Diaries From The Field: Aparri, a paradise lost?

By OLIVER P. GALANGI JR.
www.nordis.net

Before I saw Aparri for the first time, the picture of the place in my mind was that of long stretches of beautiful sandy beaches framing a most picturesque sunset against the horizon. Aparri is the town at the northern most tip of Cagayan province known as the place where the river meets the sea. However, when I first set foot there, I felt deep dismay at vestiges of a paradise lost, forever?

I have never been to far-flung towns or disaster prone communities in the north before, and to satiate my curiosity I joined the Solidarity Survey Mission (SSM) and found myself in Aparri. Our main task was to talk to people and document their way of life, their kind of residence, and how they see their life before, during, and after man-made or natural disasters that hit their area.

On a van it took 2 hours from the capital city of Metro Tuguegarao to get to Aparri. At first, I was expecting very rural communities, simple and contented people. But the sight of reality was beyond me, alarming!

As the group and I had come to conduct a survey mission, I did not expect just a few fisher folk in those communities near the sea. Almost all the barangays I saw along the way were densely populated but the fisherfolk villages along the shore were most pitiful. They look like “squatter” areas in the cities.

The houses were built of light, flammable materials, highly vulnerable to typhoons as well as house fires. The network of narrow alleys, stink of stagnant canals and other garbage. Most of the households either share a few toilets and the few accessible public toilets. The same is true with their sources of potable water from the nearby pumping stations. Garbage collection is rare thus most if not all garbage is dumped into the sea.

Barangay San Antonio traces the edge of the seawall. Over on the other side of the seawall, no sandbank can be seen above the water surface, only a long stretch of garbage floating on grey water. To myself, I asked what happened to this place?

Further on, as we went on talking to the people, I kept asking what happened. And they all answered the same, “the black sand is being mined, and there is almost no garbage collection, no proper sewage, and so on.”

According to the residents, back then before the black sand mining, they can run across the stretch of sandy beach for 2 minutes to reach the water. But when the Chinese companies started mining the black sand, they witnessed how the sand was taken in bulk. Today, without the seawall in place, their homes would have been washed away by the grey water and the dumped garbage.

Also, before all the mining, the residents relied mainly on fishing. They docked their boats along the shore. But as the Chinese black sand miners took the sand, they also took away the fishing livelihood of the people. Today, there are but a few fisher folk. People had no other choice but to find other sources of income.

This situation is not isolated only here in San Antonio. This is just one of the many communities that became even more prone to disasters that begun with a man-made disaster called black sand mining.

The people learned and took to organizing themselves to register their protest and set up barricades to help protect their villages from the operations of destructive mining. They succeeded in stopping the mining but too much damage has already been done on their shores. But they have proven to themselves and other communities that their unity saved the day.

The garbage problem can now be fixed in a few weeks, the sewage system can be constructed in a year but the sand taken away can neither be built nor be replaced at once. The sand that make the beautiful shoreline is what is now missing in Aparri. The sandy beaches got lost from this paradise. But as we go on with this SSM activity, it gives me much hope. This paradise is not yet lost.

The last and the best paradise I saw from the start are the people. I felt their warm welcome. I felt the warmth of their fighting spirit. Their history of resistance against those who plunder and exploit sparks a bright beginning. With this, the people can make Aparri a bright future in paradise again. # nordis.net

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