PAGBILAO, Quezon – It has been a rough couple of years for the fishermen in Pagbilao Grande Island in Quezon Province as restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic hindered their livelihood. The quarantine measures imposed by the government have prevented the fishermen from selling their catch in local markets in nearby towns. Tourism, which served as their other source of income on the island, was halted as well.
The fishermen, who all belong to the Fishermen Organization of Grande Island (FOGI), have waited patiently for the government to lift the lockdown restrictions, but days turned into months, and now, it has been more than two years since the start of the pandemic. While the situation now has significantly improved as the number of COVID-19 cases decrease and the economy opening up again, recovery for these fishermen has been slow as they continue to struggle to rebuild back the livelihood that they have nearly lost.
“Sobrang hirap talaga noong panahon na iyon, at hanggang ngayon, hindi pa talaga kami nakakabalik sa dati,” FOGI President Willy Batocabe shared. “Sa kabuhayan namin, wala namang kasiguraduhan–hindi namin alam kung may huli kami sa araw na ito o bukas, pero syempre, hindi kami susuko dahil para ito sa aming pamilya.”
Staying true to their mission of creating sustainable communities, AboitizPower subsidiary Therma Luzon, Inc. (TLI), together with Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (AFI), has partnered with BFAR-National Brackishwater Fisheries Technology Center (NBFTC) and Fisheries Iringan Samahan sa Hanapbuhay (FISH) Primary Service Cooperative to provide the fishermen in their host community in Pagbilao, Quezon with a more sustainable and assured livelihood.
“Through this Bangus Grande Enterprise project, we hope to capacitate these fishermen in managing their own milkfish or bangus fish cage business,” said TLI Reputation and Stakeholder Management Specialist Rupert Vito.
This program is a testament to TLI’’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, particularly on Decent Work and Economic Growth, which promotes the sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
For this project, TLI has provided three 5×5 fish cages and 4,370 fingerlings to help these fishermen kickstart their new livelihood. The first batch of fingerlings were released on March 23, 2022, and will be ready for harvest by the end of May.
BFAR-NBFTC and FISH, meanwhile, are providing technical assistance to the fishermen, including a series of trainings on marketing and post-harvest value-added production. “Patuloy na tutulong ang BFAR mula sa training hanggang sa marketing, hanggang sa pagpoproseso ng atin pong maani na mga bangus,” said Brenda Sarmiento, BFAR-NBFTC Aquaculturist II.
Carmela Eubion, FISH-Primary Service Cooperative Treasurer, said even the family members of the fishermen will have a part in sustaining this livelihood. “May other value-adding products na puedeng gawin ng mga asawa o kamag-anak ng mga mangingisda. Puedeng gawing boneless ang bangus, o butterfly marinated, o ‘di kaya gawing tinapa,” she explained.
Vito explained that after undergoing a series of trainings, the overall management of the business will eventually be turned over to the fishermen. “Umaasa po kami sa FOGI na ang proyektong ito ay pag-iingatan, payayabungin, at palalaguin upang tuluyang maingat ang buhay ng kanilang mga pamilya,” he added.
Sarmiento, for her part, assured the fishermen that BFAR will work side-by-side with them, and will ensure that they are fully capable in handling the business on their own before turning over the management to them.
“Patuloy na tutulong ang BFAR hanggang ang ating beneficiaries ay makakatayo sa sarili nilang mga paa upang maipagpatuloy nila sa kanilang sariling paraan ang negosyong ating ipinagkaloob sa kanila,” she said.
Batocabe thanked the project members for the help that was provided to them. “Malaking tulong po ang naibigay po sa akin at sa mga kasamahan ko at mga pamilya namin, lubos ang aming pasasalamat,” he said.
Therma Luzon, Inc. (TLI) is AboitizPower’s 700 MW coal-fired power plant in Pagbilao, Quezon province. TeaM Energy Corporation (TeaM Energy) operates the facility under a Build-Operate-Transfer scheme.