IT HAS been a while since I last went to Nivel Hills and I was pleasantly surprised at how the residents there managed to make the hilltop and the hillside there a thriving community. I went there for the birthday celebration of my good friend Eliodoro “Yody” Sanchez, who used to rule Busay as barangay captain, thus his being referred to by people there as “Kap Yody.” Yody was still out when I arrived so I spent the time roaming the place a bit.
When Emilio “Lito” Osmeña was governor some three decades ago, he offered a portion of the hill for the housing needs of Cebu media folks. I was new in the profession and had just been freed from my second incarceration then, meaning that I was just starting anew in society’s mainstream. Settling down wasn’t my focus so the offer didn’t concern me.
Besides, the place was hilly and looked more like a frontier area. Who would have thought that years later the place would become an urban enclave despite the terrain? I sat on the bamboo bench of the habal-habal waiting area and wondered what life would have been had I, like the others, grabbed the opportunity that the then governor offered?
Almost forgotten now is that the Nivel hillside goes down to the bank of the river that cuts through a portion of Barangay Lahug below. Being reminded of that river opened up another floodgate of memories, to the time when, as a student activist, I joined the informal settlers at the North Reclamation Area resisting government efforts to demolish their shanties to give way to the construction of what is now SM City mall.
The resistance was intense and protracted, with the resident’s will to resist broken only when government decided to use the full might of the police and other law enforcers. We met reports that the government was finally able to demolish the shanties of the informal settlers with sadness. We decided to help them make the transition bearable by helping them rebuild the structures, that time somewhere near the hemline of Nivel Hills.
I don’t know how the river in Lahug looks now. When we went to help the informal settlers rebuild their houses, we walked the length of that river. Urban blight was just starting to reach portions of the riverbank and we made it with little obstruction from the structures that communities that has taken over the riverbank now built through the years.
Often, urbanization has a way of covering up its wrongdoing. I remember a report I wrote about the flooding experienced by a family living up the Pardo hillside. When we checked the area where the family’s house was built, the reason for the flooding was obvious. The said family’s house was built in the middle of what used to be a creek. Greed was apparently difficult for the developer to resist. Unfortunately, the family that bought the house was the one who suffered because of the developer’s greed.
This is supposed to be why governments exist, to put order amidst the chaos of individual initiatives and selfish acts. Most of them just couldn’t hack it.