A bird’s-eye view of the coastal barangay of Bucana.
Little fish, big impacts: the people of Bucana, Ternate are making the connection between their humble ‘alamang’ and the importance of solid waste management in their barangay
“Malinamnan” (Tasty). That’s how Norlita Perez describes the flavor of the famous alamang (tiny fish) and patis (fish sauce) from Brgy. Bucana, a coastal community in the city of Ternate, Cavite. “Talagang puro yung katas ng alamang, walang dinagdag na ibang sangkap maliban sa asin.” (The juice of the alamang is really pure, with no added ingredient other than salt.)
“Yung iba kasi, masyado maalat” (Others are too salty), adds Nilda Bendo, Perez’s friend and fellow member of Buhay Kabuhayan sa Nayon (BUKANA), the people’s organization (PO) established in 2018 and of which Perez, a barangay health worker, is secretary. “Kaya marami ang napunta dito para bumili, dinadala sa ibang bansa” (That’s why many come here to buy, and to bring it abroad), adds Bendo, who learned how to make the alamang the traditional way from her in-laws, whose family has been preparing the delicacy for several generations.
It’s a meticulous process. To start with, only about 10 fishermen in Brgy. Bucana know how to catch the tiny fish using very fine red nets; Perez’s son and Bendo’s husband are among them. Fishing season is from August to about January, but when the rains are strong and typhoons whip through the coastal barangay, the alamang go far out to sea.
Nilda Bendo holds a ‘tiklis,’ and Norlita Perez shows off the ‘patis’ that is produced from the community’s ‘alamang’-processing livelihood.
Once caught, they are kept in wicker baskets called tiklis, which can hold eight gallons of alamang; early in the day, a tiklis can sell for P700-P800 in the Bucana market if the fish get there before 8 in the morning. If there is a lot of alamang already being sold, prices drop. Fishermen can then opt to sell their catch directly to BUKANA, since alamang preparation is the group’s main livelihood enterprise anyway; it’s the PO’s way of extending help to the fishers, as well. “Di na nila problema kung saan dadalhin ang alamang, kahit sa alanganing oras” (They don’t have to worry about where to bring the alamang in the off hours),” says Perez.
A fisherman prepares the ‘tiklis’ where the caught ‘alamang’ is stored.
From the sea, in the tiklis, the alamang is left to drip before being mixed with salt, depending on the quality of the catch. “May magaspang, may manipis” (It can be coarse or fine), says Bendo. “Mas maganda ang manipis, mas masarap yung patis.” (Fine is better, the fish sauce is more delicious.) After salting, fine alamang is left to soak for seven days, coarse alamang for 10 days, before it is first squeezed and the juice boiled. To make patis, for the second round, the juice is filtered and again squeezed through a flour sack before it is boiled one more time to make the final product. “Hindi yan masisira, kahit isang taon” (That won’t spoil, even after a year), Bendo says of the flavorful condiment for which Brgy. Bucana has become known. As Perez says, “May dagdag na sa kita, maipagmamalaki pa na galing Bucana.” (You get added income, and you can be proud that it’s from Bucana.) Each PO member earns a commission of P5 from every bottle of alamang she sells.
BUKANA was established, with 30 initial members, with the guidance of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)/Caritas Philippines, the humanitarian, development, and advocacy arm of the Catholic Church in the country, through the Caritas Diocese of Imus Foundation Inc. The mandate was to organize vulnerable communities, such as persons with disabilities, senior citizens, single parents, and in this case, people living in potential disaster areas such as Bucana, which is prone to flooding. As of this writing, in fact, Nilda Bendo was temporarily living with one of her married children after Typhoon Paeng (Nalgae) blew the roof off her seaside home. Norlita Perez likewise reported to Caritas how all of BUKANA’s cooking pans for the alamang had been washed away.
“Caritas introduced the livelihood program after going through assessment, finding out what was available and what they wanted,” says Caritas Imus lay pastoral worker and community organizer Cherrylyn Reyes. “Dumadaan sa proseso; may training and formation para mabuo, hanggang sa narehistro na sa Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), para madali na sila makilala bilang lehitimong PO.” (They went through a process; there was training and formation, until they were registered with the SEC so they are now easily recognized as a legitimate PO.)
Caritas Imus lay pastoral worker and community organizer Cherrylyn Reyes helped the local PO register with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“When Caritas first came to Bucana, they provided advice on how to help our community manage disasters, because we are a low-lying area, and the last part of the training was the livelihood program,” confirms Efren Cachuela, barangay secretary and also a member of BUKANA. “We had an exposure trip to Pangasinan, where we saw what a patis and bagoong (fermented fish paste) production facility looked like. Nadagdagan ang kaalaman namin, natuto kami kung paano ihanda yung bote. Hindi lang puede ibabad sa tubig at sabunin, dapat initin sa kalan na di-uling.” (We added to our knowledge, we learned how to prepare the bottles. You can’t just soak them in water and soap them, you should heat them over a charcoal fire.)
Reyes is happy to report that BUKANA will soon undergo training to run two specialized squeezing machines donated to the PO by the Department of Science and Technology. This will make the process easier and faster, and the product even more concentrated.
Bucana barangay secretary Efren Cachuela is also a member of the local people’s organization, BUKANA.
Polluted waters pose a problem...
Despite weekly clean-ups, residents of Bucana have to deal with trash regularly carried downstream from neighboring barangays.
BUKANA members face another obstacle, however, to accessing their raw material: polluted water filled with garbage. Naturally, if the water is very dirty, the alamang will not be suitable for processing. The PO holds weekly clean-ups by the shore, but trash from neighboring barangays located upstream is still carried downstream to Bucana’s shoreline. “Mulat na ang mga tao namin, yung mga taga ibang barangay ang problema” (Our people are aware, it’s the others who are the problem), declares Barangay Captain Gomez Linayao. “Sa meeting ng mga kapitan, sinasabi ko, hindi tapunan ng basura ang Bucana.” (In the barangay captains’ meeting, I tell them, Bucana is not a garbage dump.) If he had the budget, Linayao says, he would pay for patrols to monitor any throwing of garbage, and to even return whatever is thrown to the guilty parties caught dumping in Bucana from other barangays.
Bucana Barangay Captain Gomez Linayao would like to have more patrols to monitor the throwing of garbage.
Bucana is part of Ternate, a fourth-class municipality in the province of Cavite. In 2020, Bucana had a population of 1,111 people in a 56-hectare area, but it also has six ordinances on solid waste management from as far back as 2006. Since January 2020, in partnership with Caritas Imus and the Provincial Government of Cavite through the Provincial Government-Environment and Natural Resources Office (PGENRO), Bucana was identified as one of five barangays in Cavite that are sites for the Ecological Solid Waste Management in Cavite Province (Plastic Wastes Recycling Project), funded with a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines Inc., and implemented by the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA).
BUKANA’s alamang processing was among the livelihood programs supported in the first part of the project. When a recalibration became necessary after logistical disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, data analytics were employed for a more accurate profile of the solid waste situation in the project sites.
In particular, a community needs assessment done in December 2021 uncovered a general lack of deeper understanding of the details of Republic Act 9003 (the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000), as well as Cavite’s Provincial Ordinance No. 007-212, approved in April 2012, which prohibits and regulates the use of certain plastics.
Community needs assessment in Bucana, Ternate to identify community-owned actions for improving waste management.
A waste analysis characterization study (WACS), conducted in May of this year, revealed that 40.90 percent of Bucana’s waste consisted of biodegradable material, 36.62 percent of which was food and kitchen waste; 37.86 percent was recyclable material, 13.92 percent of which was plastic; 14.49 percent was residual material with potential, 10.77 of this being flexible plastics; 5.14 percent was residual material for disposal; and 1.61 percent was special waste. Plastics still accounted for 27.77 percent of Bucana’s garbage, mainly in the form of grocery and food bags. Clearly, many of these bags still found their way to the sea.
...and affect their vital source of livelihood
“Twice a year, we have a barangay general assembly, where our barangay captain talks about garbage,” says Cachuela. “But even if we clean every day, we are a catch basin, so the garbage still comes. We do it because we have no choice. Kailangan tanggalin, o maapektuhan din ang kalusugan ng mga tao.” (We have to remove it or the people’s health will be affected.)
The barangay hall in Bucana is where officials of the community, as well as leaders of the local people’s organization, often meet.
Connected to income
For Jerel Tabong, team leader of lay pastoral workers and program manager for Caritas Imus, it wasn’t a stretch to connect garbage to the people’s livelihood. “It’s a good example of how we process things with the community,” he says.
“Paano lumalim ang pagtingin nila sa SWM? Konektado sa kita. Inugat namin yung raw material nila sa dagat. Pag magtapon ng basura sa dagat, dudumi, mawawalan sila ng hanapbuhay. (How did their perception of SWM deepen? It’s connected to income. We rooted their raw material in the sea. If they throw garbage in the sea, it becomes dirty, and they lose their livelihood.) It’s basic, but it’s now clearer to the community.”
A garbage-free coastal area means a sustainable livelihood for the community of Bucana.
In the meantime, his garbage headaches notwithstanding, Kap Linayao is still glad the people of BUKANA can make some extra money, and he is helping find the organization some permanent headquarters. “Pantawid gutom siya, at nabibigay namin yan sa mga bisita namin (It fights hunger, and we can share it with our visitors),” he says of the noble alamang.
“Napapakinabangan siya, at makakaipon ang mga tao ng pondo na hinding-hindi pakikialaman ng barangay. Hindi namin pipigilan ang isang bagay na mapapakinabangan ng mga tao.” (It is beneficial, and people can save funds that the barangay will never dip into. We will never be a hindrance to something that can benefit our people.)