A damage boat in Sabang, Brgy. Cabayugan.

Members of the boat cooperative in Sabang have petitioned the city government to place them on its list of priority recipients of disaster relief after typhoon Odette nearly wiped out their means of livelihood.

Tess Austria of the Sabang Sea Ferry Multipurpose Cooperative (SSFM) said that Odette damaged all but three of around 80 tourist boats providing ferry access to the Underground River.

“Sa ngayon, ang sitwasyon ng coop (members), nakakaawa— nasa labor work, walang ibang alternate na kabuhayan. Kung hindi we are depending (sa) dagat, farming, and livestock—nasira ang bangka mo, nawalan ka ng bahay or either naiwan ang poste ng bahay mo, ang alaga mong hayop nasama sa anod, talagang mahahabag ka sa members,” she added.

The cooperative has a total of 2,157 members, both regular and associate, with 314 families relying on tourist boats and 77 regular members.

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According to Austria, 12 boats had gone missing as a result of the typhoon, with damage ranging from 60% to 80%.

The boats were also used for fishing as the locals’ alternate livelihood source aside from ferrying tourists.

The cooperative was registered to Cooperative Development Authority (CDA) in 2000 but started to operate in 1991 through the initiative of PPUR, Austria said.

“Sana ‘yong programa ng city government for calamity sa katulad namin na severely affected sa bagyong ito. Bigyan sana kami ng prioritization ba in terms na makabangon kasi ‘yong services namin ay in partnership. Kami in-accredit being a PPUR provider in terms of ferry service,” she said.

Austria said they have yet to receive intervention from the city government apart from P3,000 financial assistance. She pointed out that the cooperative is in dire need of capital to repair or rebuild their boats to pursue their main tourism livelihood.

“Ang immediate effect ay nawala pareho (source of livelihood), nawalan ka ng bangka. Iyong effect noon sa pamilya ay lost of income kasi wala ‘yong capital mong bangka. Nakikipag-coordinate kami with the government—dahil mahirap maghanap ngayon ng fund para matulungan kami,” she said.

The operation of the cooperative also did not stop even during the pandemic to prevent its finances from being affected. It is also coordinating with private entities to appeal to their needs.

Austria said they are also looking forward to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK) release of their credit surety fund (CSF), which they applied during the pandemic time, hoping that it could help them to finance their recovery.

“In-apply namin ‘yon kasi meron kaming investment, ‘yong credit surety fund namin na one million times ten, dapat may credit line pa kami na P10 million, iyon ang ina-apply namin. Bahala si city government kung paano niya kami tulungan, basta may investment kami na one million times ten, that’s P10 million na makakatulong sa amin pag-recover,” Austria said.

The repair and reconstruction of boats will be taken through gradual stages, she said. A unit of the boat needs P80,000 for major repair, a 60 percent damage needs P50,000 for repair.

The cooperative is also looking to gradually upgrade their boats to fiberglass as one-unit costs P350,000, based on their long-term plan. If there will be entities to help them with capitalization, the cooperative may start building fiberglass boats considering the 20 to 25-year lifespan.

“Ang plano kasi namin at least 40 units ay maumpisahan namin siya sa fiber, kung ang assumption ay P350,000 per unit, times sa 40, iyan ang pwede i-fiber kasi hindi naman ‘yan lahat. Sa 80 na bangka (before Odette), may isa kaming fiberglass doon speedboat so 81. Iyong 40 namin na bangka na pinaplano namin na siya mauna, times sa P350,000 that’s the capital pero ang ina-apply’n namin ay kami ang mag-construct para hindi abutin ng ganong expenses,” she said.

“Ang worry lang namin, open sea kasi, wala kaming area na pang-dry dock. Ang problema rito, ‘pag nasira, syempre dadalhin mo yong bangka sa technical know-how sa repair kasi iba ‘yong procedure for the fiberglass and dito sa kahoy,” she said.

Austria stressed that loans or grants will be provided to the cooperative is worthy as it can assure the market of tourists. She is positive about the coop’s recovery after the impact of Odette.

“Noong kami ay maluwag-luwag pa, nakakatulong naman kami pero sa panahon ngayon na kami ay gipit, sana tingnan nila ‘yong kalagayan namin. Kung saka-sakali man, ang ina-apply’n namin, pwedeng grant, pwedeng loan. We’re using our investment through credit surety fund—kung ang programa ng gobyerno, i-implement na lang nila. ‘Wag na lang nila kami tingnan dahil wala kaming magandang financial condition, hindi ka papautangin,” she said.

“Tingnan nila na later on, may sure market naman kami. Once na ‘pag nag-resume si PPUR, ako may tiwala naman sa Panginoon na kami, makababangon kami dahandahan. Ang operation ng underground river, hindi ‘yan katulad ng mataas ang competition dito sa land. Ang sea ferry is centralized ang operation, paikot ang pila and ilan ba ang target number of visitors ni PPUR? Kami ang provider nila,” she added.

After what happened to the cooperative, Austria hopes that the government will still consider them partners. Not only as a source of income from tourists but also as a collaborator in environmental protection and conservation initiatives. Despite the lack of activity, she stated that the cooperative remained compliant with papers and licenses.

“Nakakalungkot na kung puro pag-usapan ‘yong kabuhayan, paano kami maka-recover. Kung hindi, tingnan nila, ano ‘yong ginawa namin sa buhay ng iba, ng katulad kong CBST—immediate assistance ang kailangan namin from the city government or national government,” she said.

“Kasi kahit anong nangyari sa buhay namin, consistent kami nag-process ng papel, hindi naming ‘yan iniwanan, hindi kami tumigil kahit walang operation— inaalagaan namin na kami pa rin ‘yong tingnan, malaking puntos na tingnan ng pamahalaan natin. Sana ‘yong pagiging compliant namin, sana matulungan naman kami ngayon na makabangon kami uli. Kasi talagang sobrang hirap,” she added.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.