Conservationist on Chat: From Racelle, Eastern Samar

By Jord Earving Gadingan, UN SDSN Youth Philippines Volunteer | Published on December 1, 2020 4:19:54 PM

We haven’t heard much environmental news from the Visayas and don’t hear much from young conservationists who do the groundwork during this covid-19 pandemic and here’s an interview with a friend working in the seas of Eastern Samar.

Name: Racelle R. Rescordado
Organization: Guiuan Development Foundation, Inc.
Job title: Livelihood Officer and Community Facilitator
Work Area: Maliwaliw Island, Salcedo Eastern Samar

What are the effects of the pandemic-induced lockdown on the livelihood of the communities you work with? How industries were affected?

We operate in seven coastal municipalities of Eastern Samar covering the Northern Leyte Gulf. Fishing is their primary livelihood. During the lockdown, fish buyers stopped their operation for more than 3 months (March-May), incurring an estimated loss of 80% of their main source of income. The family’s catch serves as their own food consumption na lang for the day.

After the lockdown, the tuna industry including octopus and cuttlefish started to resume but sell at lower prices. Fish buyers limit the amount of goods they buy from fish buyers due to border restrictions. However, the industry of crabs (Blue-swimming crabs) until now did not go back to normal. Guiuan usually has export quality tuna and crabs, but due to lengthened travel time, the crab industry was not able to resume. It did not totally shut down, because the local market still exists but the price has reduced to 50% (Php300 before; Php 150.00 now) for the normal sizes, 'yung export size naman nag marked down ng 40% (Php500.00 before: Php300.00 now).

When it comes to livelihood, some of them did construction jobs, others tried farming, while others continued fishing and selling their catch by going around the barangay for example. Most fisherfolk still go to the sea but only catch reef fishes, fish coral catch (siganids, dalagang-bukid, goatfish), tuna and octopus. In Maliwaliw Island, since the demand for fresh catch decreased, our women beneficiaries focused on buying the catch of the fishers in the island and process the fish and sell them as dried fish to neighboring towns. One of our groups earned after the lockdown by selling local breads, sewing face masks and handicraft products. One of our women’s group owns a wholesale commodity store that was able to help other families during the lockdown through an “utang-bayad” system. They can loan a family up to 1 sack of rice and 1 container of gasoline which is payable for a month. We were able to establish an alternative livelihood in some islands.

Zero tourist arrival from outside Eastern Samar Province had a negative impact on communities. Some souvenir shops, surf camps, hotels and other leisure shops had to close. The local governments even discouraged tourists to visit. These industries still are not able to resume their operation at present. Some coffee shops decided to open, but some had to file for bankruptcy since the pandemic really hit them.


Did the pandemic increase cases/activities that are in conflict with nature?

In my personal observation, conservation knowledge is high in this part of Eastern Samar. I mean we have 24 MPAs within 7 municipalities, 21 of which are active in terms of protection and conservation efforts. Although noong nag-lockdown, the guarding and patrolling loosened and there are several reports of illegal entry on marine protected areas (MPAs). Deforestation of mangroves is still present but very minimal lang. The most alarming reports come from the upland communities in Lawaan, since illegal logging increased during the pandemic since most majority are into house repairs and construction. These repairs are still due to the Typhoon Ursula (Signal III) that hit Eastern and Northern Samar last December 24, 2019.

Lastly, the issue on mining activities. First, based on history, the mining operation in Homonhon and even in Manicani preceded the establishment of the NIPAS Law. Second, the land of Homonhon is not part of the protected areas. On the current issue ng new operation of chromite mining, the company has secured permits from authorities. The people of Homonhon are continually battling against the mining company loading tons of chromite ore to Chinese vessels.


Any conservation wins during this pandemic?

As the demand from fishers decreased, they also limited their catch to selected marine products. They also limited the span of time they go fishing the marine sanctuaries and the sea itself is able to rest from overfishing. People became more conscious about how important a healthy environment is, they are informed about how covid-19 started and where it came from. Sa Maliwaliw Island, villagers there learned the importance of native seed saving. Since we encouraged and capacitated them on bio-intensive gardening in preparation for future pandemics years before, many of them are religious gardeners. They also appreciated the essence of native vegetable species compared to hybrid seeds. It was a win for us.

Another win is one municipality was able to pass the Uniform Municipal Ordinance that we are lobbying during this time because the Sangguniang Bayan had the time to review the ordinance. Despite the pandemic, we were able to expand our sea cucumber (sandfish) research to two more communities. These new adopted communities are actively rearing and culturing sandfish for grow-out and resource enhancement.

Resumed mining operation naman is our greatest loss.


As a practicing conservationist, how did it affect you? How did you cope?

It really added stress mentally and physically. The anxiety of always thinking that the person sitting next to you might be infected by the virus is exhausting. Financially, I’m just glad that we are not affected by the covid-19 pandemic. My father works in local government while I’m retained at work. Thank God, community work is still possible. Socially, it’s hard to travel outside of Eastern Samar because of quarantine protocols. I had to communicate with all my loved ones through the internet and regular phone calls. Gladly, my hometown is just in Leyte, so if I have to send something to my family, I can still send it through shuttle service going to Tacloban, and then ask friends to pick up my package and bring it home. It’s hard but I have to work. I had to stay for 6 months straight in Samar, before I can go back to Jaro, Leyte (my hometown) in December. Honestly, I had several emotional breakdowns. Meron lang talagang times where you must pour out emotions alone kasi mahirap. Although, I’m thankful to my colleagues and my boss (our executive director), kasi family-like kami. Because of the three-month lockdown, we had to fast track things. Fieldwork there, deadlines here, research, and reports are piling up. It’s physically exhausting on top of increased prices of materials and equipment for the projects, we had to do cost-cutting. But, still thankful since when it comes to food, we are still abundant with fresh vegetables and fishes.

When the issue on the new mining operation in Homonhon arose, I was still in my hometown and I was so stressed out since almost all our local partner communities were calling me. Asking for actions to be taken by the authorities regarding the operation. It was hard, ‘yung anxiety ko, ‘yung stress of contacting the local government. We were all in lockdown, it was hard. We joined online campaigns as well but what we can do is limited that time being away from Guiuan.


Given your local context, what can be the path to recovery after this covid-19?

Our organization’s banner program is Building Resilient Communities. We capacitate people and provide alternative livelihoods that are science-based. It takes time to achieve a significant behavioral change in a community and it took our organization 25 years before we were able to see that change in our pioneering community in Maliwaliw Island. Even though we have so much work done in the sea, we always engage our communities in the upland areas to create this holistic protection and conservation approach. It is also a need to always incorporate health and sanitation especially that dengue aside from Covid-19 is increasing in Eastern Samar.

In the end, science-based solutions and community engagement are still our way forward. We have to continue our efforts to make them realize especially the government to implement nature-based ordinances and policies for a sustainable future.


Anything you want to say to the youth of Eastern Samar?

Yana na an takna mga igkasi ko batan-on, ayaw pag-alang ngan kahadlok gamita ta it aton boses, kusog, ngan hibaro para buligan an aton kalibungan!

Sources:
Dyord. (2020, November 25). Biodiversity, Community Development, Conservation From Racelle. Retrieved from: s://komyunidad.wordpress.com/2020/11/25/from-racelle-easter-samar/?preview_id=861&preview_nonce=cd53716195&preview=true /

Data Churner:
Sabrina Carlos
Program Intern, UN SDSN Youth Philippines

Graphic Designer:
Alleya Era
Volunteer, UN SDSN Youth Philippines