It was a gruelling three-hour ride from Manila to the fishing community of Talim Island in the lowly town of Binangonan, Rizal. The story begins in the market port of Binangonan where you ride a londoy (small boat) to the island, balancing on makeshift stilts and bridges above the swampy lake water.
Due to its inaccessibility, Talim Island is a poor region of the town despite its abundant aquatic resources and a local industry of bamboo products. It is one of the many fishing communities located along the coast of Laguna de Bay that was gravely affected by the typhoons and monsoons that hit Luzon.
As you approach the island, you are greeted by rows of deserted houses submerged in the lake due to the abrupt increase in the water level as a result of the recent monsoon pouring. Fish pens and cages made it difficult to navigate inwards to the island not to mention the thick foliage of water lilies, clogging boat propellers and natural waterways.
The streets of the community are lined with families making bamboo products like chairs, tables and bamboo sticks. Fishing nets and other paraphernalia are also common sights in this small village, where you can see sun-bleached men fixing their boats and carrying banyeras of fish. With the presence of local livelihoods, one might think that the village is indeed locally stable and self-sustaining however rapid industrialization of the Laguna de Bay coast made the fishing community of Talim Island cry for help.
The lake seasonally cleanses its waters through the process of water circulation where old water flows out to the sea and new water comes in from the sea through a channel in the southern part of the lake. But with the recent establishment of factories of textile, food and other goods the channel was sealed to regulate if not impede the flow of salt water since it corrodes the factories’ equipment and machinery faster. This left the lake slowly dying due to the forced locking out of its waters from the sea and brought about serious ecological impacts to the lake.
Population of janitor and knife fish, which are regarded as pests, increased due to the decrease of their predatory fish usually coming in from the sea and also the rapid decrease of the water’s salinity. Janitor fish destroys fish nets and bamboo stilts for fish cages while knife fish preys on fish for eating and selling like tilapia (Cichlid) and Maya-maya (Big Head). The shutting of the channel likewise increased the danger of flooding especially to the sitios near the shoreline just like what happened during the Habagat (Monsoon) last August where a lot of families were displaced and their houses destroyed. Subsequent and abrupt temperature change followed affecting the flora of the island and eventually lessening the growth and number of bamboo species thriving in the area.
Indeed, the problems and the social reality of the small fishing community of Talim Island proved that one small decision of only one entity can wipe out an entire village or even an entire population. Their struggle is not only a struggle of the village people for their livelihood but a struggle to protect and take care of the environment for the benefit of the future.