IN THEIR OWN WORDS: The new fishermen of Gem-Ver

Ten new crew members of fishing boat Gem-Ver prepare to sail again to Recto Bank

OCCIDENTAL MINDORO, Philippines –  The new fishermen of Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver stood before the refurbished vessel staring up at its reinforced body, which wore a fresh coat of white and blue paint. It would be a matter of days before the vessel takes them out to Recto Bank.

Five months ago, being on the same boat would have nearly killed them – as the 22 fishermen who manned it at the time would attest. On June 9, just 3 days before Philippine independence day, a Chinese trawler rammed, sank, and abandoned Gem-Ver in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: THE SINKING OF GEM-VER: Barko! May babanggang barko!)

The new fishermen of Gem-Ver know
the tragic story too well. Yet they say it is not enough to stop them from joining the ship as one of its new crewmen. Of the 22 fishermen originally part of Gem-Ver, only 16 returned for the voyage back to Recto Bank. 

For the 10 new fishermen, losing one’s life at sea is a risk that comes with the job. Most of them are unafraid of joining Gem-Ver back to the spot where the sea nearly swallowed the fishing boat. The rest are going despite fears – just to continue to making a living.

Here are Gem-Ver’s new crewmen, who will join relatives and friends as they return to fish in the deep sea. Like Gem-Ver’s original crew members, it is the only way of living they know.

1. Joan Gadores

Age: 43
Years as a fisherman: 16
Something to know about him: Joan is a seasoned captain who is good friends with former Gem-Ver captain Junel Insigne. Joan has also operated boats which several of Gem-Ver’s original men had joined as fishermen to Recto Bank.

“Medyo may halong kaba kasi nga kagaya nung nangyari sa kanila sana huwag mangyari sa amin kasi mahirap yung sitwasyon hanggang napakalayo, walang isla.”

(I still feel fear because I hope what happened to the fishermen before does not happen to us, because that is a very difficult situation. You’re far away, and there are no islands nearby.)

2. Alvin Bantugan

Age: 44
Years as a fisherman: 18
Something to know about him: Alvin Bantugan is coming from a 3-year break from joining fishing expeditions. In the past 3 years, he has been working on boats on land. He does not remember the last time he set sail for Recto Bank.

“Sanay-sanayan nang kaunti, natatakot din po.”

(It’s a bit about getting used to it. But do I still feel fear.)

3. Bernie Ortiga

Age: 52
Years as a fisherman: 17
Something to know about him: Bernie was on board Gem-Ver 2 in Recto Bank at the time the trawler was sunk by a Chinese vessel in the West Philippine Sea. He was part of those who raced to the site of the wreckage to help salvage the damaged Gem-Ver.

“Hindi naman [ako takot], sanay na ako diyan sa ano, sa bangka ba.”

(I am no longer afraid. I am used to life on the boat.)

4. Albin Hermogeno

Age: 51
Years as a fisherman: 25
Something to know about him: One of the seniors joining Gem-Ver, Albin Hermogeno has been working for the owners of Gem-Ver for decades. He has even worked for Fel dela Torre, the father of Gem-Ver owner Felix dela Torre.

“Hindi na [sana mangyari ulit]. Manalangin tayo sa Panginoon.”

(I hope it doesn’t happen again. Let’s pray to God.) 

5. Allan Imperial

Age: 26
Years as a fisherman: 5
Something to know about him: Before joining Gem-Ver, Allan Imperial fished near the island barangay of Ilin in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro

“Sabi nila sa akin [sumama] daw kasi kulang ang tao dito sa Gem-Ver 1.”

(They told me to come because they needed men for Gem-Ver 1.)

6. Cris Leido

Age: 48
Years as a fisherman: 23
Something to know about him: He has a wife and 7-year-old son who tried to stop him from joining Gem-Ver, but he insisted so that he could feed them.

‘Yung hanapbuhay ganoon talaga eh. May takot din pero ayos din lang.

(Earning a living this way is how it is. I am afraid, but it’s fine.)

7. Joel Leido

Age: 24
Years as a fisherman: 5
Something to know about him: Even at a young age, Joel Leido has repeatedly seen Chinese ships at Recto Bank. He says that in his encounters with them, they have never been aggressive.

“Malaki rin ‘yung sasakyan nila (Chinese). Hindi mo malapitan.”

(Their boats are huge. We couldn’t get near them.)

8. Kenneth Asuncion

Age: 24
Years as a fisherman: 7
Something to know about him: Before joining Gem-Ver, Kenneth Asuncion was a fishermen with its sister ship Gem-Ver 2.

“Mas suwerte [sa Gem-Ver]. Maraming huli parati.”

(Gem-Ver is luckier. There’s always a big catch.)

9. Lemuel dela Torre

Age: 40
Years as a fisherman: 25
Something to know about him: Lemuel dela Torre is the uncle-in-law of Felix dela Torre, the owner of Gem-Ver.

Sa hirap ng buhay, hindi nakapagtapos ng pag-aaral, siyempre dito ang bagsak sa dagat, wala naman tayong trabahong makita diyan, kailangan talaga.

(Because of life’s difficulties, I couldn’t finish school. Of course I ended up working in the sea. There are no other jobs for me. This is what I have to do.)

10. Pogs Roldan

Age: 28
Years as a fisherman: 14
Something to know about him: Pogs found his way to Gem-Ver after his cousin, Cirilo “Siloy” Escuterio, convinced him to join the ship as one of its crewmen.

Hindi naman po [takot ang asawa ko], kasi alam niya ano ‘yung hanapbuhay ko, ‘yung hanapbuhay namin sa dagat.”

(My wife is not afraid for me, because she knows my work, our work in the sea.) –