Something was telling me it was going to be an eventful day today while we were easing our way to Bagacay port for our cross to the island village of Guindacpan. Maybe it was the silky calm sea, the bright blue sky, or maybe even the smell coming from the lechon (whole roasted pig).
Today is Guindacpan ideal marine protected area (iMPA) launching, and Filipinos highlight big events with the presence of a whole roasted pig. But I was more excited with the seafoods waiting for us – fat crabs, scallops and various shellfish, fresh fish and squid freshly harvested by the fishers. The island village of Guindacpan in Talibon municipality boasts of plenty of marine resources, although the villagers admit that the catch has been declining over the years due to illegal fishing in the Danajon Bank. Their determination to protect critical marine habitats and restore fish stocks led to the establishment of an iMPA in the municipal waters fronting the barangay.
Guindacpan iMPA was legalized in July 2020 through Municipal Ordinance No. 2020-14 that expanded the previously established 47ha MPA into 1,196ha, making it the largest of all legalized iMPAs to date. Guindacpan iMPA has 205ha of No-take Zone and 51ha of Buffer Zone. Within the 930ha Regulated-use Zone is the 44ha ecological seaweed farming area. It has been almost a year since the ordinance approval but the celebration for its legalization was put off due to the pandemic. And it has been more than a year since I last visited the village.
Crossing to Guindacpan from Bagacay will take us about 40 minutes. We waited for a few minutes for the municipal Bantay Dagat (Fish warden) member who will join us. The municipal Bantay Dagat team is often involved in capacity-building activities, most recent of which is the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) training – enforcement technology developed by our partners at ZSL that we provide to local authorities responsible for managing the iMPAs. The 40-minute ride started relaxed until when our boat approached Barangay Guindacpan and the Bantay Dagat member spotted three motorized boats of liba-liba (danish seine) fishers. Liba-liba fishing is destructive and illegal. We casually approached one of the boats who tried to shoo us away as they were already deploying their nets into the water. A few feet away, the liba-liba fishers realized it was a Bantay Dagat member approaching them, so they quickly cut the pull ropes and sped away. We waited for the Bantay Dagat chase team before our boat proceeded to Guindacpan. It amazes me how enforcers can easily spot the type of fishing boat and fishing gear even from hundreds of meters away, and it was also amazing to know that both municipal and local enforcers are actively protecting MPAs and municipal waters.
Just when the excitement from the encounter with the liba-liba fishers was wearing off, we were met with music blasting from the basketball court as we docked in Guindacpan which pumped back the excitement. Children hanging by the fencings, Barangay Tanods (village peacekeepers) in their crisp uniforms, CoMSCA members (Community Managed Savings and Credit Associations that we set up as the social infrastructure for our social enterprise in all our partner sites), and most of the community were already gathered in the basketball court waiting for the start of the program. Also present were Mayor Janette A. Garcia of Talibon, Municipal Agriculturist Mr. Angelito Oroyan, and Sangguniang Bayan (municipal/town council) member Hon. Apolinario Artiaga. The celebration activity was interspersed with talent presentations from the community members and two of the most memorable was when the whole team of Barangay Tanods gave a perky dance presentation and a CoMSCA member belted out a song. CoMSCA members are comfortable with talent presentations as they usually organize CoMSCA anniversary celebrations before the covid pandemic. On one occasion, they paraded evening gowns that were made of recycled plastics. Four original CoMSCA groups in Guindacpan have long been involved in plastic waste management, them being partners of Net-Works in collecting discarded Nylon 6 fishing nets and in implementing single-use plastics-free seaweed farming. The CoMSCA groups are further committed to the protection of marine resources through their Environmental Fund that supports MPA management and enforcement – something that is a game changer that the team are rightly proud of and shows the depth of empowerment that we have achieved with our model.
Mayor Garcia led the oath-taking of the MPA Management Council (MMC) members led by Hon. Proceso Cajes who is the Punong Barangay of Guindacpan. The Law Enforcement and Patrol team members were also introduced and crucial equipment, i.e., GPS receiver, digital camera, binoculars, were turned over to the MPA managers and enforcement team. Mayor Garcia’s pledge to support the P300,000 to the delineation of Guindacpan iMPA through marker buoys was met with enthusiastic applause from the community. The celebration activity was a confirmation of the importance of solid Local Government Unit support and active community participation to the success of implementing community-based management areas.
Before the delegation from the local government of Talibon left after lunch they visited the iMPA guardhouse being constructed. Guardhouse is an important asset that facilitate and strengthen MPA enforcement. Aside from being a patrol base, a guardhouse can serve as platform for outreach activities. The guardhouse being constructed in Guindacpan, as well as in other iMPA sites, double as a seaweed drying platform which is expected to generate additional income for the iMPA. The barangay council of Guindacpan shelled out P49,321 to support the guardhouse construction, while the CoMSCA groups pooled together their Environmental Fund and came up with P11,000 as support to the construction.
On our way back to Bagacay and just when we thought the day was ending, we passed by a local fisher who asked if we could drag his boat back to Mahanay Island since his boat engine was busted. While casually approaching Mahanay discussing next steps with regards to guardhouse completion and markers deployment we saw a fishing boat fast moving along the mangrove area and the Bantay Dagat speed boat from another direction ready to crash into it. What came next is a pursuit that can be compared to Philippine action movies of Fernando Poe Jr or Lito Lapid. It turned out that the fishing boat being pursued was the same liba-liba boat we encountered earlier who returned to the spot where they dropped their net in an effort to retrieve it. The Bantay Dagat chase team did not leave post and waited for their return that led to the chase and to the illegal fishers eventually abandoning their boat at Mahanay Port and running barefoot. The team had a good laugh.
It was back at Bagacay staffhouse and while digging into the steamed crabs we took home with us that I fully realized that the thrill I missed for a year was compensated in just one day. It was, indeed, an eventful day today, a celebration day!