By Lore Devlamynck

March 2016

Summer time is beach time! March officially marks the start of summer in the Philippines, during which people flock to the beach to party, do water adventure, or simply watch the sunset to soothe their stressed-out souls. As for me, its to get to know the people by the sea.

Barangay Tomongtong in EB Magalona, Negros Oriental is a really poor fisherfolk community where people’s only source of income is fishing. I saw a lot of malnourished kids. They only have one meal a day. For breakfast they drink coffee, for lunch they eat rice and for dinner – nothing. They use one cup of rice and mix it with a lot of water, so they can ‘feed’ more people. It’s really sad and heartbreaking. Because of the lack of food, their immune system is very weak. Plus you have climate change and the wind direction that changes all the time which cause people to get flu, sinusitis, bronchitis and other respiratory problems.

I interviewed the fishermen and learned that the land they live on is public and yet the goverment wants to demolish their houses. But why?! These people are still suffering from typhoon Yolanda and you can see that their houses and boats have never even been repaired. 

I also learned that they used to catch 10-12kg of crabs. Now it’s only 2kgs. Their nets last only 15 days, afterwhich it will be all damaged. Because they can’t afford a new one, they have to borrow money from their buyers (middlemen). This is how the middlemen are able to monopolize the catch of the fishers. If you don’t yield to their demands, don’t expect to have a new net.

After the interview, they took me to the beach to see the mangroves and black sand which bussinesmen are eyeing for mining. This will destroy the houses by the beach and make the ground sink. There’s also a policy that when the mangroves are full grown, people with houses in between will be made to self-evict. The ironic thing is they planted those mangroves. They just make everything really difficult for the fishers.

At 3am (still dark!) I felt really excited to go to the sea. We dropped the net, went to the fisherpent to observe, then went back to our net to catch the crabs. They let me help and we caught only six crabs.

That is really small. Imagine the people have to survive on this? Only 110 pesos for one crab. That’s not enough if you have a lot of children.

Some people here in the community don’t have a lot of children. They planned to not have so many. You see the difference also, because in the family with two children they can go to college while in the bigger families you see no one (or one if they are lucky) in college. Even then, getting into college will not necessarily make it easy for someone to find work here. It’s not that easy anymore, a lot of them have to find work abroad.

After this we went to the last community La Tasan. We had to walk 30 minutes through an amazing mangrove forest that was planted by two men (the chairman of La Tasan and his brother). We passed by a lot of houses that had been destroyed by typhoon Yolanda. The men constructing the road live far from the center and if they need healthcare, that is even much harder.

The most common health problems in this community are malnutrition, skin diseases, fever, cough, and the Zika virus. The barangay health workers don’t have enough medicines and the main thing they do there is observing. You see here a lot of youth of 16 years old that already have one or two children of their own, and those who still go to school have to walk 5km.

Lore Devlamynck, a nurse taking up MA International Cooperation at Howest University in Belgium, is in Negros for her internship.