Only water, and prayers, kept alive three spear fishermen from Virac who floated on their half-sunk motorized banca at sea for a night and a day last week before the current dumped them on the shores of Jose Panganiban, Camarines Sur.
Manuel Melgar, 52, a barangay tanod from Palta Small, and Erickson Guerrero, 30, a resident of Tubaon, had no inkling that their risk their very lives when they went to Pandan to catch fish using their spears (pana). Their companion, a resident of Pandan, had to stay behind to tend to his banca.
On board Guerrero’s motorcycle, they left Virac the week before on May 31 but left the motorcycle in Comagaycay, San Andres, and then rode a passenger van to Pandan where their companion, the owner of the motorized banca identified only as “Isko,” waited.
They spent the night in Pandan and went to sea at 3 A.M. of June 1.
They said only the banca owner knew where they would catch fish and when they arrived there after a trip of several hours, they proceeded to dive.
When they had caught enough, they went back to the island to rest.
It was on their third trip out on June 3 and were catching fish halfway into the evening when waves swamped their wooden banca and filled it with water, shutting down the diesel engine.
When they were unable to restart the engine, they began using the wooden oars to paddle to shore but the strong current carried them away.
“Dai po talaga kaming nahihiling na higad ta halos ga uran po talaga,” Guerrero recalled. “Sinunod mi lang so alon. Kung saen so sulog, duman kami gapaanod ta pagilid man baga.”
He said the banca did not totally sink into the water so they just tried to balance themselves. Although they thought that the engine should be removed so prevent them from sinking, they did not do so because they just rented it.
“Dai kaming pagkaon,” Melgar told the Tribune. “Nagtagal sana kami ta ang piga isip mi saen man kami masapna duman na tubig baga.”
He said that after each dive to catch fish, they just went to shore but the rough sea caught them unaware.
The waves were so strong that they thought they could no longer get aboard the banca.
“Ang huna mi dai na talaga ta asa tahaw so bangka,” Guerrero remembers.
They just sustained themselves on the fresh water that they brought, he said.
The current eventually brought them near a small island at sea that had two houses, with the three men thanking God for saving them from certain death at sea. They could no longer contact their respective families because Guerrero’s cellphone was damaged by sea water.
They asked someone to bring them on board a small banca to the nearby mainland town, the name of which they didn’t ask as all that was in their minds was to come home and try to erase the trauma left by the incident.
Their companion, who owned the damaged motorized banca, decided to stay behind so he could repair it. He told them he knew someone in the province and that he would just go back to Pandan.
The duo sold their catch from that fateful evening and used the money to go to Naga City until they reached Legazpi City, with the money just enough for the fare and some water.
In Tabaco City in the evening of June 9, Guerrero remembered he had written his family’s cellphone numbers on a piece of paper. He retrieved the list, laid it out to dry and asked a security guard at the port if they could use his phone.
They were able to contact Melgar’s family, who then sought assistance the following morning from the office of Virac Mayor Sinforoso Sarmiento Jr., who instructed the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office to coordinate with the border control team at Tabaco port.
They were allowed to board the 7 A.M. ferry without undergoing the required antigen test and picked up by the MDRRMO Virac team which brought them to the respective homes and given two boxes of DSWD relief goods.
“Trauma ang namatian mi hanggang ngonyan,” Erickson told the Tribune but he admitted that he would go on fishing because he does not have any other livelihood.
“Kaya lang baging mahidap na pagpunta duman sa dayo-dayong arog kaan,” he disclosed. “Pilang aldaw na kaming daing kaon hanggang ngonyan tubig sana ang pigainom mi, padiit diit lang.”
Melgar was brought to the provincial hospital after suffering internal bleeding due to suspected ulcer and is now under observation.
His wife said her husband scarcely talks about the ordeal, with the family deciding not to let him catch fish at sea anymore.
“Libre lamang ang panila ta mahal ang bakalon ngonian,” she recalled as to what forced Manuel to dive for fish.
The family expressed gratitude to the municipal government and to people who offered assistance, especially now that their breadwinner can no longer go out to sea.
The incident comes just over a week after three fishermen from Marinawa, Bato were left drifting in the Philippine Sea off Catanduanes when the engine of their “St. Dominic” banca conked out.
Luckily, a passing motorized banca with Merwin Besmonte and Larry Bandola on board towed them towards Rapu-Rapu island in Albay.
Nelson Cuison, 55, his son Bret Michael Cuison, 25, and companion Teodoro Buendia, 55, were able to return to Marinawa.
Meanwhile, the authorities have yet to identify the decomposing body of a man who was found floating in Lagonoy Gulf about three to four kilometers off Talisoy, Virac last June 9.
According to Virac police chief Major Antonio Perez, local fishermen spotted the cadaver at sea at about 4:50 P.M. and used a piece of rope to tow it to shore.
Only the skull remained of the cadaver, preventing easier identification, he said, with the body immediately buried at the Virac public cemetery.
As there were no reports of missing persons in nearby areas, the police surmise the body was a resident of other provinces.
The dead man was described as about 30 years old, of normal build and about 5’5” in height. He had a green underwear and his left arm had a tattoo of a heart pierced by an arrow, with a Nike logo bearing the words “I love you” at one end. (With a report from Arvin Anthony C. Tabuzo)