnings due to decreasing harvest from the seas are further aggravated by security concerns heightened by the mere presence of the mining firms in their seas.
Fishing zones in the waters have been allocated for the fisherfolk, and several sea patrol guards, or “bantay-dagat” have been deployed to the area. Going beyond the designated fishing zone would mean paying fines which could amount to a staggering P60,000 ($1,200). The likes of Kuya Ronie could not possibly shell out that much even after a month of hard labor.
“The guards are armed with guns. Some folks have told us they would rather be shot than pay such huge fines,” said Mang Nonoy, a resident of another affected community and chairperson of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) in the community.
Kuya Ronie and the residents of Pan-ay earn money through collective efforts in cultivating and harvesting oysters and mussels and catching crabs and fish by the shores. The homes in which they live were built atop the river banks and have been there for many years.
“Dito na kami lumaki. Dito na ako natutong mangisda at manghuli ng lamang dagat (Here is where I grew up. Here is where I learned to fish and catch seafood),” Kuya Ronie said.
They may be in need of help from the government, but displacing them from their homes and stripping them off of their livelihoods to give way to foreign investors are the last kind of “help” they could hope for. They want the mining companies gone from their waters, as well as huge shipping vessels that seemed to have monopolized the catch of fish in the area.
The threats of demolition and displacement from their community are as real as before, inciting fears even to a community that has bravely stood against a storm as strong as Yolanda.
“Gusto namin manatili dito. Nandito ‘yung ikinabubuhay namin, wala naman sa paglilipatan sa amin (We want to stay here. Our livelihood is here and not where they want to relocate us),” Kuya Ronie said.