DINAGAT ISLANDS—For 60-year-old Leopold B. Ortiz, President of the Boa Fisherfolk Association (BFA) based in Cagdianao, Dinagat Islands, the onset of the “ber” months is bad news. During the ber months, he said, the Amihan sets in.
“Beginning September, we can no longer go out to fish in open waters,” Ortiz said.
Like most Dinagat Islands settlers, fishing is a way of life for Ortiz. But fishing, he said, is a risky business.
He added they could only fish from April to August, when they are able to catch fish ranging from 3 kilos to 15 kilos. After that, fishing activities stop, and they have to rely on the crops they plant for food.
“One time, I almost got myself killed because the wind was strong and the tide was big,” he told the BusinessMirror in his native Visayan tongue.
Fortunately, he said, they are now getting the much-needed support from the Cagdianao Mining Corp. (CMC), which operates a nickel mine on Dinagat Islands. CMC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nickel Asia Corp. (NAC), the country’s largest producer of nickel.
Being part of the mining company’s host community, the 69 BFA members provided financial and technical assistance to start their own “Tilapia Culture Project”.
In July 2015 the CMC started the construction of a 986-square-meter fish pond and provided a capitalization of P165,000. In less than a month, the project and the culture of tilapia began.
Members of the group were tasked to do site clearing and clean-up in the project location in Purok 3, Barangay Boa, while the CMC took care of the construction, which costs around P877,000.
Through the CMC, the members of the BFA now manage and operate a small tilapia-raising project with the help of the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR).
Today, members of the group no longer have to risk their lives fishing in open waters during the so-called ber months, which extends up until March of the following year to put food on the table.
“It’s a big help. Because of our earnings from raising tilapia, we are able to make ends meet,” he said.
Like BFA, a group of women in Barangay Valencia called Valencia Cagdianao Sewer’s Association continue to get support from the CMC. Organized in November 2013, the group now runs their own business.
The group has 26 members. With the help of the CMC, the members of the group were provided training by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) and, through the years, honed their skills in dress-making, curtain-making, T-shirt printing, labeling, and packaging. They are also now into tailoring sportswear uniforms.
The company provided them livelihood building, facilitated the training and seminars, provided training materials plus 17 units of sewing machines, including four high-speed sewing machines.
Abdulia A. Valiente, 51, president of the Valencia Cagdianao Sewers Association, said their members’ earnings daily from sewing has more than doubled—from an average of P150 a day to P350 a day—because the company orders from the group the T-shirt, sportswear uniform and even school-uniform requirement students of elementary and high school studying in CMC-adopted schools.
The company has six adopted schools, namely, Valencia Integrated School, Boa Elementary School, Maytubig Elementary School, Bayanihan Elementary School, Cabiton-an Elementary School and Legaspi Elementary School.
The group is also accepting uniform-repair jobs for employees of the mining company.
Jamaica P. Nena, CMC’s community organizer for barangays Boa and Legaspi, said around 40 percent of the company’s annual fund for its Social Development Management Program (SDMP) is spent for the livelihood projects in host communities.
“Through our projects and partnership with the communities, we are able to provide them livelihood support, making them more productive,” she added.
She said the tilapia grown by the BFAR are bought by the company, which they cook and offer in the canteen or for company employees’ meetings or any event, including mine visits.
“The Valencia Sewer’s Association makes the school uniform of students going to our adopted schools,” Nena added.
CMC has 300 mine workers in the production section alone, working in three shifts. Most of the company’s workers are residents of Cagdianao and other towns in Dinagat Islands.
The company also hires women workers, providing jobs to an often discriminated sector of society. Some women work as safety officers, enforcing safety rules in the mine, or as environmental workers assigned in the tree-nursery, planting and nurturing trees during rehabilitation of mined-out areas.
The company’s nickel-mining operation is expected to continue in the next 20 years, extracting and exporting nickel ores to China.
Image credits: Jonathan L. Mayuga