Waters, wonders and the integrated life-A A +A
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
DR. Gumersindo Lasam, former regional executive director and undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), left something in my mind that I remember even to this very day. Lasam was credited for the transformation of Region 02 as a major food basket for the country. During his term, the DA regional office, technicians and farmers consistently won many of the major prizes in the annual Gawad Saka Search.
During our visit (more than 14 of us were Regional Information Officers and the rest are staff from the Office of the Secretary, DA Agricultural and Fisheries Information Service (AFIS) in his office in Tuguegarao, Cagayan, in 2004, he said that the Magat Dam is the key resource that sustains agriculture and inland fisheries in region 02, most especially in Isabela Province. Without the dam, most of our corn, rice and vegetable farms in Isabela and some parts of Quirino would lay idle during the summer season. Before the dam, those farms are mostly rainfed, he said.
I think about Lasam’s statements as we passed by several rice terraces in another part of Banaue not usually seen in photos as we proceeded to Bokiawan, Hungduan. I think about Lasam’s statement being reminded too of Dr. Mary Ann Pollisco-Botengan’s visit in Bokiawan some two years ago where she tried to connect the Ibulao River to its tributaries here. Upon reaching the Information Office where visitors to Hungduan register, I notice two rivers meet here in Bokiawan. From there my mind wonders into the forest upstream.
We reached the Bokiawan Town Hall where I intend to document the graduation proceedings of the CHARM2 Project Farmers Field School on Agroforestry. There I learned on the spot that I will be the graduates Guest of Honor representing our higher ups at the regional office who either travelled to Manila or other parts of the country for more important occasions. The CHARM2 Project Provincial Coordinator left yesterday and I am the only DA regular staff around.
It takes much to prepare a relevant statement during these kinds of occasions. You need data to formulate your theses, build up your points in the main body of your speech and onwards to your conclusions that inspire, admonish or challenge your listeners. Given that I have these data now, there is no time to process them.
I talk to Barangay Captain Mario Pugong about the two rivers that meet in Bokiawan right before the program began after lunch. In my mind, those two rivers would highlight what CHARM2 Project is doing here and the importance of their FFS graduation. I would have Mr. Pugong’s responses to my questions and deliver them in lore following my way of speechifying. I am like them who must speak about what they already know. I am by no means an important guy in the professions and offices of government who would speak to them about the things they need to know.
Barangay Captain Mario Pugong said the river below us comes from Hapao, way above the UNESCO rice terraces heritage site. The river along the rice terraces seen along the road comes from Zumigar over in Mount Polis. The river coming from Hapao is called Hapao River and the one from Zumigar is known as the Loboong River. Where both rivers meet is called Bokiawan. Mixing up, the Loboong River surrenders its identity to the Hapao as they flow down towards Bokiawan in Kiangan where the Hapao joins with the Asin River. The river continues to flow down as the Ibulao towards Tupaya in Lagawe. Downstream, the Ibulao joins with the Magat River to sustain the Magat Dam, year in and year out to enhance region 02’s position as the rice and corn granary of North Luzon.
By experience and observation, the locals know and understand the life of a river. It is like a spirit taking on a material shape. It breathes life to wherever it flows and does it for dear man’s sake – for his livelihood and food. A living river gives good irrigation with clean fresh water that does not suddenly rise in volume or disappears. Lots of fishes, shells and frogs live there. Other wildlife and domesticated animals also depend on the river. In the memory of the locals, they swim on the river and drink the water like the rest who come to its succor. Listening to Mr. Pugong and the rest, there is nothing I can add except to validate my conclusion. The waters here and what they did with it are really a wonder.
That is a summary statement of course so let me enumerate some of the wonders emanating from their actions with water. Aside from the Loboong and Hapao River there are several tributaries that also connect to these rivers. Wherever the rivers and tributaries flow, the people built terraces there. These terraces built on stiff mountain sides sustained the people, their culture and beliefs for generations. Where the waters and rivers flow, you expect the mountain terrains being carved and managed as rice terraces.
You would think that this is a disturbing human intervention in our mountains. You would need time to look and think deeper. Soil erosion and forest fires here are recent phenomenon. Before, the top terrains of the mountains were left as forests and some are managed by clans and families for firewood and timber sustainably. The bottom parts are terraces. Those that cannot be put to agriculture still remained as forest. These are still followed in some areas but the continued deforestation, erosion and dying of rivers severely affects the rice terraces’ survival today.
Let us say that sometime in the 60’s, the local folks felt that life is really tightening. Some folks went downstream as if following the last of the fresh waters that their ancestors enjoyed in their time. Many folks migrated to Isabela and Nueva Ecija. Others went as far across the oceans in search of livelihood. It is a wonder to know that they still love their place of origin and would take on the chewing of muma and the other practices they once knew once they get back home. Deep in their heart those who migrate out of their villages do it for their own sake and for their relatives. It might be possible in a barrio or even a municipality in the highlands that people are related. Here, it is wrong for anyone to judge that people move out of their villages for any other purpose beside a deep sense of loyalty and love for one’s origins and people. It is also wrong to think that once they left and lived long enough outside, it is pretentious of them to identify and speak well of the community and the life they once knew. They have sacrificed much already and identity with origin is deeply etched among us natives.
I hold high regards for those who stayed in our villages as safe keepers of our identities. I hail those who left to give space for those who can’t leave to live and thrive in our homelands. Whether we stay or leave, our hearts beckon to duty. For those who stayed behind, please keep the land as a place of identity and common cultural heritage place for your sojourner kin to come home to. Who knows, when that time comes and the waters are still there - fresh and clean, new wonders come into play. In our skin, yellow, white, black; mind and spirit, undisciplined and free; and, roots the same and unbowed. Left on our own still, we must continue to grow, in spite of the harshness of the territory for our own sake and that of country.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on August 21, 2012.