It all started from an invitation to watch Heneral Luna one weekend. Mona was a person I met accidentally, for the lack of a better term. It was way back when I attended the first TEDx University of San Carlos in place of my friend, Dalareich.
We were both guests of one of the speakers, Ms. Jenny Elmaco, but we hadn't met each other at all before the event. We didn't even go in together. It just so happened that I saw her name right beside mine on the registration list and she also just happened to sit right next to me at the back of the theater.
Long story short, we got along pretty well and I very much enjoyed her company, what she is doing, and her desire to make change in the human rights front.
Now, a year later, she invited me to watch the historical epic, Heneral Luna, with her and a friend. Things didn't work out that weekend but we had a lovely conversation over lunch after catching up on things. I saw that she still had that spirit, even moreso than myself now, which led me to think "what happened?".
A part of our conversation led her to invite me to come lang with her and her school organization's clean-up drive for the Let's Do It Philippines campaign. Aside from genuinely wanting to spend time and work with these inspiring women (shoutout to Jan, Kim, and Mitsuko!) I also wanted to see their energy in action, the almost blind desire to make the wold they live in a better place. And so, we made our way to Ermita; a walking distance away from the University of San Carlos main campus.
We were told that a 4-hour clean-up drive happened just the day before but the state of the Guadalupe Gulf was still devastating to me.
Whenever I come back to Cebu by boat, I always know I'm close to the port when I see waves of trash just casually floating towards the deep sea. To me, seeing that physically hurts my being. Growing up in Bohol made me appreciate it's beauty so much that if I photoshopped that amount of trash to whichever part of Bohol, my face would crumple a million times over. And to think there are people, fishermen, more specifically, relying on the waters closest to them to make a livelihood through legal fishing methods: that's sad.
I can completely understand that there's only so much they can do in an environment like this. They're close to a public market, the community not being that safe, even for those that permanently live there, and the constant presence of illegal settlers often contributing to the amount of trash disposed is a hard place to live in.
Despite their situation, sir Bernardo Tamundo, the representative we met from the Ermita Fisher Folk Assocuation (EFFA), and his band of local fishermen were determined to grit through it. He told us that a group of Japanese volunteers visited them a few months ago, aware of the trash being deposited at the end of the Gulf that's jeopardizing their source of livelihood. Other than doing a clean-up drive, they gave them an idea. With pig manure and sawdust, they could create soil To plant seeds, and to sell as a raw resource.
Since their grant took a long time to process, sir Bernardo, being the go-getter that he is, bought two pigs on a loan and tried different techniques until he finally got the mixture right. He paid back the loan and bought another pig a few weeks before our visit.
Because of that product, sir Bernardo and EFFA managed to buy a few seeds and planted them into unused ice coolers. They now have home-grown chili, some more vegetables, and both decorative and herbal plants. They even offer traditional medical care with these herbs they they grow.
I was utterly impressed by how much they tried to make their living conditions better and that they didn't forget about the sea that they've relied on for years before pollution kicked in. They regularly sign petitions and invite groups like ours to do clean-up drives. They haven't given up.
To encapsulate my opinion on the movie: Heneral Luna was, unfortunately, a man that was too brilliant, too loyal, and too good, for the people of his, and our, time.
At the end of the day, I really had to thank Mona for inviting me out, and for helping me remember to always keep my spirits high. I doubt my pragmatic mindset will change any time soon, but during all that time I spent with these young ladies, the more I saw them act like the youth I envisioned most to be. I have hope. Most say "wala nay pag-asa ang Pilipinas" (Philippines has no hope of getting better.); I say nay. We do have hope. It's just sh*ts like you that need to get out and reach out. See what we have and what we've lost and do something about it.