Since Dec. 15, 2022, PAGASA has been issuing gale warnings due to the shear line and the northeast monsoon affecting most of the eastern coast of the Philippine archipelago, including Catanduanes.
It forecast winds of 45 to 71 kph and rough to very rough seas from 2.5 to 6 meters high, advising fishing boats and other small seacraft from venturing out to sea.
No less than passengers of the ferry boats plying the route from Tabaco to the island’s two ports can testify to the nausea-inducing and stomach-curdling nature of sea travel this December.
And consumers have also been feeling the weather’s effects, with most stalls at the Virac public market empty of deep-sea fish.
While most fishermen, especially those still aware of what happened in 2020 and 2021, heeded warnings from their barangay officials and chose to stay home, nine in Virac and four in Viga decided to go out to sea on Dec. 21 and 22, 2022.
Their desire to earn enough to have something better for their Noche Buena last Christmas may have been foremost on their minds but there was one thing that pushed them to go ahead: PAGASA’s Gale Warning #45 issued at 5 AM of Dec. 21 did not include Catanduanes.
Although the Gale Warning issued at 5 AM of Dec. 22 did include Catanduanes, it listed only the northern towns of Pandan, Bagamanoc, Gigmoto and Baras, as well as Panay island.
The municipalities of Caramoran, San Andres, Bato, Virac and Viga, with the latter two accounting for the missing fisherfolk, were not covered by the Gale Warning.
Both groups most likely cast their lines out in the Pacific Ocean more than three kilometers from the shore or about one-and-a-half to two hours of travel.
Their fishing trips usually took one to two days so by the time they decided to return to shore, the weather had probably deteriorated. By the morning of Dec. 23, Catanduanes was back in the PAGASA list of areas affected by bad weather.
The problem with the gale warnings, even if issued by a government agency, is that they are only advisories.
Nothing in the warning compels any fisherman from going out to sea even if a gale warning is in effect.
Even the local government units, from the municipalities down to barangays, do not have the legal mandate to implement a compulsory stay-at-home order following the issuance of a gale warning.
Marginal fisherfolk are likely to defy a mere weather advisory and set out to sea so they would have food for their families.
The situation is unlike that of a mandatory evacuation order prior to the imminent arrival of a typhoon.
Perhaps, a compromise could be made by LGUs with local fishermen in which they could be allowed to venture out to sea during gale warnings but only within municipal waters 15 kilometers from the shore.
This way, their likelihood of survival is greater if bad weather comes upon them while at sea, especially if the Philippine Coast Guard and other entities are properly equipped for a seaborne search-and-rescue operation.
Local officials can also provide an incentive for marginal fishermen, especially those identified as such, by giving their families rice assistance based on the number of days per week that they are not allowed to fish out at sea.
LETTER TO GOD. There was a man who worked for the Post Office whose job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses. One day, a letter came addressed in a shaky handwriting to God with no address. He thought he should open it to see what it was about.
The letter read: “Dear God, I am an 83-year-old widow, living on a very small pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had $100 in it, which was all the money I had until my next pension check. Next Sunday is Christmas, and I had invited two of my friends over for dinner. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with. I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. Can you please help me? Sincerely, Edna”
The postal worker was touched. He showed the letter to all the other workers. Each one dug into his or her wallet and came up with a few dollars. By the time he made the rounds, he had collected $96, which they put into an envelope and sent to the woman.
The rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of Edna and the dinner she would be able to share with her friends. Christmas came and went.
A few days later, another letter came from the same old lady to God. All the workers gathered around while the letter was opened. It read: “Dear God, How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your gift of love, I was able to fix a glorious dinner for my friends. We had a very nice day and I told my friends of your wonderful gift. “By the way, there was $4 missing. I think it must have been those bastards at the Post Office!”