Waiting for long-overdue change

Romeo Olino and Rene Subion, the two men who survived three days of being stranded in the middle of Maqueda Channel, are like the rest of the marginal fisherman in Catanduanes who continue to be at high risk of losing their lives whenever they get out to sea.

Despite the scores of fishermen that the island has lost to bad weather in past decades, the national government has done little to minimize their chances of getting killed while earning their livelihood.

Majority of sea-going fishermen do not have lifejackets or even compasses that could help them survive during difficult situations at sea.

Barangays have not even set up a simple recording system to keep track of their fishermen every time they go out to sea.

And when they fail to return, it takes a lot of effort for resource-deficient local governments, especially in trying to persuade the Air Force or the Coast Guard to send out their assets for a search-and-rescue operation.

In the case of Olino and Subion, it was their fellow fishermen who launched a search party and found them.

The Philippine Coast Guard station and substations in Catanduanes did their bit using motorized bancas borrowed from local fishermen.

More than a year ago, in February 2021, the PCG admitted to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that it lacks water assets in protecting the island against intruding foreign vessels.

The committee hearing was held just after the Chinese research vessel “Jia Geng” entered the country’s territorial waters on Jan. 27, 2021 and anchored two kilometers off Pananaogan, Bato inside Cabugao Bay.

When the local PCG personnel tried to hail and board the vessel, it did so using a hired motorized banca, a pitiful sight painfully embarrassing for Filipinos.

It was admitted during the hearing that of the four aluminum speed boats of CGS-Virac, three were damaged during the rampage of super typhoon Rolly while the fourth is in a state of disrepair in Pandan town.

It was also disclosed that while the provincial government has offered to buy two jetskis, the Coast Guard asked it to buy instead five to six large motorized, outrigger bancas capable of operating in the open sea.

What happened to the PCG’s request for the provincial government to procure the ocean-capable outrigger bancas we do not know yet.

What we do now is that local fishermen, who are forced to catch fish without even basic survival gear just to feed their families and send their kids to school, remain low on the priority list of the government.

The provincial government and the PCG seems to be just waiting for the proposed Coast Base Catanduanes as an all-in solution to the problem of looking for survivors or even bodies whenever local fishermen are caught unaware at sea by an approaching storm.

For the few thousands who risk their lives and their futures daily just to feed their families and fellow islanders, they will remain hopeful that eventually things will change for the better.

It’s just like lowering a baited line into the deep and waiting for the fish to bite, only that it takes an interminably long time.

At least for the fisherman, he can come back the next day

Waiting on the government to deliver on its promises is like fishing in a barren lake.

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