April 20, 2004 (STAR) By Lionel Abril & Noemi Lanzuela - Aling Magdalena Daliba, Myrna Daliba, Olivia Parde, Merlee Revidin and Alma Fernandez are all residents of a barangay named Salvacion in the town of Tinambac in Camarines Sur. Except for Olivia who is widowed, they are all married with an average of five children each. They are all hardworking vendors who make a good living by selling the fish caught by their husbands. But this was not always so.

About five to seven years ago, they were mere housekeepers who supported their families solely from the limited catch of their husbands. But since the income of their husbands from fishing were not enough to provide even the basic needs of their families and due to the seasonality of fishing, they ventured into fish vending.

As Aling Magdalena noted, through fish vending, the wives were able to augment the income of their husbands. Still the money was not enough to provide for the growing needs of their families, especially for the education of their children. Most of their earnings were eaten up by payments for loans taken out from informal moneylenders to finance their buy and sell business. Interests from such loans ranged from 10 to 20 percent a month. As one fisherfolk commented: "Kami ang bumubuhay sa kanila, samantalang kami ay ginigisa sa sarili naming mantika." (We’re the ones giving them livelihood, while we’re being fried in our own oil.)

Sometime in 2000, Tinambac Mayor Rosito Velarde and the Sangguniang Bayan set up a micro-lending program and opened a P649,500-portfolio to provide capital for micro-enterprises.

The program provides a cheap, collateral-free, and easy-to-obtain credit with an interest of 10 percent for six months. Payments on loans are used for re-lending to other qualified beneficiaries. The loanable amount ranges from P1,000 to P5,000 per borrower. Loan approvals are based on track record, character, viability and financial requirement of the project.

The micro-lending program is the counterpart program of Tinambac local government to the much wider Fisheries Resource Management Project (FRMP) of the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) in Region 5 led by Regional Director Jaime C. De La Vega and Assistant Regional Director Josefina Delfin as the head of the FRMP project implementing unit in the region. FRMP is a six-year project of DA-BFAR to address the problem of poverty and resource depletion. The DA-BFAR monitors and provides technical assistance to the micro-lending program.

About two years ago, Producers Bank also provided micro-financing services to vendors at five percent per month.

The micro-lending program generated an immediate impact on the lives of Aling Magdalena, Myrna, Olivia, Merlee and Alma and their families. Their income from fish vending dramatically increased since they were able to do away with paying exorbitant interest rates on loans.

Their story is repeated many times over among the women of Tinambac who have become more entrepreneurial and less dependent on their husbands for economic support. They have more self-esteem now.

Aling Alma pointed out that their incomes are now even higher than those of their spouses. She can even now finance the (crude oil used for) fishing operation of marginal municipal fishers in Tinambac. She does it to ensure that the catch is sold to her.

Nowadays, they earn anywhere from P300 to more than P2,000 a day depending on the volume of fish they were able to purchase from fisherfolk and depending on the occasion. Sales invariably go up dramatically during fiestas and holidays especially Christmas.

In the old days, around 20 percent of their daily income would go to interest payments. Nowadays, with more money to spare, they could buy more fish to sell and thus earn higher incomes. This can be easily seen from the project beneficiaries’ homes which used to be made of thatched bamboo and sawali and with roofs made from cogon grass or nipa. Those homes are now made of concrete and galvanized iron.

Before, they and their children used to watch television in the homes of a few well-to-do households in their neighborhood. Now they have their own colored TV sets and mini components. Aling Alma even has a washing machine and freezer and was able to buy a new home lot. They can also now send their children to college. A son of Aling Alma has already finished his Bachelor of Science in Criminology.

Mang Vicente Matos, another beneficiary of the micro-lending program, used the money to buy "padyak," a non-motorized tricycle. Though his income from padyak is still meager — P50 to P100 a day — it is enough to tide his family over during off-season. When the fishing season is on, Mang Vicente goes fishing and rents out his padyak for P25 a day.

The impact of the program is not limited to the economic life of the people of Tinambac. With their wives earning good income, fisherfolk now feel less pressured to provide for their families and are thus no longer forced to commmit acts that would disturb the habitat of the fish. As a result, the cutting of mangroves has practically stopped while illegal fishing, though still being practiced, has been greatly minimized.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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