Austria is now transporting the items and goods of guests and resorts from the resort to the island.

The month of January is usually the start of the season for the swift nest collectors in the El Nido caves, but for a 63-year-old busyador, his business now marks its end.

During the month of December, a swift nest collector, or busyador, usually prepares the makeshift huts within the caves in preparation for the January to April peak season of harvest. While Raphael Austria can still climb the steep mountains of El Nido, his children no longer want him to do it at his age.

“Tinamad na rin ako, mahirap na rin. Hindi na rin halos makabuhay, mahina na rin ang balinsasayaw. Sa ibang isla pero dito (wala na). Buhay pa ang lolo namin, may mga kweba na kami. Ngayon, kahit mga kamag-anak ko, wala na rin umaakyat kasi nga wala na rin nakukuha, naha-harvest wala na,” he said.

“Hindi na siguro (babalik bilang busyador), ayaw na rin ng mga anak ko, 63 na ako. Pero kaya ko pa rin mag-akyat kaya lang ayaw na ng mga anak ko. Iyong mga anak ko hindi ko rin tinuruan (umakyat),” he added.

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In 2020, as the pandemic started to hit, Austria was having thoughts of going back to the caves. Austria learned the practice of collecting harvests when he was 12 years old, after joining his father and his siblings decades ago.

But after he got a job in the middle of 2021 in one of the newly opened resorts in town, Austria decided to finally end the decade-long livelihood.

Harvesting a considered Class A type of nest is now rare, he added. Due to the danger of being a busyador, Austria did not teach his children how to climb caves and harvest nests, hoping that this would end in his generation

“Magtrabaho na lang sila, hindi ko na rin ‘yan tinuruan na mag-akyat. Marami na rin trabaho na pwede pasukin. Kasi noong panahon non na mahirap pa ang buhay dito sa El Nido, ‘yan lang ang inaasahan ng mga tao pagdating ng January. Iyan na ang malakas na kitaan,” he said.

Some locals also observed that even before the pandemic, there were only a few buyers of swift nests left in town.

“Wala na rin talaga at saka pagkaalam ko, malaki na ang binabayaran nila sa permit ng pamimili. Noon kasi kahit walang permit, sige lang pamili, ngayon kailangan may permit sila sa PCSD. Kapag wala, huhulihin din sila,” he said.

Austria is now transporting the items and goods of guests and resorts from the resort to the island. As El Nido started to ease requirements for tourists coming to town, it also became an opportunity for him to get employment. He can use his boat as a service and also for fishing purposes.

He mentioned that there are still a few who know the practice and the areas of balinsasayaw that are still living as busyador in El Nido. He added that there are still caves where balinsasayaw can be located, but unlike before, it is getting harder to collect.

As he can recall, being a busyador almost took his life in 2013. He had fallen three times and broken his arm. But it was the livelihood that helped him raise his seven children before.

He is now convinced that relying on his boat earnings is preferable to continuing his life as a busyador. He can earn P300 per trip, which is possible every two weeks.

“Mas okay ngayon. Wala kang kaba na nakawin ang kita mo, sa balinsasayaw kasi bantayan mo, nakawin pa. Wala kang kita. Ano pa kikitain mo kung nanakaw na—sa trabaho ngayon, basta wala lang bagyo, tuloy-tuloy ang biyahe ng bangka,” he said.

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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.