Where God has Put Us-A A +A
Monday, November 4, 2013
IT IS probably one of God’s little jokes on us Kapampangans that the province He has given us is the most beautiful, most fertile but at the same time most dangerous place in the archipelago.
Actually, the Philippines is already located in the worst possible spot on the planet—the Ring of Fire and the Typhoon Belt. What makes it worse for us in Pampanga is that we live smack in the middle of that ring and that belt, right on top of crisscrossing fault lines, in the shadow of a giant volcano, in the direct path of typhoons, and on a river delta that is rapidly sinking back to the sea.
On the map you see our province at the bottom of a vertical depression that runs the length of Central Luzon. It’s called the Pampanga River Basin—literally a basin because it collects all the water from the Caraballo, the Sierra Madre and the Zambales Mountain Ranges before that water goes to the sea.
In the middle of that basin is the Pampanga River, surrounded by its tributaries—the rivers, rivulets, streams and canals that connect to it like side-streets connecting to a highway—including Rio Chico, Angat, Bagbag, Peñaranda, Coronel-Santor, and the rivers from east of Pinatubo, namely, Sacobia, Abacan, Pasig-Potrero and Porac-Gumain, which converge into the Guagua River Basin, which is a basin within a basin.
During the monsoon season, these basins fill with floodwater, which spreads across the central plains, then slowly narrows as it makes its way to a bottleneck before exiting to Manila Bay. That bottleneck is Pampanga. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, because if any dam in this river network collapses (e.g., the Pantabangan Dam or the Angat Dam), the rampaging floods will race towards Pampanga and bulldoze everything to the sea.
To aggravate the situation, fishponds—vast tracts of them as far as the eye could see—have turned this bottleneck into a chokepoint, where the river current slows down, the silt accumulates, and the floods stay longer.
As if that weren’t bad enough, when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it dumped millions of tons of silt and sand, which further choked the chokepoint. We saw it played out in microcosm in our neighborhoods, where the floods flowed in the street instead of canals because the volcanic debris had clogged them.
Pampanga also had the misfortune of having the eruption at the precise moment a typhoon was crossing the province, which redirected the ash fall and compacted it with rainwater, doubling its weight and wreaking havoc all over the place. Had Pampanga also not been in the Typhoon Belt, all the volcanic debris would have hardened and stayed on the slopes forever. The monsoon rains that came after the eruption season after season mobilized these deposits and turned them into rampaging lahars.
It wasn’t as bad on the western side of Pinatubo, where the Maraunot, Mapanuepe, Bucao and Sto. Tomas Rivers conveyed the lahars directly to South China Sea. In Pampanga, the lahars got tangled up in the web of rivers in densely populated towns and cities, before exiting towards Manila Bay. Much of the sediment never made it to the sea.
The weight of stranded lahars (combined with the unmitigated extraction of underground water through artesian wells) caused a phenomenon called “subsidence,” where the land slowly subsides (sinks) because the weakened waterbed can no longer support the layer above it, and the sea comes rushing in.
These same geologic processes have created a nightmarish cycle for Pampanga, where the volcano produces silt that pushes the sea back, but the weight of that silt allows the sea to return with a vengeance—that is, until the next eruption, when the cycle is repeated. Kapampangans are thus literally torn between the devil and the deep blue sea! No wonder our ancestors were so stressed out they imagined being caught in the crossfire between two warring deities, Sinukuan and Namalyari who represent, by the way, the two volcanoes in the province.
The recent archaeological excavations in Porac show that prehistoric communities located high up on the foothills of Pinatubo had been hurriedly abandoned before being blanketed by a thick layer of volcanic ash.
Why had they been there in the first place, far away from the fertile plains of Pampanga where they were supposed to live? And what drove the settlers there to suddenly leave and relocate elsewhere?
They probably lived at the time the province was constantly flooded, which explains their presence in the highlands, followed by Pinatubo’s prehistoric eruption, which explains their return to the lowlands.
Mass evacuations were common throughout Pampanga history. In 1571, Kapampangans fled by the thousands to the Porac and Floridablanca highlands (where the SCTEx runs), and were only persuaded to return by Cubacub, a local chieftain. Floods forced an exodus of Minalin and Magalang residents, relocating to their present sites in 1683 and 1863, respectively. Mawaque, Sta. Lucia, Dapdap, Madapdap, etc. are all new sites for populations displaced by the last Pinatubo eruption.
Archaeological evidence also now supports the claims that Pampanga’s shoreline was once in Guagua, and that all the other towns beyond it—Masantol, Macabebe, Lubao and Sasmuan—used to be under the sea, and that a prehistoric eruption pushed the shoreline to its present location.
Aside from floods and volcanoes, major earthquakes have also struck Pampanga throughout its colonial history, in 1645, 1658, 1677, 1743, 1796, 1852, 1863, 1880, 1889, and 1892. They wiped out all our colonial churches (the heritage churches we are trying to preserve today are only second- and third-generation reconstructions), including the original Mexico church which was destroyed in 1645, rebuilt, destroyed again in 1658, rebuilt once more, and destroyed once more in 1880. Only its belfry has remained standing.
As it turns out, Pampanga sits on top of a network of faults and sub-faults, including the Lubao Lineament, which connects directly to an active volcano, Mount Natib (where the Bataan Nuclear Plant is located) and the Sacobia Lineament in Mabalacat and Bamban, which intersects with the Maraunot Fault exactly where Mount Pinatubo stands. The Sacobia River actually follows the path of this fault.
Yes, this is the land where God has put us—a land cursed with volcanoes and floods, but also blessed with fertile land and rivers teeming with fish, precisely a result of those same volcanoes and floods.
Our ancestors have learned to live with calamity by not building stone temples, by making their houses stand on stilts, by owning a boat, by keeping everything light so they could relocate when necessary, and by letting floodplains be floodplains.
Why can’t we be as smart as our ancestors?
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on November 05, 2013.