The Philippines consists of 7100 islands, the world's longest discontinuous coastline. Over a million Filipinos are engaged in marine fishing. Of these, an estimated 800,000 are small-scale fishermen using traditional, low-cost techniques, notably net fishing from small boats and the fish corral.
In the Philippines, small-scale fishermen have traditionally relied on informal lenders in view of the limitations of self-finance and the lack of access to bank credit. Informal credit sources were preferred over formal or institutional sources for the following reasons: accessibility, fast credit extension, liberal terms, and being the only source known to the fisherman. Most of the time, income from fishing is not enough to cover the basic necessities of a small-scale fisherman's household, hence the dependence on informal credit.
Due to this situation, small-scale fishermen are one of the most exploited people in the country. Their reliability to informal lenders, the daily struggle to provide for their family needs, and the uncertainty of the amount of fish they will be able to catch and sell is indeed a perennial burden to almost all of the Filipino small-scale fishermen. Most of the fishermen are unable to even buy nets to use for catching fish, it's sad but true. In situations that fishermen are buried in debt, they have no choice but to borrow money to buy nets enabling them to be able to catch fish. In return, they have no right to sell their catch to anyone aside from the person who lent them the money to buy the nets.
Recently, I spent few days on an island in the country to observe and study how to improve fisherfolks' lives and what I discovered is just heartbreaking. I talked to a lot of people, kids, teenagers, and parents. Life is indeed so simple, but not really as easy as I thought it is. Kids are roaming around, playing with other kids and I thought that is okay as that's their way to enjoy childhood but I've mistaken. The kids are out because no one tends to them, most of them didn't have a shower for days and even missed a meal or two. The mothers mostly stay at home but had their hands full because most of the time, one mother has 7-10 kids to look after. Fathers on the island are mostly on the sea fishing, if not having drinking sessions early in the morning to nighttime. Don't get me wrong, because on that island few people have a prosperous life with huge houses, people who found jobs either in the city or outside the country. Few teenagers believe that if they will not be able to get out of the island their life will just be the same as their parents. Their main goal is to be out of the island one day.
Having multiple kids might be the biggest reason why fishermen became so dependent on informal lenders. As a parent, no matter what it takes to provide for their kids. They also hope that one day, their kids will be able to remove them from poverty, which I understand why but still wrong in some ways. Having more kids means more and bigger responsibilities that make them suffer day by day.
The absence of proper sexual and values education may be one of the major reasons why the majority of fisherfolk families consist of multiple kids. Their ignorance of self-control and contraceptive methods made their lives harder. It is no one's fault, no one liked it this way but something has to be changed to make their lives easier. Fishermen tend to become heavy drinkers due to the unbearable financial and family issues they are battling with every day. As the head of the family, once you lost control of everything and see yourself not giving enough for your family needs you tend to just find ways to temporarily forget without noticing that you are just digging a deeper hole for yourself and for the entire family.
The lack of access to bank credit and being unbaked is obviously one of the major reasons why fishermen's lives are not getting any better. In the Philippines, it is really hard to get a bank account. Multiple IDs need to be shown and if you missed one, say goodbye to the banked world together with the benefits of it.
The absence of successful Government livelihood projects didn't help with these long-term fisherfolks issues. There are a lot of Government projects available but I don't know how people in this area don't know how to maximize them, once again, they need to be taught about it and more projects needs to be offered.
It's indeed heartbreaking to know that for teenagers, this place is a dead end so they better find a way out as much as they can, as soon as they can. I can't blame them. What they see and experience every day is never easy. However, this mindset will never be good as I believe in one thing - the youth is the hope for a better future. If the youth chooses to thrive and excel in a different place, no matter how big house they will build on the island, the quality of people's lives in the area will never change.
If only we can convince them that a better future awaits when they help each other to dream higher for their society. They don't need to go anywhere, they just need to discover what they can do to make a little change - a change that can impact everyone's life. I don't know how or what exactly, but maybe, learn and discover things as much as they can. Study sexual education and educate people around them about it. Spread awareness on how they can slowly make their finances better. It may sound so heavy for the teenage group, but if they want to experience a better society they need to act and be part of the solution not running away from it.
To be honest, before I went to the island I thought the main problem is the middle men. Business people who buys the goods from the island at a very low price and sells it in the city at a very high price. I am wrong, because the main problem is the money flow of the fishermen. Fisherfolks dependability to informal lenders is the major problem. They owe too much money, more than they can pay. Their incapability to buy their own nets, giving them freedom to sell their own catch with their preferred pricing to their chose customers are long gone. They just go with the flow and trying to survive day by day.