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Maritime Tragedies and Fish Sales

I am sure that there is a scientific term for the collective paranoia that we not only once in a while hear about but actually become part and parcel of. If you have been watching the news, then you know that an inter-island vessel by the name of Josille II was battered by tall waves recently and sunk off the coastal town of El Nido in Palawan.

Never mind about the tragedy because enough has been said about it in the media. Rather, what went through my mind as I watched the news reports last night was the inevitable collective paranoia that expectedly follows a tragedy such as this. Not about travelling by inter-island ferry, which is something more or less citizens of this country have little choice about.

Rather, about something as illogical and even, perhaps, comical as the sales of fish plummeting as a consequence of the tragedy. Perhaps, not so much with this one; the scale of this tragedy does not anywhere near approximate that of others.

But the social malaise is best illustrated by the sinking of the MV Doña Paz in 1987 off the coast of Mindoro after a most unfortunate collision with the tanker MV Victor. The accident was the worse in Philippine maritime history, with about four thousand fatalities.

Who knows who started the rumours; maybe meat vendors? But the collective paranoia always spreads by way of word-of-mouth; and not unlike a virus. Always, people stay away from buying fish from the market because of some of the most macabre and probably far-fetched stories you that will hear about.

For weeks after the Doña Paz incident, people scared each other with daw stories; always heard from somebody who knew somebody who actually daw had the bad experience. That bad experience would be something like somebody bought some galunggong and upon cleaning the fish found somebody’s finger inside. With singsing pa ha

How the devil does a poor galunggong get somebody’s finger inside and through its mouth? Of course, the galunggong got changed to tanigue to tambakol to hiwas to espada depending on the storyteller’s fancy.

Logic seldom came into consideration; and perhaps the believability of the stories was abetted by television images of bloated bodies being picked off from the seas by the Coast Guard.

The consequence of this was always that even at bargain prices, people still stayed away from the wet markets. Fish suddenly became so taboo. If somebody undertook an empirical study, it is a cinch that there will be a positive correlation between these maritime tragedies and hypertension.

My Mom always took these rumours with a grain of salt; albeit, the fish that she brought home were still those which she felt were too small to eat people’s fingers: dulong, dilis and other anchovies. Not to mention tilapia and bangus, which are freshwater fishes, anyway.

Of course, maritime tragedies alone do not cause these occurrences of collective paranoia. Just flash back to over a year ago when people stopped buying bangus to the point when governors of provinces and mayors of cities had to have images of themselves taken eating the fish just to convince the buying public that it was already safe to eat bangus.

Personally, I think the video clips of the bloated bangus floating inside their cages in Taal Lake that were being shown over and over by the news shows had a lot to do with why people could not bring themselves to buy the fish for so long. It was just so eeeuuuwww

Here in this city, back in the nineties, somebody started a vicious rumour about one panciteria allegedly using cat meat as ingredient for its famous lomi. The rumour passed on from mouth to mouth until everyone avoided the restaurant as though it was the source of the bubonic plague.

It was totally unfair on the restaurant; but just to illustrate how people can just suddenly start to believe something they hear without even knowing the truth or even bothering to find out.

Oh well… I guess people do in time get over it and the longing for food eventually overcomes the fear. At what cost to the sellers, however?

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