By Pet Melliza/ The Beekeeper
Gone are all the fishing boats from the Iloilo River Wharf, showing the trend that the once center of economic life in Iloilo City is heading to, well, desolation.
That’s one of the points raised in our round table discussion during lunch last Saturday after “Kape kag Isyu” talk show that yours truly co-hosted.
Broadcaster Ompoy Pastrana and columnist Peter Jimenea rued that the river was becoming a desolated place.
“Before, there was life as people flocked there for commerce,” noted Ompoy. “The wharf had mid-size boats loading or disgorging bags of lime, cement, rice, and fruits.” Sidewalk vendors selling balut and drinks were all over because stevedores and visitors patronized their goods.
The “kumpit” from Mindanao also disappeared from the river wharf. The speedy, wooden boats for decades transported lanzones, mangosteen, durian and people from Mindanao. The economic life steered by their mere presence along the river is sorely missed.
A year ago, before authorities tinkered with the idea of “reviving” the Iloilo River, fleets of fishing vessels lined along the wharf. They were there, not to sore the eye as the progenitor of the save-the-river-thing conjures, but for a brief respite, to prepare for the next expedition that could last weeks.
The fishing vessels docked at the river wharf, after disgorging their catch at the Iloilo Fishing Port Complex, to enable the crew to rest and the boats to refuel, and restock with water, food and ice, among others, for the next outing.
One fishing tycoon, who stirred the circle of the uninvolved glitterati in the last years of the Arroyo administration by idling his ships in protest to fuel price hikes, is now gone.
He and his fleet of steel-hulled fishing boats moved over to Roxas City where government was friendlier to fishing boat operators. With the disappearance of his flotilla from the Iloilo River Wharf, the plant nearby supplying ice to fishing boats drastically cut down production – and jobs – and is in danger of shutting down completely.
The Iloilo Fishing Port Complex was established in the ‘70s, as the word suggested, to spur the development of fishing industry. It has state-of-the-art storage that can turn fresh fish into ice in seconds so to preserve its freshness. It has stations for tenants processing fish for export.
Today, the fishing port complex deserves another name or description as it hosts economic activities like speedboat fabrication, furniture making, and processing of chicken meat, which are totally unrelated to fishery.
Understandably, the facility has to survive. Fishery is slowing down and it has to accept tenants engaged in businesses unrelated to fishing.
Somebody who is not even an executive of Iloilo City nor connected with any office of the executive department of P-Noy, broached this noble idea of pumping in over P300 million to beautify Iloilo River so to attract tourists. (The budget could reach P1 billion as the project entails relocating informal settlers into well-prepared resettlement sites.)
The first phase of the project is to clean up the river of derelicts before dredging.
Incidentally, the implementers expanded the definition of “derelict” beyond tradition. They rid the river not only of sunken and abandoned crafts that were only good for scraps but also, and this had worse repercussion, of operational boats that docked temporarily.
The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) which heads the clean up, requires all fishing vessels to dock at the Iloilo Fishing Port Complex, which is a death sentence for operators. The docking facility there is unstable and docking vessels are at risk of being damaged during strong waves. In fact, several fishing boats were already destroyed as the waves tossed them against the concrete and steel piers.
The operator who evacuated all his fishing vessels to Roxas City remembers one incident. His crew asked the PPA permission to take shelter in Iloilo River from storm. The PPA backed by the police and Philippine Coast Guard blocked them — by training their machinegun and assault rifles on them, their bullhorn warning they would open fire if needed.
Prices of fish and lanzones have gone up after that, rue Ompoy and Peter.
William Martirez, resource speaker of Kape kag Isyu that day and Philippine manager of MicroEnsure, co-host Atty. Dwight Trasadas, and yours truly could only chorus: “Ay gali?”