Bishop's move-A A +A
By Ram Mercado
Monday, January 21, 2013
THE impossible dream of restoring the natural wonder of a historic waterway in Angeles City is taking shape.
Clearing up the Sapang Balen creek has been the objective of past city administrations and their support NGO groups. The previous efforts were long on promise but short on results.
Three years ago when Bishop Pablo Virgilio David assumed his post as Parish Priest of the Holy Rosary Parish, he surprised residents by his first accomplishment. He got rid of illegal sidewalk vendors who occupied the streets in the vicinity of the church and the Holy Angel University.
It was as if a magic wand was waved to blot out the decades-old eyesores, traffic jams, and filth in the premises. In seeing this remarkable transformation from chaos to order, Angeleños cheered the Bishop. They sensed something spectacular would be forthcoming from his mission especially if he teamed up with City Mayor Pamintuan who supported his crusade in community building.
Next, the scholar-prelate renewed initiatives to revive and save a dying waterway. Sapang Balen dissects and runs through six densely populated barangays with their assorted light home industries, along with squatter colonies.
For ages the creek has been heavily silted, drying up and hardly streaming. Nausea is induced by noxious smell and sight of detritus. The river bank dwellers, mostly squatters and Moro settlers dumped their trash in the brook. The sight of floating excreta and decomposing animal carcass was revolting.
It was also the depository of human corpses probably slain elsewhere and dumped from atop three bridges across the creek.
When I was working as executive assistant to City Mayor Antonio Abad Santos circa ‘9Os, the same problem of dumping of trash and corpses into the creek was argued by hizzoner and his police chief Maj. Leonardo Yambao.
The major was quite puzzled over what he would charge the violators for.
"Yung nagtatapon pailan mong reckless imprudence," replied the mayor. "Reckless imprudence resulting to multiple intestinal diseases." Then he asked Yambao what charge can be filed against persons caught in the act of corpse dumping.
"Aba, Mayor, the dumping of dead bodies… Public disturbance 'yan. "Kasi po naisturbo ang mga tao 'pag nakakakita ang tinapon' bangkay."
In 2010 the Bishop had the bridges' approaches installed with welded screened wire as well as the sides to prevent dumping of garbage and murder victims. Mayor Edpam assigned JO workers to patrol the span of Sapang Balen 24 hours daily to keep the Bishop’s program effective.
Knowing human nature that well, including stubborn and recalcitrant old habits, the Bishop threatened concerned violators of the environment specially those unloading waste of any kind into the creek with a "curse." The curse, if it was carried out by the priest, was akin to but not more powerful than the Church's "Oratorio Imperato," a prayer during widespread calamities and plagues.
Several weeks later, several school children who came from suspect families who threw trash and plastic-wrapped fecal matters suffered from a strange type of poisoning. The children had been lured and ate seeds from a galumbang plant on the creekside.
"Tutu yapin ing sumpa nang Bishop Ambo," the village elders in barangay Pulungbulu and San Jose reacted in awe.
Since then, it was noticed that Sapang Balen showed improvement by way of reduced plastic materials and stink bombs wrapped in newspaper.
Peering down the creek from a bridge, one can now see clearer and fee flowing water. It was not only the "sumpa" that caused this revival of a dying river but the dedicated, determined, and sustained work of the Bishop and his church-based brigade that has caused the restoration.
For his modest success in working against environmental degradation, and his consistent personal engagement in the cleanup campaign, Bishop Ambo won an unusual but quiet admiration from local residents.
Now the riverbeds are relatively clean, and bereft of unsightly wild grass, tree stumps, animal remains, and heavy siltation.
If the Bishop may invoke another “curse” he might create a miracle of sorts—which is to completely and totally abolish the bank dwellers’ ancient “take out” practice. Human waste in “balot” of plastic bags and newspaper is called “take out” by its literate practitioners.
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on January 21, 2013.