They are better known as Sea Gypsies. They are good as fishermen, better as pearl divers. They are used to living off the sea, with their houses built atop the water. Today, they are clustered in temporary evacuation areas due to the recent fire that razed down their abodes of more than forty years now.
They are the Badjaos living in Puerto Princesa. They are the Badjaos living in Barangay Bagong Silang, Puerto Princesa.
You can easily spot them in a crowd because of their yellow hair bleached by the sun from too much sea diving, fishing or simply because they live by the sea. Their eyes are curious and piercing. They undeniably have the distinct look, and sound, as they mingle with the crowd.
When you try to talk to them, they distinctly look at someone in authority for answer, like they don’t know the answer themselves. It takes a little more relax time before they volunteer answers to your queries, even if it is answerable by just a nod or a shake of the head.
The women, or mothers, on the other hand, are far from being shy. They will right away let you know their needs as well as how you can help them. They can make a simple one-on-one talk to become like a small women’s meeting, where everyone is talking at the same time and have issues to raise.
Their timidity and shyness probably came from being moved from Zamboanga in the early ‘70s, coming to this province by small boats. To some, they were brought here as part of the work force needed and to some, they literally ran for their lives brought about by the chaos and killings that happened in some part of Zamboanga.
Galman Musalon, a tribal leader called Panglima and is one of the four group leaders in this Badjao community, narrated how they started in this side of the province. Galman remembered coming to Palawan via sea craft together with his family. His grandfather, Taala Musalon, became the caretaker of the property of Danding Cojuangco.
“Yung mga tao ni Cojuangco kinuha kami sa Zamboanga upang magtanim ng tipay na ginagawang perlas sa Bugsuk Island. Noong naghanap po siya ng mga taong Badjao, tatay ko po ang napili, kaya dito na po kami nanirahan. Hindi ko na po masyadong natatandaan lahat. Yung una kasing mga tao niya, namatay na rin. Kami po ang isa sa mga pinaka-unang napatira dito,” Galman narated.
The Badjaos are known as skilled fishermen and divers. Fathers teach their sons on how to hold their breathe underwater for a long time. “Mahusay kaming manisid ng barya na hinahagis sa pier, noong araw. Mababaw lang po ‘yan, wala pang 15 meters kaya nasisisid pa namin,” Galman said with pride in his voice. “Yan nga pong mga anak ko, mahusay nang manisid mga iyan,” pointing to his two small sons, probably aging three to 6 years old.
Some of the Badjaos chose to live on boats. Some sell fish or pearls which they themselves harvested. “Doon po kami nakilalang mga Badjao, sa pagtira sa aming mga bangka. Mayroon pa rin pong ilan na ganoon ang pamumuhay,” says Galman.
Cesar Hayle, one of the residents in his Badjao community, has a different exodus story to tell.
“Magulo talaga dun sa Zamboanga noon. May mga tao doon, basta na lang papatay. Mas pinapahalagahan pa ang manok kesa buhay ng tao. Kaya napilitan kaming pumunta dito noon. Tatlo pa lang ang anak ko noong nag-lantsa kami at nakarating dito sa Puerto Princesa. Sabi ko sa tatay ko dito na lang kami tumira,” says Hayle in broken Tagalog. He had been living here for more than 40 years. He raised his 11 children working in construction companies in the city.
Their Present Situation
During the recent fire that displaced more or less 600 households in Barangay Bagong Silang, 400 of whom are Badjaos. Most of them are now staying on vacant lots or in the side street near their burned community.
“Kung sa pamumuhay, sama-sama at tulong tulong ang pamumuhay ng mga Badjao. Pero ngayon, kanya-kanya nang diskarte. Dalawang araw matapos ang sunog, wala nang nakakarating na pagkain sa amin dito. Gusto nila, pumunta kami doon sa taas dala-dala ang mga plato at tasa namin, pipila kami na para kaming mga preso. E syempre mahirap naman sa amin gawin ‘yun,” commented Galman.
Most of the families now live in makeshift shelters with little belongings given to them by those who first responded to their call for help. Cesar Hayle were ones of the few who were able to save some of their little belongings. He said they received the half cavan of rice alloted to each family, but their problem is where and how to cook their food.
“Mabuti may nagbigay ng kalan ngayong araw na ito, kaya mamayang gabi pwede na kaming magluto, kung me pera pa kaming pambili ng uling, pag wala, manghingi na lang. Pero ‘yun ang gusto ng Dios, wala tayong magawa,” added Cesar.
Galman, on the other hand, lives with his three children, wife and another seven adults on a makeshift tent adjacent to the wall of another Badjao house. Their clothes, which were part of the relief goods they first received, serve as pillow and blanket during the night. Their ‘kitchen’ is composed of a wood-burner, obviously newly given, with two pots clearly salvaged from the ruins of the fire. There are no plates, drinking glass, and spoon or forks.
They said that if the government permits, they would rather stay in this same community, rebuild their houses and continue their manner of living. They will never be able to live far from the sea or their fishing livelihood.
He also noted that no government official has ever visited them except the barangay captain who occasionally pays a quick visit to see how they are coping.
“Mayroon pong mangilang-ngilan kaming natatanggap mula sa gobyerno. Medyo hirap din po kami kasi bawat pamigay aakyat pa kami. Sana lang kung ano ang ibinigay sa taas, ibigay din dito sa amin. Kasi maraming bata dito, paano namin sila mababantayan kung papanhik pa kami. ‘Yung mga matatanda aakyat pa doon. Sana hatiin na lang at dalhin dito kasi mas maraming tao dito eh,” Galman said, referring to “taas” or the other temporary relocation site for the fire victims, where most of the local government’s assistance are coursed through.
The fate and future of these Sea Gypsies are really unclear. They are uncertain as to where and how to get their next meal. They are unsure as to where they will be relocated. They are uncertain as to how to get back to their old lives.