Saving and reviving the Balili River

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By Art Tibaldo

Consumer Atbp.

Monday, June 16, 2014


SINCE my early childhood, I have been fascinated by the sight and sound of rivers. During school vacations, we usually go down to the lowlands and attend to farming chores at my mother’s hometown in Sudipen, La Union. Whenever I had the chance, I frequented the irrigation canal which was near our abode just to enjoy the running waters and to test my swimming abilities. The water that flows in that irrigation canal where I almost drowned in my boyhood days comes from upland Cordillera via the Amburayan River.

Recently, I decided to undertake a thorough study and research on the Balili River and its tributaries from upstream to downstream. Most people living in La Trinidad and Baguio City associate Balili as an open sewer canal because of its unclean waters. The river's upstream arteries starts from about thirty eight Barangays of Baguio and these include Barangay boundaries like Ambiong, Bineng, Longlong and the famous Carabao Mountain that divides the two localities. From an elevated vantage point, one can observe that the La Trinidad valley is practically part of the Balili River and it was accordingly a swamp as noted by early Spanish explorers. On June 15 which was a Father’s Day, I followed one of the river’s tributary from Barangay Liteng of Pacdal to the Teachers Camp area all the way down to the municipality of La Trinidad. I did an initial pictorial of the river taking wide and detail shots to establish and record the community living along the river’s creeks and canals. With the photos that I gathered, I likewise did some interviews with residents nearby. I intend to use this study for scholastic purposes and so the weekend drive and walk-through from Baguio to the salad capital happened with substantial inputs and data.

Just like what Michelle Bacalla Garcia is espousing today with a conceptual framework of a pedestrianized Session Road, this young mother is calling for community participation and involvement in what she refers to as Session Road Compatible. Bacalla uses social media as her channel and rallying point and employs visual aide and graphics to show a once controversial concept that was widely opposed by the city’s business sector. Bacalla believes that the objective of social media survey is “to empower our City Officials and help them strengthen their rebuttals saying who else will help them but us.” She further stressed in her Facebook account that “we are the government, so if we truly want change, let us make it happen” I have actually provided this lady crusader with high resolution images which she and her friend Techa Paloma turned into a dynamic visual representation of a Session Road free of cars and embellished with floral arrays and street cafes.

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Just like the images of present-day Session Road juxtaposed with digitally added images of an enhanced walkway, I have likewise created a social media page entitled Buhayin Ilog Balili where I uploaded my river shots. With intents and purposes to stir a discussion and generate mixed views about the situation of Balili River, I posed several questions with the hope of generating constructive views. Among the basic questions asked are: “Have you been to any of the tributaries of Balili River in Baguio and La Trinidad. (Yes or No), What was your observation when you first saw Balili River and its tributaries? Did you have any memorable experience with any of the tributaries of Balili from Baguio to La Trinidad?, Do you have anything else to say and share about your encounter, walk-through or as resident near the Balili River and its tributaries?”

I also stated that any comments and suggestions about the Balili River will be posted in FB publicly.

I actually asked the same questions to former La Trinidad Councilor Thomas Chamos when I chanced upon him having coffee in one food chain located in the valley. The singing former politician narrated that as kids during the 50s, they used to fish and swim at the Balili as the river then was clean and marine life existed. Ryan Tolentino Baniaga, another FB regular commented “When I was in Grade 2, we used to play at the Balili River near BSU Elementary School, though that time Garbage is Slowly Accumulating. As a kid growing up we go and catch "Bayyek" (tadpole) as we thought they were little fish. We go and ask Storekeepers at the Old La Trinidad Public Market for a Large Glass Jar or "Garapon" if they have.... Lucky Seven back then was an eatery as far as I can remember the Store Keeper Removed the "White Rabbit" candies and placed it to a new Glass Jar... To our joy we ran towards the river and try catching Both Bayyek and some little fishes up to now all I can remember is Fish-ti-Canal as they say. We brought home all what we caught eventually to be thrown away because they say narugit and we were forced to take a bath”. Baniaga also noted several studies made about the river’s pollution and contamination and he believes that the Balili River can be revived if people do the right thing. Deodariel Alafriz Baniqued commented “We can revive the Balili River, it is not impossible I'm sure. Once the Balili River becomes a vital link to everyone's daily life, then we can definitely get the community to work together in keeping it as part of our sustainable development vision.

Like, rebuilding it as a source of ornamental fish that can be raised or other livelihood aspects that the people in close proximity would benefit from, then maybe, there is great hope of bringing life back to it” to which Nick Angel added “This is something worth looking into”. I hope everybody realizes that indeed, we all live downstream.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on June 17, 2014.

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