by Anton Onato

Editor’s Note: Anton is a communications officer of ICSC. He joined the two-day writing workshop entitled “Dagat-Bohol: Life and Livelihood of Fishing Reciprocal” in Jagna, Bohol last December 28-29, 2023, with local fisherfolk and young writers of Bohol. 

The final days of the year are usually considered a time of rest. While ICSC’s holiday break began mid-December, my plans of rest were disrupted for a few days as I was asked by Jo, our Communications Director, to join a two-day writing workshop in Jagna, Bohol, Cebu. The workshop aimed to bring together students and fisherfolk, and was scheduled for December 28 to 29––just three days after Christmas festivities, and two days before New Year celebrations.

Reflecting on my college years, I recalled the time I immersed myself in underserved communities, particularly among farmers in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and urban poor communities in Tondo. Personally, I believe those experiences had imparted more profound lessons than my four years of formal education. As a professional now, I do my best to carry the empathy and insights gained from those immersions to be vocal on causes I am passionate about.

Given my history of community involvement, I saw the writing workshop as an opportunity to reconnect with a practice I had embraced in college. The added perk of a trip to Cebu during the peak season made the decision a no-brainer: I packed my bags and made my way to Jagna, Bohol.

The two-day writing workshop was organized by Dr. Marj Evasco-Pernia, a renowned poe, Literature professor at De La Salle University, and native of Bohol. Dr. Evasco was also a contributor of ICSC’s climate anthologies “​​Agam: Filipino Narratives on Uncertainty and Climate Change” and “Harvest Moon: Poems and Stories from the Edge of the Climate Crisis”, which aimed to tackle the impacts of climate change without using technical jargon. 

As Dr. Evasco wrote in both Binisaya and English, she took the bold step of conducting the workshop in the local language to “decolonize” the discourse from English. This choice presented a challenge for me, a Bicolano, but the context clues and Dr. Evasco’s translations throughout the workshop helped me navigate the conversations.

Jagna is a picturesque coastal town in Bohol, Cebu, and it shared its stories through the lens of local fisherfolk and the creative expressions of young students. The workshop aimed to bridge the gap between these two seemingly disparate groups, creating a space where the fisherfolk’s narratives of the sea could be woven into tales by aspiring young writers.

The fisherfolk, many of whom have been fishing for more than five decades now, shared the hardships they faced due to changing weather conditions and the broader impact of climate change on fishing in the province of Cebu. The once-glorious days of fishing were gone, as the quality of their catches had deteriorated over the years. As I listened to the seasoned fisherfolk recount their experiences, it became evident that their lives were an intricate narrative; one woven with threads of resilience, determination, and a deep connection to the sea. Their stories, etched with the rhythm of the tides and the challenges they faced, formed the foundation upon which the young students would build their literary work.

Despite their struggles, the fisherfolk also found hope in the younger generation, believing that they could help drive change in addressing the climate crisis. Over those two days, the writing workshop became a platform for students, all from the Central Visayan Institute Foundation (CVIF), to grasp the reality of fishing in Cebu amid the impacts of climate change.

The workshop became a collaborative dance between two generations: the fisherfolk as the source of ancient anecdotes, and the students as eager apprentices, ready to breathe new life into these stories. Through writing exercises and storytelling sessions, the interplay of older wisdom and youthful creativity manifested in no time. 

One of the workshop’s highlights was witnessing the transformation of raw experiences into powerful narratives. The young students—armed with pens, laptops, and their knack for words—captured the essence of the fisherfolk’s stories with enthusiasm. They immersed themselves in the rich history of the sea in Cebu, weaving words into a literary canvas that reflected the spirit of Jagna’s coastal life.

As the workshop progressed, the synergy between the fishermen and students intensified. As time passed, this wasn’t just a writing exercise, it was a cultural exchange that transcended generation and background. Bonds formed between the storytellers and the fishermen, and created a sense of community that extended beyond the workshop’s scheduled days.

Inspired by the fisherfolk’s stories, the students produced creative literary works in Binisaya. As I couldn’t fully understand the language, I relied on context clues and the students’ non-verbal cues during their presentations. Their passion and dedication reminded me of my fervor and enthusiasm during my own time as a student, which had waned due to so many factors in the past years. 

In retrospect, do I regret cutting my holiday break short and spending almost three days in Jagna? Absolutely not. The insights and lessons I’ve gained far outweighed the temporary disruption of my well-earned break. As I left Jagna, I carried not just memories of time spent in a coastal town, but a collection of narratives that echoed the resilience of fishermen and the boundless creativity of young minds, forever etched in the chapters of my holiday experiences that I will surely fondly recall and share with friends and family. The workshop not only rejuvenated my passion for community engagement, but also left me with a deeper appreciation for the stories that shape the lives of those who live by the sea.

Daghang salamat, Jagna, for rekindling the passion in me. I shall return. 


Photo by: Dagat-Bohol Organizers and Anton Onato/ICSC