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Commentary: Postcards from a threatened coast

Weng Cahiles - Philstar.com
Commentary: Postcards from a threatened coast
Photo shows remnants of a demolished house in Sitio Kinse, Brgy. Taliptip, Bulakan, Bulacan.
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Photos by Ana Fe Anastacio

MANILA, Philippines — Soon, if it has not happened yet, the last families from Sitio Kinse in Barangay Taliptip in Bulakan, Bulacan will tear down houses they have lived in for years and that their children grew up in.

Moving out of the path of a national project — the San Miguel Corp. Bulacan Aerotropolis — the families' departure will finally make true what Sen. Grace Poe said in hearings to grant the conglomerate a franchise: There there is nothing in that area of Manila Bay where the reclamation project will be implemented.

In late September, we visited the nothing off the coast of Bulacan province to talk to residents about what they will remember from the piece of dry land that was once their home.

The Anastacios (Anita Anastacio, 39)

In Sitio Kinse, according to Anita, kids as young as seven help their parents earn a living, with her children sometimes going out with their father to fish. 

During low tide, the kids in Kinse go to the shallows for “pangangapa”, where they turn over rocks to look for shrimps and crabs underneath. They sell their catch and earn enough to take care of school expenses for a week. 

When the tide rises, the kids return to being kids and earning a living is left on the shoulders of the adults. 

“Kahit bata pa lang sila, sila na ang bahala,” Anita says about her children. 

Anita is unconvinced that a better life is waiting for them outside Sitio Kinse. There were told that the men can apply for construction work but her husband is too old for it. She says that in Sitio Kinse, even if you don’t work for a whole day, you can cast your net and have something to sell the next day. 

"Hindi ko alam kung ano ang magiging hanapbuhay ko doon. Baka katulong lang din ang labas ko. Hindi katulad dito na walang amo. Doon, mapipilitan akong mamasukan. Iiwanan ko talaga yung pamilya ko. Ang alam lang ng asawa ko ang pangingisda. Saan pa siya mamamanti doon kung wala na kami dito?"

 Anita worries about how to earn enough to keep all her five children in school. With the barrio they are moving to being far from the sea, her children will have no opportunity to turn to the sea for additional income. 

"Kahit may basketball court man doon sa barrio, madalang sila maglalaro kasi ang iisipin nila ay ang paghahanapbuhay na rin."

The Bacons (Teodoro Bacon, 42)

"Ang trabaho namin ay sa tubig."
In Kinse, Teodoro only uses a paddleboat to fish. There is no need to go far out into the bay. He can fish anytime he wants, and he has no boss to answer to.

He can easily earn between P500 to P1000 pesos after just a few hours of fishing.

Once they relocate, he will have to spend an additional P200 on gas and must travel further into the open sea. He will also have to spend more on transportation since they would have to dock their catch on a different port. Living as a fisherman will never be the same for him. 

“Dito, wala ka namang gas [na babayaran]. Tabing-dagat lang. Mamamangka ka lang, puwede ka nang maghanapbuhay.” 

Though fishing has been his primary livelihood and a trade that his son, a fishpond caretaker, has followed, Teodoro doesn’t wish the same life for his grandchild. "Gusto ko matapos iyon para makakuha ng magandang trabaho." 

When they finally leave Sitio Kinse, Teodoro will demolish their home just like the other families who went before them. Teodoro will not be paid to do the manual labor and San Miguel has not sent a team in the past to do it, he says. 

Families who refuse to take down their homes risk not receiving any monetary compensation. This task, though heartbreaking, is something Teodoro must do. 

“Wala tayong magagawa, lumaban naman tayo. Talagang hanggang dito na lang siguro tayo. Kahit papaano ay lumaban naman tayo. Natalo man kami, at least kahit papaano ay taas-noo pa rin kami. Pinaglaban namin ang karapatan namin.”

The Bacons (Teody Bacon, 45)

Teody Bacon recalls their first house in an area surrounded by fishponds. The constant pummeling of waves washed out their house, leaving him and his wife Shirley no choice but to move.

They have lived in Sitio Kinse since and were among the first six families to reside there. But they might have to leave soon as a force stronger than nature is threatening to leave them without a home.

The whole of Sitio Kinse will be wiped off the map to give way to the New Manila International Airport.

Teody and wife have accepted the relocation offered by SMC, the proponent of the airport. Their new home is currently being built in Bambang, Bulakan, Bulacan, but they are in no hurry to move.

According to an oral agrement with San Miguel, they will not occupy the home until it is finished and complete with utilities. “Hangga’t hindi pa siya tapos at hindi pa puwede lipatan, dito pa rin kami.”  

While they wait, they take advantage of the little time they have left in Sitio Kinse. Teody is worried about starting a new life far from away from the sea but he is determined to adjust somehow. 

“Nasa tao naman ‘yan kung maghihirap ka. Malakas pa naman tayo. Pupuwede pa tayong makaisip at madami tayong alam na hanapbuhay. Iyon lang, hindi na kailangan na pang-karagatan itong buhay natin.” 

The Bantigues (Thelma Bantigue, 38)

Thelma has lived in Sitio Kinse for 34 years – her parents for more than 50 years. After she was born in Batangas, where her parents took a job as fishpond caretakers, her family went to Kinse and never left.
“Hindi kami masyadong problemado dito sa kabuhayan. Ang sinasabi nila kasi na 'masarap sa barrio kasi lahat nandoon.' Kung alam niyo lang dito, mayroon lang kaming bigas at kaunting pera pangbaon sa mga anak namin (okay na).” 

Her husband, Roberto, is a fisherman. She sometimes accompanies him to fish, but she mainly helps her by making fishing nets for him. Nets can be expensive, so she decided to learn how to make her own.

One net can cost P80 and a single fishing boat needs up to 25 pieces. Sometimes, other fishermen ask her to make nets for them, which gives her an additional source of income.

They were told they can still fish in the area for now but once the airport construction starts, they will have to look for a new way to make a living. 

“Napakadaling magplano kaya lang kung wala naman kaming puhunan, paano naman? Gustuhin ko mang magtayo ng tindahan o magluto-luto sa lugar namin, kailangan ko yung puhunan. Dito, kahit wala akong masyadong trabaho, kahit hindi ako mag-hanapbuhay, kakain kami kasi andyan lang yung kabuhayan namin.” 

If there is a place that she would miss the most, it will be the Torres – the church located on another island seen from Sitio Kinse. Though dilapidated, sinking, and battered by waves during storm, the church has seen weddings and baptisms but out of all the celebrations held at Torres, the one thing Thelma looks forward to every year is Simbang Gabi.

Her only wish is for them to still be in Sitio Kinse by December so she can take a boat at dawn to reach the church, just like she has done year after year. With projections on when work can start on the project, that is unlikely.

Weng Cahiles is communications officer for marine conservation NGO Oceana Philippines. Her book "Si Kian" — about Kian delos Santos, the boy murdered by Caloocan police in 2017 — was among the Best Reads for Kids at the National Children's Book Awards in 2018.

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