When 64-year-old fisher Julian Bata and his wife woke up in the wee hours of the morning on November 1, 2020, they were drawn into sharp consciousness by the violent howling of the wind against their nipa roof, coupled with the reverberating cracks of thunder—sounds that are all too familiar to the members of their coastal community in Isla Manaet, Brgy. Pili Iraya, Bacacay.

 

Just a few weeks prior, they also had been at the receiving end of the wrath of Typhoon Quinta and its intense winds and rainfall. Many of the damaged houses in the community still had not been fixed yet. Suffice to say, the sight of an overcast sky, raging winds, and the volatile sea was not unusual for the coastal villages and their fisherfolks.

Isla Manaet is located off the coast of one of the most disaster-prone regions in the Philippines, Albay, which hosts an active volcano, Mount Mayon, and is located along the country’s eastern seaboard. The region is constantly faced with multiple hazards year after year because of its geographic properties and location. Chief among these hazards are the typhoons, which cause storm surges and extreme flooding. Aside from being a regular stopover of tropical cyclones, the province has mountainous areas that are prone to landslides and surface run-off.

The local government authorities had already warned Tatay Julian and the communities in Bacacay about the coming typhoon named Rolly. Their barangay representatives urged the families to secure their belongings, pack up, and evacuate to the designated areas for their safety—a regular practice, given the frequency of typhoons trudging this region.

Before evacuating his small family, Tatay Julian had hurriedly checked on his fishing boat, which he securely tied down and hid under a heavy canvas next to their kubo, located around 200 meters from the shore. Fishing—his main source of livelihood—had been halted because of the inclement weather. Nevertheless, Tatay Julian had to make sure that his boat is safe and intact, so that he can go to sea again once the typhoon has passed.

 

Sanay na kami sa bagyo. Itinali ko yung banka para mabalikan, tapos nag-evacuate na kami dahil 200 meters lang kami mula sa dalampasigan,” noted Tatay Julian, reminiscing how they faced the situation as calmly as they normally would.

(We are used to the typhoons. I tied down the boat and then we evacuated because we are located only 200 meters from the shore)

 

Vita Basaysay, the Social Concerns Officer of Brgy. Pili Iraya, also noted: “Sanay na sila na tuwing masama ang panahon ay naaabala ang kanilang hanapbuhay. Sanay na rin sila—pag may bagyo na dadaan, itatago na nila ang kanilang mga bangka.” (They’re used to their livelihoods being affected whenever there is bad weather. When there is a typhoon that passes, they know to hide and protect their boats)

 

The same is true for the family of Judy Besin, another citizen of Isla Manaet, and her husband, a fisherfolk who resorted to raising hogs as an alternative source of income amid the pandemic. The yield from fishing had not been good because of the typhoons and they needed to find other means to feed their 3 very young children. They could only afford to buy one pig and they had been looking forward to selling it for around Php12,000 once it’s old enough.

Wala na po kaming hanap-buhay maliban sa pangingisda at pagbababoy. Sa isla po mahirap. Malayo ka sa sentro. Nung tumama si Rolly, lumikas po kami. Nakatira po kami sa tabingdagat. Noong bumalik po kami, lahat po ng pag-aari naming ay nasira na, pero naka-survive po yung nag-iisa naming baboy!” exclaimed Judy.

(We don’t have other means of livelihood aside from fishing and hog-raising. Life in the island is very hard. We are so far from the city center. When Rolly hit, we were evacuated. Our family lives next to the shore. When we came back, everything we owned was destroyed, but our sole pig survived!)

 

Judy Besin of Isla Manaet

 

It was soon after their community was evacuated that they realized that Typhoon Rolly was no ordinary typhoon; It would be known as the strongest tropical cyclone to hit the Philippines in 2020, leaving at least 20 people dead in its wake, displacing 89,000 citizens in Albay, and affecting almost two million people across 26 provinces in the island of Luzon. The Bicol Region bore the brunt of the typhoon’s violent winds and torrential rains, blowing away roofs, toppling structures and causing severe flooding and landslides.

 

In the few days it took to sweep across Luzon, Typhoon Rolly claimed lives and destroyed the livelihood of thousands. And unbeknownst to the people of Bicol then, they would only have a few days of respite from the destruction of Rolly before another typhoon hits the region—Typhoon Ulysses.

 

In just over a period of one month from October 11 to November 11, 2020, eight successive typhoons entered the Philippines’ area of responsibility. The most destructive of these were typhoons Quinta and Rolly, which directly impacted Albay.

It was the longest month for the people of Bacacay. And while they are used to calamities and natural disasters, the damages and the losses that they must endure and recover from every time a new typhoon passes do not lessen or hurt less. In the face of a pandemic that has disrupted their lives, the succession of typhoons upended the livelihoods of Isla Manaet’s fisherfolks and left them without income for an extended period. Houses and fishing boats were destroyed, and Isla Manaet was left disconnected and without electricity for months.  

In January 2021, two months after Rolly and Ulysses, The Provincial Government of Albay, through the APSEMO, asked UNDP assistance in damage and loss assessment and early recovery efforts for the vulnerable families affected by Rolly.

Among the key target beneficiaries for the livelihood recovery initiative were women and micro entrepreneurs, farmers, weavers, and fisherfolks like Tatay Julian. Through UNDP’s involvement, the provincial government recognized the importance of rebuilding livelihoods and building seeds of sustainable economic development vis-à-vis the relief operations.

While early recovery response provides an immediate stopgap measure to aid those impacted by the typhoons, it was necessary to capacitate the communities for long-term resilience as well. As the adage goes, ‘give a man fish and he feeds for a day; teach a man how to fish and he eats for a lifetime.’  In the case of our Rebuilding Livelihoods initiative, give fisherfolks capital so they can start investing in alternative types of livelihood for when the seas are too rough for fishing!

The UNDP livelihood assistance, which began in March 2021, reached out to 460 beneficiaries from the seven selected municipalities through the support of the Bicol Consortium for Development initiative (BCDI). Under the initiative, 60 fisherfolks from three barangays in Bacacay namely, Bgy. Busdac, San Pablo, and Pili Iraya, were provided support so that they can recover and rebuild their livelihoods.

 

Fisherfolks from three barangays in Bacacay namely, Bgy. Busdac, San Pablo, and Pili Iraya, who received new fishing gears.

 

A total of 41 fisherfolks who decided to continue fishing received fish nets and a big fish basin to support their fish catch and selling operations, while 19 fisherfolks who opted to venture into alternative livelihood received cash assistance to cover the working capital needed for their chosen alternative livelihood. All of them received seedlings as well for backyard planting.

For the fisherfolks who opted to receive the cash assistance, they went through a series of trainings conducted by BCDI to develop their business plans and learn more about entrepreneurship and financial management. Among them, many have chosen to focus on hog-raising given the high demand.

As for those who opted for the fishing gears, Daniel Belga, Field Officer of BCDI, mentioned that they would rather have new equipment than have money that they could easily lose. He said, “ang pera ay madaling maubos kapag di inalagaan. Para sa iba, mas importante and materiales para sa pangingisda dahil araw-araw nila ito magagamit.”

(You can easily lose money if you don’t spend it wisely. For others, new fishing gears are more important for their everyday use)

 

Daniel Belga, BCDI Field Officer, at the distribution of livelihood assistance to the fisherfolks of Bacacay.

 

Tatay Julian, who has been fishing for 40 years, chose the livelihood cash assistance over the fishing equipment because he wants to start a new business. He knows that more typhoons will pass through their small island and his family will need an alternative source of income for days when fishing is not possible. He would like to use the money to buy a non-motorized sewing machine so that his seamstress wife can sew school uniforms for nearby communities.

He specially highlighted that, “Kailangan mayroong alternatibong hanapbuhay. Ang asawa ko naman ay nananahi. Yung una naming makina ay nasira na dahil sa katagalan. Mayroon kaming natanggap na makina pero kailangan ng kuyente. Pag may bagyo, inaabot ng kalahating taon na wala kaming kuryente. Etong huling bagyo noong October, March na nung bumalik.”

(We need an alternative livelihood. My wife is a seamstress, but our first sewing machine broke because of old age. We received a motorized sewing machine, but it needs electricity to work. When we are battered by a typhoon, it sometimes takes six months for electricity to be reconnected. When we were hit by the typhoons in October, we didn’t have electricity until March.)

Judy and her family chose the cash assistance as well to try to make their hog-raising business more sustainable. She exclaims, “Malaking tulong po! Kasi nagsimula kami sa pagbababoy—yung bagong bangka namin ay nabili naming mula sa binenta naming baboy.”

(This will help us immensely! We started as hog-raisers—we bought our new fishing boat using the earnings from the pig we sold.)

There is still much to learn for these fishing communities, but they have also begun showing interest in learning how to conduct their businesses online despite the difficulties in connectivity in the area. The pandemic has slowed down the demand and has limited physical mobility. For them, going digital is the next frontier.

 

Social Concerns Officer Vita keeps an eye on these fishers to provide much-needed guidance in their new livelihood ventures. She says, “Lagi ko silang pinaaalalahanan na alagaan nilang mabuti yung binigay sa kanilang puhunan. Palaguin nila. Magtulungan sila. Pag-gumanda ang business niyo, hindi lang kayo ang uunlad kundi ang buong komunindad.”

(I always remind them to take good care of the capital given to them and grow it. They need to help each other. Once your business thrives, the community also thrives.)

 

 

While the pandemic is still permeating in all aspects of society, the fisherfolks of Bacacay are hopeful that they will be able to grow the livelihood support into a sustainable income stream that will make them less economically vulnerable come typhoon season. And that the next time Tatay Julian and the other fisherfolks in the coastal communities are woken up from slumber by the rumble of an incoming typhoon, they would not have to worry about where they will get their next meal or how they will be able to afford rebuilding their homes.

 

 

 

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