Note: Even as the tsunami alarms occurred in March, this story finds relevance as the country marks Disaster Consciousness and Preparedness Month this July.
MARIHATAG, SURIGAO DEL SUR --- Fisherman Mario Avila awoke with a slight hang-over Monday morning, almost unsure whether a workshop among fisherfolks would push through Monday.
Sunday was frenetic, Avila remembered.
The day began early as a knock on his door awoke the entire family at around 4 a.m.. It was a police officer who had been going from door to door in his seaside village of Amontay, informing everyone about the possibility of a tsunami hitting the coastal towns along Lianga Bay, facing the Pacific Ocean.
"In the morning, and by 10 a.m., it was raised to level 2, and then we decided it was time to go up the hills," he recalled. Avila and his family, together with some neighbors, went up the hills and stayed in a hut by a cornfield that he was cultivating in between fishing expeditions. “ I spent the time weeding the fields with my children,” he said. By 4 p.m., the tsunami warnings were lifted, he learned through an SMS from the police.
Elsewhere, as in Tandag City,, the provincial seat of government, hundreds of residents, along the coastal villages of Mapuwa, Baybay and Bungtod rushed to the Provincial Capitol Building and literally occupied the edifice and its grounds as early as Saturday evening. According to Eleuterio Moriones, a resident, word had filtered out that the tsunami generated by the earthquake in Chile on Feb. 27 could reach the shores of Mindanao island, particularly its eastern coasts facing the Pacific Ocean like Surigao del Norte and del Sur in the Caraga region.
Avila and his family were lucky to have lived in Amontay, an organized fishing community, who were aware of disaster and calamity preparedness. The village also has closely-knit neighborhoods that have depended on each other through the years. Most families heeded the call to be prepared and be ready for evacuation.
No tsunami reached the shorelines of Lianga Bay nor in any other parts of the Philippine archipelago but there were tidal waves of fear and alarm, of misinformation and speculation.
But on the other hand. the non-event also shored up the vulnerabilities of fishing communities as well as their competence and resilience to cope with environmental threats..
"We are a typhoon-prone area. And it floods easily too because we have lost most of our forests to logging and mining. So we have developed resilience to calamities. we do not panic," said Richale Tolentino, who also evacuated her family in Poblacion to higher grounds.
Like Avila, she was part of a women’s fisherfolk organization involved in protecting the town’s coral reefs and educating everyone about Lianga Bay's dwindling resources and how to rehabilitate them.Her neighborhood went to the hills odf San Isidro till the alert levels were lowered.
For Tolentino, women fisherfolks who have organized to help protect the fish sancturies and campaign against illegal fishing within municipal fishing grounds have been a catalyst in nurturing community resilience.
Avila's and Tolentino’s responses mirror the findings of the extensive and qualitative research study on the region's brewing resource-based conflicts, which were disseminated during the workshop that Tolentino and Avila facilitated.
The study, "Participatory Conflict Analysis," identified the conflicts lines and dimensions affecting communities in different ecosystems in CARAGA, including that of four towns along Lianga Bay, namely: Barobo, Marihatag, Lianga and San Agustin.
Among the research findings is that community-based groups and similar initiatives are assets as well as mechanisms that can be harnessed for conflict management, disaster preparedness and peace bulding.
The study is a joint effort of the German Development Cooperation managed by the German Technical Cooperation (gtz), Forum Civil Peace Service and the DED. The findings will serve as a basis for sound decisions in its forthcoming developmental program on poverty alleviation and asset management for the CARAGA region.