For over fifty years, the Laguna Lake has been the source of livelihood for Euphemio Bibat, 76, and a fisherman who raised his five children from the lake’s resources. Those long years of dedication to the lake, however, was not enough to inspire any of his offspring to take after his footsteps.
“Mahirap, nakita nila siwasyon ko. Pero ito ay biyaya. Hindi sila sumalang sa gutom,” Mang Euphemio explains why none of his children took after him.
(Difficult, they saw my situation. But this is a blessing. They didn’t experience hunger).
Mang Euphemio Bibat, fisherfolk of Laguna Lake talks about the life of a fisherman at this time when the Laguna Lake is no longer how it used to be.
Laguna Lake ranks number one in terms of area at 90,000 hectares, covering parts of Laguna and Rizal. Meanwhile, the fishing industry has over 1.6M fishing operators nationwide, wherein the biggest sector is the municipal fisheries generating over 1.3M employment. Mang Euphemio belongs to the municipal fisheries sector, classified by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources as those who fish in coastal and inland, with or without the use of boats at 3-tons gross or less.
Mang Euphemio’s municipality belongs to Region IV-A which contributed 8.9% (over 21M) to the total value (over 200M) of fish production in the country in 2014.
The lake of yesterday and today
Mang Euphemio actively volunteers at the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council. His group helped build a sanctuary for fishes because they wanted to have an area where fishes could propagate. The group created the sanctuary with the help of Lakehead, an international group engaged in lake developments. The members were provided with technical assistance and some allowance to carry out the project.
It pleases him to see that there is now a sanctuary of fish in their community lake.
He recalls the time in 1960’s when the lake was still pristine, that they could drink straight from the lake. Today, his community gets water for household use from their backyard deep well. It is also where they get their drinking water. Commercial water refilling stations, common in most villages are not a common sight in their barangay.
“May mga nasira ang tyan dati sa ibang barangay at dito sa amin tumuloy, kasi hindi naman kami nagkakasakit sa naiinom naming tubig ditto (There were those who suffered from stomach ache in another barangay and they evacuated here because they said, we didn't have any gastric problem here),” he recalls.
The veteran fisherfolk recalls that the lake started to deteriorate in the 1980s when factories were put up in the area and contaminated the water. The locals, like him, can tell when the water is dirty.
“Kung saan maraming ibon, doon marumi ang tubig, maraming lumulutang na isda o hipon para humihinga, kinakain sila ng mga ibon (The presence of many birds mean that the water is murky as most fishes or shrimps would be floating to breathe, and the birds would flock there to eat them),” says Mang Euphemio.
Today, the lake is infested with water lilies that hinder the fisherfolks to get to clear water to fish. But other than that, Mang Euphemio sees not much problems with the proliferation of water lilies in their lake.
He believes, though, that water from the nearby industries and resorts are contributing to the current sorry state of the lake.
“Yung mga sabon na galing jan sa mga resort, lalo nilang pinalalago ang mga water lily (Water lilies thrive from the soap suds coming from the swimming resorts),” he says.
He is also not sure of where exactly the industrial wastes go, but he had noticed the water tends to get more dirty about three days after the rain.
The increase in settlement also contributed to the lake's pollution. When they started fishing in the 1960s, there were only about eight family settlers in the barangay and now there are 80.
The jackpot days
While storm and flood may be dreadful to most people, Mang Euphemio looks at the two sides of this calamity. The bad news is that when there’s flood, they have to evacuate and move to higher ground, leaving their home temporarily. But the good news is, when the water rises due to heavy rain, they do not even have to go out in the lake because they could easily catch fish from their backyard.
On good days, Mang Euphemio says they catch up to forty kilos. At P20 per kilo, Mang Euphemio considers it a jackpot to be earning P800. But when there is not much catch, fishefolks can gather up to 10 kilos which sell for P200.
To augment their income, the community fishermen harvest kangkong from the lake and sell them to the market per bundle at P150. But there are times when they just have to make do with whatever the buyer offers, even if it’s less than P150.
Aside from kangkong, they also harvest water lily and earn 20¢ for each stalk they sell. Most folks would rather sell kangkong as it has a better price than water lily.
Two fisherfolks harvest kangkong to augment their income. The locals sell this bundle to the market, for P150 or less. They accept what is offered them by the buyer.
Because few of them have the transportation means to bring their products to the market, Mang Euphemio sells his catch to others in the community who can bring it to the market and resell it at higher price. They would sell it at P20 per kilo and it will be sold usually at P35 in the market.
The road to progress
Since the 1960s, progress has barely touched Mang Euphemio’s community. Considering their proximity to Manila, the road is still unpaved, water is still through deep well, and four to six families has to share a single electric meter.
Mang Euphemio said that a dike might be built along the shore and he heard of a plan to convert the lake into an eco-tourism spot.
His apprehension is that when that happens, there will be like 16 feet wall between the lake and their backyard. He can already imagine that if that plan pushes through, they will have to contend with two flooded areas: one in the lake and the other their backyard.
The dirtroad going to the Barangay Ringgot, Lecheria, Calamba, Laguna where Mang Euphemio lives.
These are just some of the issues confronting the Laguna lake fisher folks which the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP) aims to address in its upcoming Science and Policy Forum for Sustainable Laguna Lake Management on November 22 to 23 2016 in Summit Ridge Hotel, Tagaytay City. The forum will be a gathering of fishers, farmers, environmental experts in the academic, administrative and legislative sectors.
To know more about the services of NRCP, visit their website: http://www.nrcp.dost.gov.ph (By Geraldine Bulaon-Ducusin, S&T Media Service, DOST-STII / Photos by Val Zabala, DOST-NRCP)