Towards a golden Gata
Posted on: Friday July 14, 2017

Pagkakabod is the process of digging deep holes in the gold-rich soil for miners to go down into to extract bulawan or gold alloys. These bulawan are submerged and cooked in Mercury, a substance that is used to separate gold deposits from rock. One gram of gold extract is sold at about PhP1,400. But the stakes in getting these gold extracts are more than its returns.

This is how the people of Barangay Gata, Caramoan have sustained their living for the past few years. But, what is seldom talked about is how small-scale gold mining, the known high-paying livelihood, actually contributed to the long-term poverty of the people in Gata.



Gata, Caramoan from a distance now boasts of a greener look through its enriched plantations.


"Dati, malayo ka pa sa dagat, makikita mo na ang Gata kasi siya ‘yung islang kalbo. Pulang-pula talaga ang lupa lalo ‘pag sa malayong tanaw,"said Maritess Raygon, an active community leader of Gata.

A depleted forest means a reduced source of food, especially for a place like Gata, which is situated in Lahuy Island. Instead of banking on their own plantation for common food like kamote, kamoteng kahoy, coconuts, and other fruits, the people of Gata still had to cross the sea and buy these when their rich soil could have easily provided these for free.

More so, Maritess said that since almost everyone in their barangay earns their living from small-scale mining, financial sustainability and independence are the last thing on their minds. “Kampante sila na may ginto naman na miminahin kaya dati, maraming tao dito sa amin ang nauubos ang kita sa bisyo— alak, sigarilyo.” She also shared that she has seen people transform into one-day millionaires in confidence that nature will always provide for gold.

Benjamin Castillo, 73 years old, is also a resident of Gata. Like his neighbors, he relied solely on small-scale mining to support his family of six since the 1970’s. Despite having mined for almost all his life, Benjamin was not able to send his four children to school. Recalling the events, however, he reasoned out that this might be due to his poor financial planning. “Siguro, minalas lang ako,” he said.

Sadly, what Benjamin cannot deny is the adverse effect of Mercury to him and his fellow small-scale miners’ health. “Grabeng pagtatrabaho ‘yung pagkakabod bago ka makakuha ng pambili mo ng bigas. Sa pagtitiyaga kong umasenso sa pagmimina, dyan ako nakakuha ng sakit. ‘Di ka makakakain sa oras, puro ka lang trabaho. Tapos, pag niluluto ‘yung bulawan, ‘yung usok ng Mercury, naaapektuhan din kami. Minsan, bigla akong nawawalan ng malay o kaya nahihilo na lang bigla,” he expressed.

Because of the Mercury contamination of the sea and the depletion of the natural resources, the Provincial Board of Camarines Sur has banned both small-scale and big operations of gold mining in Gata in 2014. Fear of lost livelihood was then imminent in the people who solely rely on mining. But this fear slowly withered away as the Provincial Government of Camarines Sur, led by Governor Migz Villafuerte, implements sustained development programs to save the community of Gata along with their natural resources.


Food-growing community

When mining was banned, the immediate needs of the community suddenly became a pain to acquire. Since Gata is deprived of fruit-bearing trees and crops or farm animals, food was the primary necessity that was affected.

To respond to the need for food, the Provincial Government provided both short-term and long-term interventions. Immediately, a weekly distribution of 5-kilo rice packs for 250 families was held for several months until the families were able to grow their own food. “Tuwang-tuwa ang mga tao kasi nabuhay ‘yung loob nila na eto na. Dati kasi, kahit pambili ng bigas, wala talaga,” shared Maritess.



Niño Raygon, one of the chicken beneficiaries, show off one of his flocks of chicken and its freshly-laden eggs



Benjamin became one of the planters. This is just one of the many benefits that he received from the province.


Lastly, to sustain people’s needs for food through their own land, seedlings were provided along with a food-for-work system for those who will plant and maintain these fruit-bearing trees.

Maritess, who supervised the food-for-work in their area said, “Sabi ko nga sa mga tao, habang meron tayong nakokonsumo na bigas galing sa gobyerno, magtanim tayo. Dati kasi dito, walang nagtatanim.”

Now, these plants are providing the people with much-needed food in their area, vegetables and fruits alike. “Kahit nga ‘yung ibang nagpuntahan ng Maynila, nung dumating ‘yung tulong ni Gov., nagbalikan,” said Maritess. Having been one of the residents who were forced by circumstance to transfer to Manila, she said that life away from her place was difficult.

With a smile that resonates immense gratitude, Maritess said, “Nagtapos man ‘yung patrabaho sa’min, may pinagkukunan na sila ng sari-sarili nilang pagkain.”


Alternative sources of livelihood

Back in the days when mining was prevalent, only a few residents of Gata get their living from fishing, partly because only some have invested their income from mining in fishing equipment. Part of the long-term initiatives of the Provincial Government in helping Gata rise after the mining ban is its distribution of fiberglass boats, fishing nets, and seaweed propagules.



Erwin poses proudly with his fiberglass boat. Everyday, he carries it to his house.


Erwin Pamplona, 55 years old, is one of the beneficiaries of the fiberglass boats in Gata. In a day, Erwin catches around 10 kilos of fish with the use of this boat. He has been one of the few residents of Gata who lives by fishing even while small-scale mining is rampant.

“Nasira na ‘yung bangka na dati kong gamit. Gawa ‘yun sa kahoy na mga 5 taon ko nang gamit,” Erwin shared. This is why since receiving his fiberglass boat, he has made sure that it receives optimum care.



Ten fiberglass boats were distributed in Gata. In the coming months, ten more will be given out.


Everyday, Erwin disassembles his fiberglass boat and carries it from the coast to his house in the upland. Shyly, he confessed, “Ayaw kong iwan ‘yung bangka sa laot kasi gusto ko tumagal ‘yung gamit ko sa kanya.”

He shared that he is supporting nine children through his fish catch along with his other livelihood which is fishnet making. Through these livelihoods, Erwin earns around PhP500 everyday.

"Mas napalapit talaga ang mga tao sa gobyerno dahil sa ganitong mga tulong,” Erwin said.

Like Erwin, residents of Gata now have diversified livelihoods. Francisco Alperez Jr., 56 years old and wife, Estelita, 60 are one of these. The Alperez couple is among the 21 recipients of the seaweed propagules. “Sakripisyo din ‘yung pag-alaga ng seaweeds. ‘Pag maganda ‘yung tubo ng seaweeds, mga isang buwan lang, pwede ka nang mag-harvest,” Francisco shared. Since receiving the seaweed propagules last year, Francisco and Estelita have already harvested twice.



Francisco and Estelita show their humble piggery.


They shared, however, that seaweed growing is seasonal, so they thought of saving up their harvest income to purchase their own farm animal.

The pig that they bought last year has given birth to six piglets last January 1, making the couple feel lucky to have been able to afford the pig. They have 10 children, but currently, are supporting their 2 youngest children through college.

"Kahit konting tulong, kapag pinahalagahan, dumarami,” said Estelita while looking at her farm animal. “Sobrang nakatulong talaga sa amin ‘yung seaweeds. Ngayon, ‘pag walang seaweeds, may baboy na kaming palalakihin,” she added.

Francisco, like Erwin, also gets some of his income from making fishing nets. Both of them earn 300 pesos by selling at least 1 net per day. This may be indicative of the people’s shift from mining to fishing. Sadly, not everyone can afford these fishing nets. To cater to them, the Provincial Government has also provided sets of fishing nets complete with accessories like sinkers and floaters.



Upon receiving his new fishing net, Rodel immediately combined his old fishing net to it to ensure more catch.


Rodel Cielo, 39 years old, is one of the beneficiaries of fishing nets. Like Erwin, he was also one of the few residents of Gata who did not rely solely on mining, but also went into fishing. He has been using his fishing net for 15 years, with most parts of it already repaired due to wear and tear.

"Pagkabigay sa’kin ng lambat, kinabukasan, ginamit ko na agad. Araw-araw na yun,” confessed Rodel who did not hide his joy from receiving the net. Betina, Rodel’s wife, shared that they used to have a sari-sari store in their area. However, when mining was banned, their income from the store was extremely affected. Soon, they had to close their store from loads of debt of their neighbours.

Now, Rodel and Betina are supporting their only child through college using their income from fishing. “Nagkaroon talaga kami ng pag-asang ang anak ko makakatapos,” said Rodel, whose son is already in second year college. At best, he has been able to catch 22 kilos of fish in a day through the fishing net that he received. “Nakadagdag po sa pamumuhay namin ‘yung binigay sa aming panke. Malaki ‘yung pasasalamat namin dahil dito. Dati, maiksi lang ‘yung lambat namin. Ngayon, nadagdagan ‘yung gamit namin kaya dumami ‘yung huli naming isda. Eto talaga ‘yung hiningi namin sa kanya (Governor Migz Villafuerte),” Rodel said.


Health and safety as priority

Food and livelihood are the foremost needs of the Gata community. However, in order to sustain these needs, they have to be healthy and secure in their own land. This is why the Provincial Government spearheaded projects that center on people’s health and safety in Gata.


 This is the start of the 1.3 kilometer path walk in Barangay Gata.


One of these projects is the construction of a path walk and foot bridges, and the repair of drainages in the area. The path walk and foot bridges cut across Sitio Campo to the center of Barangay Gata and stretch up to 1.3 kilometers.



The people from Gata engraved their thanksgiving to Governor Migz and former Governor Lray Villafuerte.


A kindergarten walks everyday for 25 minutes from Sitio Campo to his school in Gata.


Apart from benefiting children and adults who use the path walk everyday, the residents of Gata who helped construct the path walk in a cash-for-work scheme also benefited.



Ebenezer was able to obtain a hectare plantation because of his income from the path walk construction.


Ebenezer Azores, 56 years old, used to engage in small-scale mining as his family’s major source of living. When mining was banned, Ebenezer had the chance to work for the construction of the path walk in their area.

“Ang binayad po sa akin doon sa pagpapagawa ng path walk ‘yung ginamit ko naman sa pagpapatanim ng rootcrops. ‘Yung income ng pagpapatanim ko, inipon ko at ‘yun naman ginamit kong pampuhunan sa tindahan,” shared Ebenezer who beamed with pride at his achievement.


His two-month worth of income for the path walk construction allowed him to expand his land from 1/4 hectare to one hectare of plantation. Ebenezer made sure to plant fruit-bearing trees and vegetables that he can also sell to his neighbours.

“Ang vision ko talaga sa pamilya ko ‘yung makatapos sila kaya sinikap ko talagang makapag-aral sila para pagdating ng panahon, maganda ‘yung maging buhay nila,” shared Ebenezer whose 5 among 10 children are still going to school. He added, “Malaki ang pasalamat ko sa tulong ni Gov. at sa staff niya na naka-assign dito sa Gata. Salamat sa naging epekto na nagkaroon ako ng tindahan dahil sa kanyang patrabaho dito sa Barangay Gata.”

Meanwhile, to check up on the health status of the residents of Gata, medical and dental missions were also ensured by the Provincial Government, serving 200 people in total. Aside from the usual routines, medicines, such as ascorbic acid, amoxicillin (tablet and syrup), paracetamol, and many others were distributed to them.

An 80-day feeding program was also conducted in Gata Elementary School, where children from Kindergarten to Grade 6 were served with healthy lunch, first, to solve malnutrition among the children, and, second, to ensure that they stay in school despite poverty.



Josiefe poses with some of the children who benefited from the feeding program.


Upon request from Governor Migz Villafuerte, a number of nutritionists visited Gata Elementary School to assess the children’s nutritional status along with the planning of the meals suitable to them.

Remedios Clores, one of the volunteer mothers in the area, take care of cooking and preparing the food for the children. Everyday, for 80 days, she cooks a whole sack of rice to cater to 345 children in Gata Elementary School. “Masaya ‘yung mga bata. May nakakadalawa o tatlong hingi tapos uulit pa. Ang sasaya talaga nila,” said Remedios, whose own children benefit from the feeding program.

Observing that children’s attendance and performance in class improved because of the feeding program, Josiefe smiled while saying, “Nagpapasalamat po kami kay Gov. dahil nabigyan kami ng pagkakataon na magkaroon ng feeding program. Malaking tulong talaga ito sa mga bata.”


Gata: Onward a golden community

The Gata community is an example of how nature behaves under both extreme pressure and care. At the start, the community may have taken for granted their resources, knowing that it will be a long time before nature is ruptured enough to fail them. But their story is an eye-opener for other communities that it is possible to earn a living that puts premium in taking care of nature.

More so, their community's story unfolded in the best way possible by showing that the government can always align people's needs with their nature preservation efforts. Like Maritess said, "Kaya ngayon, matapos man yung tulong sa amin dito, tuloy-tuloy na yung takbo ng buhay namin kasi 'yung mga livelihood programs napagkakakitaan nila pati ‘yung mga pananim. Salamat talaga kay Gov. Migz!"


Written By: Estel Lenwij Estropia

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