Monday, June 2, 2014

Albay town celebrates fisherfolk festival
By Danny O. Calleja

RAPU-RAPU, Albay, May 31 (PNA) -- This island-town separated by Albay Gulf from the province’s mainland is not happy about being a mining site but for its fishing industry that keeps the municipality known as the province’s leading supplier of high-value commercial fishes.

And in its yearly recognition of this economic contribution of homegrown lowly fisher folk, the municipality recently treated them to a week-long celebration called 'Layag Festival' that featured dances, music, sport competitions, beauty pageants, sailboat races, cultural presentations and sumptuous delicacies -- mostly seafoods.

The municipality is the only island township of Albay province and is composed of three sub-islands -- Batan, Guinanayan and Rapu-Rapu with a registered total population of nearly 36,000 during the 2010 census.

In the olden days, the island was a safe haven for variety of flora and fauna and thick growth of forest made the place a sanctuary of wildlife species which are now endangered.

Also abundant in those days was a tree called “rapu-rapu,” whose name was eventually adopted by the early settlers as the name of the island.

The tree, however, no longer exists today but the island has been able to etch its name in the history of the province to resurrect it as part of the town’s rich cultural heritage.

The first settlers of the island were migrants from neighboring island of Catanduanes. In later years, people from the mainland of Albay, particularly those from the towns of Sto. Domingo, Bacacay and Tabaco came to establish permanent settlements in the different parts of the municipality.

The blending of the peculiar character trait of the early settlers and the enduring influences of foreign cultures have seeped into the bedrock of the town’s culture and, in time, transformed the character of the inhabitants into something truly unique.

The inhabitants are religious, industrious and peace-loving; their hospitality is felt by visitors who are offered not only food but also places to stay while in the island.

Many would say that if one wants to live like a king, “go to Rapu-Rapu.”

This saying is transformed into acts, especially during the Layag Festival and fiesta celebrations, as thousands of people from Legazpi City and several other places of Albay and Sorsogon would troop to the Poblacion here to join the merrymaking and experience the built-in hospitality of the host community.

During the occasion that went on from May 20 to 27, the number of passenger boat trips between the Poblacion and Legazpi pier was tripled to accommodate the huge number of visitors and homecoming villagers.

Barangay Poblacion, the seat of the town government and the largest and only semi-urbanized locality in the island-municipality, is the center of the celebration.

According to Eva Nebreja, a public school teacher and resident of the same village, the yearly celebration was started by the local parish 16 years ago -- purely for church activities.

Years later, the barangay and municipal governments adopted the festival and redesigned it into socio-historico-cultural celebrations running for eight days, culminated by the town’s fiesta in honor of its patron saint Sta. Florentina on May 27, she said.

"It is called Layag Festival because 'layag' (sail) symbolizes our fishermen who, since time immemorial, have been the backbone of the local economy even as the municipality has been the site of mining operations by giant multi-national companies, according to Poblacion barangay chairman Eric de la Cruz.

While these foreign firms have extracted and taken away from the island precious minerals like gold, silver, copper, zinc and coal worth billions of dollars and contributed in billions of pesos in taxes to the national government, De la Cruz said, the municipality or host barangays to these mining activities do not feel happy for the windfall of income.

He cited the mining operations of the Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project in Barangay Pagcolbon, which was started by the Australian-owned Lafayette Philippines Inc. in 2005 and was stopped after extracting huge volumes of gold and silver two years later following a toxic spill that resulted in massive fish kill on the fishing ground below the mining site.

In 2008, the operations were taken over by the Rapu-Rapu Minerals Inc. (RRMI) and Rapu-Rapu Processing Inc. (RRPI), both subsidiaries of Korea-Malaysia Philippines Resources, Inc. (KMPRI) which mined the place until the late part of 2013 when the mineral deposits had been all extracted.

The decommissioning of the mining area left behind hundreds of workers jobless and a vast tract of land that would be worthless to farming for years, a situation that, according to De la Cruz, is worth nothing for the local people but environmental degradation.

Records of the Bicol regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), have it that as of 2012 alone, gold recovery from the site was placed at the amount of US $ 108.2 million; silver, US $ 35.6 million; copper, US $ 300 million; and zinc, US $ 53.7 million.

Total taxes generated by the national government for these 2012 productions amounted to P494 million, the same records show.

Total income earned by RRPP from 2005 to 2012 was placed at P64.1 billion, with the national government getting 2.01 percent in tax equivalent to about P1.3 billion.

But what happened to this municipality after all those income generations by the mining firms and the national government?

De la Cruz said the local government may have received a meager share “but look at Rapu-Rapu -- still the same poor third class municipality whose infrastructures remain to be developed as it has as of today only 37.5 percent or 31 kilometers of concrete roads and an average length of 7.2 meters and 1.3 meters in width of concrete bridges.”

The supply of electricity, he said, remains dismal as being an off-grid area, power is provided by a generator set from the Albay Electric Cooperative that runs only for 12 hours with random trip-off incidents.

“All we do now is to give preference to our fishing industry that has been keeping our town alive and going and the positive attitude of our people, thus the Layag Festival,” he added.(PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/CBD/pjn