Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Two towns away to the east of Appari, Cagayan is the town of Gonzaga. Like its neighboring towns of Sta Ana (to its east) and Ballesteros (to its west), and those other coastal towns north of Cagayan, Gonzaga is home to fishery engagements. These are largely small fishers, or municipal fishers who could only go fishing by as much as ten (10) kilometers from the shoreline.
A town in the doldrums economically, this town though had the luck of being chosen as the site for the Provincial Action Center (PAC) of the Ministry of Human Settlements (MHS) for Northern Cagayan & Batanes. The PAC building itself was newly done in 1981 when we respective personnel occupied it. No sooner had we sat down there, I being the new Livelihood Coordinator for that area, when we got swamped with inquiries about the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK, the new enterprise finance program of government.
It was from this town where my team encountered many small planters and fishers. One group of fishers comprised of gentlemen who each had some fishing gears to operate, comprising of a 12-18 foot canoe (made from wood) with out-trigger, fish net, volvo outboard motor, and accessories. In contrast to the capital town of Tuguegarao where the experience was an attitude of luke warmth-to-indifference of folks towards the KKK, here there was enthusiasm about the program.
After some discussions with them, my team arranged for visitations of the operation area (coast). We had to be careful in dealing with these guys, because that town was home to the insurgent New People’s Army (NPA), and any mistake would turn out risky and costly. Without them telling us, I sensed that some of the folks were in fact doing espionage work for the NPAs. Instead of getting scared of that situation, I took it as an opportunity to show to the folks that development work is sincere, that if we can deliver the goods these same folks would cooperate well with the “new kids on the block” (team of development managers & implementers). Even the NPAs would admire us and not bother us and our beneficiaries for ‘revolutionary taxation’ which they never did.
It took us almost a month of discussions, visitations, and preliminary data gathering before we could decide what to counsel the folks. First, the fishers knew how to go about with their business, but their lives aren’t improving much, so it must be made clear to them that there is a gap in their competencies including technical (their gears are backward, though indigenous to the area). Second, we had information about the fishery resources in the locality, and knowledge about how to expand their markets. Third, we got the extra information that the town folks produced bagoong, or fermented fish, though production was primitive (home-made fermentation using terra cotta jars).
Piecing up the information together, including what institutional innovation to introduce, we then counseled the fishers confidently of the following: (1) instead of individual proponents, the group will cooperativize; (2) certain technical skills, including the management of the cooperative, the finances and control systems, and the marketing strategies, will be taught to them; (3) bagoong production will be the forward integration component for processing of small fish types (notably the dilis); (4) fishing nets will adjust to the larger team of fishers, so that bigger nets can be utilized and bigger outputs yielded.
After getting the clear nod of the group, we went about with our partnering business, taking another month to produce the business plan, begin cooperative training and assist in processing document, designing the tank for the bagoong production site (we had an engineer who helped us design a concrete tank), and other tasks. The funding then was so open, so when the group submitted their documents and I endorsed the project for approval (funding at P350,000), it didn’t take a month for final approval (by the regional office) and the release of first tranche of funds.
Construction of the bagoong site began immediately, coupled with acquisition of larger boats, nets and gears. In no time at all did the contractor finished the ‘factory’ site, which had a concrete tank of 10 feet long by 4 feet width, and 2 feet height. Fermentation formula was 1:4 (1 can of salt for every 4 cans of fresh fish). The upper portion contained a faucet located 6 inches below the top, which released the patis (fermented sauce) that floated on top.
Upon launching and initial catch plus initial fermentation, our team and the proponents were so elated at the result. The bagoong tasted really good, so was the patis qualitatively good, it didn’t take the group a hard time to market them. So with fish catch (sold pronto in the coast to middlemen traders) and bagoong + patis as sideline, the fishers finally tasted better life. This is truly bagoong for better living, and remains among the legacy of Gonzaga.
[Writ 07 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]