By GEELA GARCIA
BACOOR, Cavite – Gilbert Bohol, 34, has been a fisherman all his life. His day begins at 3:30 in the morning, going to the sea to catch mussels, crabs, and squid. He spends 12 hours of his day at the waters, and heads back to his home at 4 p.m.
On good days, he can earn a thousand pesos (roughly US $21), but it’s not unusual for him to go home without a single catch, especially since the dolomite has been dumped to “beautify” Manila Bay.
“Since the dolomite was dumped, our catch drastically dwindled and there are days I go home empty-handed. Zero,” Bohol said in Filipino.
His miseries and that of the entire fishing community in Bacoor began in 2017, when fire razed their homes in Maliksi Tres. That day, most families were not at home, attending the school’s whole day event, which is why the community suspects that it was a deliberate fire to relocate the over 700 families in the barangay.
Myrna Candinato, president of Alyansa ng mga Magdaragat sa Bacoor Bay, said the local government immediately offered relocation, instead of relief. Right after the fire, Candinato and their members went back to their homes instead of staying in evacuation centers, fearing of losing access to livelihood.
In 2018, fire also razed nearby Barangays Maliksi Uno and Tabing Dagat. In 2019, fire hit barangay Talaba, and this year, on All Saints’ Day, fire broke out in barangay Alima and barangay Siniguelesan.
Demolitions aren’t new to the community, since the over 420-hectare coastal community, to be reclaimed as a commercial, residential, and industrial area is part of the 33,000-hectare Manila Bay Reclamation project.
Mayor Lani Revilla, together with Frabelle Fishing Corporation, proposed the reclamation project which is under the Bacoor Reclamation and Development Project (BRDP) and the Diamond Reclamation and Development Project (DRDP).
Despite the environmental hazards that the projects would cause to Manila Bay’s ecosystem, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) released an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), which green-lights the disputable reclamation project which would displace over 700 fishing families.
The construction of the CAVITEX, too, is a product of the reclamation project.
Bohol said the construction of the highway destroyed the halaan (clam) industry in Bacoor. These days they have they have to travel to Bulacan just to buy halaan.
Before, Bohol said he could fill a 500-gram tin can with clams, which he sells at P100 to P120 (US$2 – US$2.50). He could no longer catch clams in Bacoor lately, even for their own consumption.
In October, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) mounted metal walls without consulting the community. According to Bohol, had they not resisted, the passageway going to their fishing areas would be completely blocked.
“We immediately set up a barricade when we learned that they started the construction. How could we survive if we could no longer use our boats?” said Bohol.
Bacoor is the country’s mussels capital. Years back, Bohol said they can harvest two sacks of mussels, selling one sack for P2,000 ($42) . However, “bahong” (fake tahong or mussel), an invasive species, started to infest their mussel farms.
The exponential growth of bahong reflects the aggravating marine pollution in the waters of Manila Bay. The invasive specie competes for nutrients with the tahong, which results in lesser harvest of the marketable shellfish. Lately, they can only get half sack of tahong, as the other half were bahong.
Bahong is unmarketable because of its bitter taste, likened to tobacco. Others have tried to turn it into bagoong to make it more edible, but at large, the invasive species remains to be a pest for fisherfolk.
Increasing costs of bamboo poles also affected his earnings. A bundle of bamboo then was only P25 ($0.52) but its cost went as high as P150 ($3.12) Other fishermen have decided to use plastic containers and styrofoams instead of bamboo poles for their farms.
Blackchin tilapia, another invasive species which competes with native fish, also infests the waters in Bacoor. It carries the local name “Gloria” or “tilapiang Arroyo” because of its mole-like pigmentation under its jaw and its small size which resembles the past president. Unfamiliar consumers may mistake the fake tilapia for the St. Peter’s Fish and fishermen consider this smaller tilapia as a pest.
Aside from pests and increasing costs of equipment, Bohol also pointed out that the wastes of the growing numbers of POGO hubs in Cavite also damaged his catch.
During the lockdown, Bohol said he had to sell his catch for a lower price. His day’s catch, which he usually sells at P200 – 220 ($4.16 – $4.58) before the pandemic, is now priced at P80 to P90 ($1.67 – $1.87) .
Fishing nets also cost up to P700 ($14.58) per piece which could only be used for a week. “Worse, there are times it gets stolen,” Bohol’s wife, Shyne, said.
An expert from Pamalakaya, Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines, said that only genuine rehabilitation of the waters can combat these invasive species. However, instead of proposing comprehensive environmental solutions, the government is focused on empty and thoughtless solutions such as the dumping of the dolomite to revitalize Manila Bay.
“The sea is getting smaller for us,” Bohol said. “We are being demolished, our homes set on fire. I wish my child would be able to find another means of living [when he grows up],” he said.
Bohol stays in his community as it is the only livelihood he knows.
The relocation site proposed by the local government is in Naic, Cavite, a non-coastal area. And if the fisherfolk were to agree to be relocated away from their livelihoods, the fare for transportation from the relocation site to Bacoor would already cost them P210 ($4.37)a day, a huge amount for fishermen who earn an average of P500 ($10.41) after a long day at the sea.
After the fire at barangay Siniguelesan and barangay Alima on Nov 1, residents who were pushed by the desperation of devastation agreed to be relocated and were given swab tests. This revealed that 11 people tested positive with the COVID-19 virus, putting the whole community in emergency quarantine.
Previous residents who have relocated to Naic, moved back to Bacoor because of lack of access to livelihood and basic social services such as water and electricity. “If they would relocate us, how do we survive?” says Bohol.
On top of lesser catch, increasing fishing expenses, and threats of displacement, Bohol’s wife also expressed her fear of the men deployed in their community. Other residents also shared that suspicious people visited their community in December when the lockdown was once again enforced in their neighborhood.
Instead of submitting to fear, these scare tactics encouraged them to be more united. “We are on alert, even the children. We know what to do in case another fire happens,” said another local, Glenda Magaso.
For Bohol, his only hope is that fisherfolk like him would be considered in any development project. “Big people have plans for our community. We just hope they also think about us,” he said.