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SLIDESHOW: A community in Philippines' fishing capital Navotas adjusts to life under quarantine

Text and photos by George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 14 2020 02:34 AM | Updated as of May 14 2020 10:07 AM

Just like how other cities in Metro Manila are finding ways to adjust to the ‘new normal’ under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the fishing community in Navotas City has had to change with the times.

The city, which has been dubbed the "Commercial Fishing Hub of the Philippines," has the third largest fish port in Asia. On May 6, Mayor Toby Tiangco placed the city under “extreme enhanced community quarantine” (EECQ) that will end on May 15, the last day of the third extension of the ECQ declared by President Duterte.

Under the executive order, barangays have an alternating schedule of their supply runs in the market or pharmacies. Residents must stay inside their homes, mostly made of light materials, in scorching summer heat. 

BUHAY NAMAMALAKAYA 

One of the changes came from the Philippine Coast Guard. Boat owners, pilots, and crew members now have to present complete papers, licenses, and have temperature checks before being allowed to sail. This way, authorities have a complete list of fishermen sailing in the area. 

Unfortunately, not everyone can go out and work every day. A few of them, especially those with smaller boats, have to weigh their chances first on whether to go out or not. One big factor is the weather. Fishermen with smaller boats need almost a whole day to get a good catch, just enough to replenish the capital they spent on that particular trip. But since the community quarantine took effect, their livelihood has been severely affected. 

Fisherfolk have found it hard to make ends meet as the EECQ limited the opening hours of nearby markets. Before the pandemic, fishermen had plenty of time to work, and they still made it in time to the market to sell their catch, which was open from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning. After the ECQ was implemented, and now with the EECQ, markets have cut short their operating hours, from 6 p.m. to 12 midnight. Fishermen have seen a huge decline in the number of fish buyers because of the curfew imposed. 

Egay Almario, one of the boat owners, said the new rules have hurt their business badly.

“Maagang umaalis, maaga rin babalik. Hinahabol namin yung pagbebentahan kasi kapag di umabot, sayang ang labas namin. Dati kahit magdamagan kami sa laot, ok lang kasi may bibili pa sa palengke. E ngayon, alas dose palang ng gabi wala nang nangangalakal. Itatapon nalang namin imbis na pakinabangan,” said Almario.

Boat owner Marcos Conchas, 51, is also facing hard times. He’s currently renovating his boat and finds it hard to get hold of construction materials due to strict security measures at police and military checkpoints. 

“Wala kami ibang raket, basta dagat lang. Pag wala ang dagat, lupaypay rin kami. Walang konsensya ang dagat. Pag-uwi mo, wala ka rin kita,” said Conchas.

THE LESS FORTUNATE ONES

Boat owners in the village are considered the luckier ones as they have better resources than small fishermen. 

Other less fortunate ones are the "nananamahan" or the residents in the area who work part-time for boat owners. These men rely on boat owners to take them in during fishing trips as contract workers. They set up and pull heavy loads of catch in fishnets, and also serve as crew members aboard medium-sized boats. But if the owners decide that they won’t sail, these men have no income. 

This was the case for 42-year-old “Ramer," who was convicted of murder in 2000 and was released in 2008 on parole. Hoping to turn his life around, Ramer took different odd jobs, and finally, in January of this year, he settled in Navotas and now lives on a boat as a "nananamahan." 

“Malaki ang pagbabago. Walang trabaho dito ngayon. Ilang linggo na ako nandito (sa bangka), halos pumunta na ako dito sa looban para humingi ng pagkain. May ayuda, pero isa, dalawang beses palang simula nung mag-lockdown,” Ramer said.

In the meantime, Ramer does boat repairs for his neighbors. One of his friends, Emmanuel “Benok” Dela Cruz, has also been struggling to find another source of income. 

Dela Cruz, 27, relies on his older brother for small fishing trips. His brother owns the smallest type of boat in the area called the “pasamon,” a boat efficient for catching dilis, squid, and alamang. Benok was lucky that day for being able to sail and catch ‘alamang’ (krill) in its off-season. He caught 24 baskets of alamang, a lucky catch. 

“Hindi araw araw nakakahuli. Kaya samin, try lang ng try. Pag nakahuli, kahit papano may pang-ulam ka. May pang-bigas ka. Kaya ang taong bangka dito, try ng try lumabas. Di katulad nung walang lockdown, pag nakakalabas lahat dyan, nakakadiskarte pa ako (ng ibang trabaho) kahit papano. Minsan kasi, naghuhugas ako ng mga banyera (fish tubs) e. Sa paghuhugas kasi ng banyera kahit papano may bayad, tatlong piso kada isa. Ngayon wala. Damay lahat dito samin pag walang labas,” Dela Cruz explained.

Kim, Dela Cruz’s wife, said she is getting anxious their kids may not be able to go to school, hindering their dream of a better life. She hopes that her eldest son would eventually become a seaman, and their little girl would grow up to become a doctor or a flight attendant.

“Napanghihinaan nga ako ng loob kung makakapag-aral ba sila ng ganung kursong gusto ko sa kanila. E ganyan lang hanapbuhay ng asawa ko. Kaya kapit na rin siguro ako sa pangingibang bansa. Para makabili kami ng sarili naming bangka at tsaka bahay,” she said.

Aside from the pandemic, the family also fears getting evicted from their shanties after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources started to clean up Manila Bay early this year. For these residents, the future is getting bleak. With their livelihood affected, they are praying for assistance from the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), but they have no clue when and if they are going to receive aid. 

“Kapag walang wala talaga, alamang nalang inuulam namin. Makaraos lang," Kim said as her mother cradled Cali, her 8-month-old daughter. 

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Navotas City, also known as the "Commercial Fishing Hub of the Philippines," is home to a community reliant on the sea for their livelihood. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Around the Navotas fish port are houses where those working in the fish port and at sea reside. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

The community has not been spared by the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic as residents have to follow enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) rules. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Fishermen who want to go out at sea to fish cannot freely do so like before because they have to cleared before they can sail and fish. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard inspect the papers and check the temperature of outgoing fishermen at a fishing village in Navotas City, May 6, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Fishermen fall in line to have their papers and body temperatures checked by the Philippine Coast Guard in a fishing village in Navotas City, May 6, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

The fishermen have to observe physical distancing as they process their papers. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

The rules under the enhanced community quarantine are also followed in the residential areas. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

A “COVID prayer” written on the walls of one of the houses in a fishing village in Navotas City. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Fishermen in a village in Navotas City prepare to sail. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

The fishermen in the community either work for big fishing boats or are small fishermen who own their boats. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

One of the boat owners, Egay Almario, says they have to cut short their fishing time so they can make it in time for the market's shorter business operating hours. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Almario says they have to cut short their fishing time in order to make it to the market's shorter schedule, otherwise they risk having their catch rot. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Other fishing boats have been sidelined and are just using the time to do repairs. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Ramer, 42, currently sidelines as a boat repairman at a fishing village in Navotas City. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Other fishermen have to do the same to make up for the loss of livelihood. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Emmanuel “Benok” Dela Cruz (green shirt) docks his boat in Navotas City after catching fish in Manila. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Returning fisherman offload their boats and log out with the Philippine Coast Guard as soon as they return in Navotas City. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Dela Cruz docks his boat after catching fish in Manila. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Residents stand idly outside their shanties at a fishing village in Navotas City. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Some residents dependent on fishing are now jobless and just wait in their shanties in a fishing village in Navotas City. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Dela Cruz with his wife Kim spend time with their 8-month-old daughter Cali outside their house by the shore. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Food for Dela Cruz’ family are sometimes taken from the day's catch, like this freshly caught mussels that were given to him by a fellow fisherman. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

The Dela Cruz family lives in this one-room shanty in a fishing village in Navotas City. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Barely making ends meet from fishing even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the life of fisherfolk like the Dela Cruz family hangs by a thread. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News