Of Creeks, Rivers and the Community Around it

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By Art Tibaldo

Consumer Atbp.

Monday, May 26, 2014

MUCH has been said, written and heard about rivers and many poems, movies and other literary pieces had plots and settings on rivers. This is not to mention many love stories, adventures and places of torment and heroic ordeals. In the case of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, one can notice an almost eternal presence of a river in his mural and paintings. In my case, I’ve been living near a creek or a small river since my early boyhood. When we were younger, I used to fetch drinking and cooking water from the spring of our mountain farm in Sudipen, La Union and I used to fill up two gallon plastic containers to fill the earthen caramba or clay pot for drinking. Clear water runs from the same mossy creek and it is where we also got food items like taro, crabs and edible snails. In the Philippines, living in rural areas is always synonymous to a life along the shores and riverbanks.

As a child, I was once swept by a river current in downstream Amburayan that divides La Union from Ilocos Sur but was lucky to have been hooked or caught by a stem of a dead Tamarind or Acacia tree lying in an irrigation canal of Sudipen La Union. I soon learned how to swim and even tried some skin diving techniques including summersault which is quite uncommon for a Baguio resident. I realized later that even mountain dwellers should know how to swim for survival reasons because when I was about eight or nine years old, I managed to pull from the rainwater a younger neighbour who almost drowned at a dug out lagoon near our place. Having trained myself how to swim on rivers and beaches, I believe that I have spent more time in natural bodies of water. As a young filmmaker, I tested my guts by doing the required stunt of my student indie film “Hinterland” and did the first and last take of me falling from the hanging bridge of Asin Hot Springs. I still have that 1983 scar of a rope mark on my left arm reminding me of my daring days as an artist.

I was already working in government as a media specialist when one day, a tragic happening occurred to my officemate Martina whose son nicknamed “Ballong” slipped and was carried away by La Trinidad, Benguet’s Balili River. It was a sorrowful moment for us all especially Tina who up to now hasn’t found any remains of Ballong. I was at that time the disaster related point person attending to numerous trainings and meetings of the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council that later became a Disaster Risk Reduction Council.


Today, I have a body harness, a Kernmantle rope and belay devices similar to that used by SWAT teams unlike what I had during my indie stunt where I settled for a trucker's strap that gave me that swollen arm. In the Cordillera, we see the mighty Chico River not only a nature’s gift to the upland and lowland settlers but it is a hallmark or a significant anchor of the people’s clamor for recognition and unity. Though tainted with bloodshed and military killings during the historic period of the dictatorship, I had the chance to cross the Bugnay hanging bridge in Tinglayan, Kalinga and see for myself the bullet hole that ripped the life of Macliing Dulag. The construction of a gigantic dam that was feared to inundate a large portion of the upland region was discontinued because of the people’s resistance.

During my stint with the Philippine Information Agency and while doing our information, education and communication campaign for autonomy, I had the chance to bathe along the Chico River in upstream Bontoc, Mountain Province. I did myself a favour by taking a bath naked while our then Philippine Information Agency driver Arsenio Frianeza washed our Nissan Patrol SUV after some IECs in remote Barangays.

I'm now starting what two departed icons of Baguio media, Steve Hamada and Peppot Ilagan asked me to initiate a decade ago...to document life and people's culture along the upland river systems of North Philippines and I hope that my colleagues and younger newsmen, photo shooting reporters together with hobbyists will soon join me to a "24 Hours Along the Rivers of the Cordillera" mixed media project. I am sure that this type of documentation will likewise provide material inputs on the study of climate change and ecological system. The mechanics are simple...start from the headwaters of Chico, Agno, Amburayan or even Balili rivers and follow its tributaries downstream and it should be a group and organized activity...just like how we did the 24 Hours in Baguio (1992), 24 HOURS in CJH (1997) and September to Remember in 2008. As a pre-activity, there should be a mandatory orientation on cultural sensitivity and media ethics to let participants understand certain taboos and customary practices in the upland region.

A basic seminar on nature photography can be another option for hobbyists. At the end of the activity, each participant will select photo-video materials for integration to a multi-media exhibit that includes online publication, gallery show and cable TV screening. Suggestions and comments are welcome.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on May 27, 2014.


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