AS THE saying goes, "if you can't beat them, join them."
This, in a sense, is the travail of small-time fisherfolk circling off the Macajalar Bay in Cagayan de Oro.
In the so-called "tamban (sardine fish) season," which traditionally starts in the summer month of May and culminate either in June or any month of the year, the festive catch of the seasonal fish of the herring family can be attributed to the dangerous life at sea, fueled by mismatch rivalry opposite "sensoro" and "tapay-tapay" (modernized big fishing boats) -- a survival in an endless fight against poverty.
"Wala 'mi kalaban-laban sa ila laras gyud nila ang tamban kay gawas nga dagko, kumpleto sa aparatos ilang panagatan (we are no match to them because aside from big boats, they are well-equipped for fishing)," said a certain Adie of Zone 3 Baybay, Barangay Bonbon.
"Dili malikayan nga ang kursonada manapawan na lang mosingit sa ilang grasya para mas daghan kuha, labi na karon nga adunay pandemic (those who are brave enough will be tempted to do fishing inside the net of big fishing boats, especially amid the pandemic)," he added.
"Manapawan" is a shrewd practice of inserting an ordinary net into sensoro's campus-wide fishing net, a stark contrast to "ale" or an honest way of night fishing without the "help" of big fishing vessels.
Grizzled fish hunter Ernan Baal said the combined strength of Bonbon fishing (a rough estimate of 20 from 100 boats operating every night) could net over 100 foams of tamban fish compared to a single sensoro and tapay-tapay's net catch of 500 foams or more. Each foam can deposit at least 40 kilos.
"Just imagine, walo ka sensoro from the towns of Opol, El Salvador, Jasaan and Salay in Misamis Oriental. Mokuha ta'g sobra 500 ka foams matag usa alang di malaras ang isda," the younger Kokoy Baal said in vernacular.
His father, Ernan, averred: "Mao sab dili na kaayo makasapi ang ginagmay kay nibarato pag-ayo ang tamban (rich harvest by sensoro would affect our income because tamban fish are sold at lower prices)."
When the night sets in, Bonbon fishermen, along with their counterparts from nearby barangays Bayabas and Macabalan, begin combing the sea. Many of them are in the hunt first of a sensoro in the deepest part of the sea, where even the best of swimmers wouldn't dare plunge in.
With fisherfolk doing the "ambak pare" (deep diving) at the sight of a sensoro, the term "lansa" will be called out, an assurance that that they are in for a good catch.
"Basta naa nay makita nga sensoro paduol unya lumba na dayon ambak sa baroto kay ang isa mohawid sa ilang net, ang isa pud sigpaw pauyon salod sa net (upon seeing the big thing, we'll get closer and ready ourselves to jump off. One would hang onto the net for a firm grip while the others would guide the school of fishes to our own fishing net)," said one fisherfolk called Boy Tisoy.
Despite the risks they are taking, Ernan admitted that the panapawan is considered "kawat sa atubangan" or stealing.
"Halos tanan guilty maong risgo na dayon ang pagpanagat kay dili matagna ang panghitabo (we're all pressumably guilty. That's why fishing nowadays is more risky for anything can happen)."
Ernan said a group of "manapaway," an average of 30 boats per one sensoro, would regularly receive a verbal and stone beating from big-time operators.
"Dili mo maulaw kinawat ipakaon sa inyong pamilya (are you not ashamed of yourselves feeding stolen fish to your family)?" Just one of the many disheartening words they would hear on a given night while hanging around the giant net.
It's not uncommon that fisherfolk like Rambo, Engoy and Loloy would return to shore in the morning with a bruise or an ugly cut on their heads. Some were even hospitalized.
The constant struggle also resulted in death.
It is still fresh in Loloy Caamino's memory when he went out fishing a few years ago as an assistant or lookout for one of the boats of the manapaway.
He remembered the stone throwing. The manapaways did not heed the call to distance away from the sensoro's net in great determination to end the night productive.
As the helmsman of the sensoro's relatively small boat of "mangiwagay" had tried to forcefully drive them away from the scene, one fisherman (known for dynamite fishing) from Bonbon's neighboring barangay hurled a "dinamita" in retaliation, which resulted in the killing of a sensoro's light man from Opol.
"Grabe 'to nga hitabo bungkag alampinig iyahay na dayon og eskapo (the incident was horrible. I remember we were in quandary trying to escape from the violent mess)," Caamino recalled.
Ernan said he now prefers the normal "ale" (independent fishing) than "manapaw" to avoid great insults and wounded feelings.
"Naa 'tay pride ug dignidad. Sakit kon kastigohon 'ta permi sa lawod nga kawatan. Tinuod, bentahaan mi sa dagko nga panagat pero bisan unsaon pa'g spelling ang pagpanapaw, matawag nga kawat gyud (we have pride and dignity. It's a pity to be always berated in the middle of the sea for stealing accusations. While it's true that we're at the mercy of big fishing business, inserting a net to the big players is still an act of stealing)," he said.
But for Dodie and the rest of the growing number of undettered "manapaway," what they gain is just a dent of the sensoro operators' daily income.
"Tinuod, sa layo na sa dagat ilang operation kay dakpon sila sa duol. Pero, sa kadako sa ilang panagatan, apektado ang kuha sa ale. Buhi-buhi nalang mosingit na lang pud 'mi sa ilang grasya dako paman gihapon ilang ginansiya (they're big and not illegally fishing because they're operating in far away part of the sea. But their operation would still affect us as they literally wipe out the fishes. We're just hoping for their understanding for us to also survive. Anyway, what we do won't actually hurt their daily big profits)," he said.