I ACTUALLY do not put much premium on cleanup drives. No, this article is not meant to disparage the effort of those who participated in the recent cleanup drive led primarily by officials of the Cebu City Government at the Guadalupe River.
What I am merely pointing out is that cleanup drives are usually not sustainable and too dependent on the whims of a few. Tagalogs have a term for that: “ningas-cogon.”
I am familiar with the Guadalupe River because certain phases of my life got linked to portions of it. I grew up in Sitio Kawayan in Barangay Sambag 2 where a portion of the river crosses our place and a sitio in Barangay Calamba. My first arrest (1987) was in Sitio Caimitohan, which partly sits on the bank of the Sapangdaku River, whose water drains to the Guadalupe River.
I say river pollution and the narrowing of waterways are directly proportional to the extent of the peopling of the waterway’s banks.
I realized that years ago after government succeeded in demolishing the structures built by informal settlers at the North Reclamation Area, some of the affected informal settlers eventually settled on the banks of one of Lahug river’s tributaries.
Walking the length of the river to where the informal settlers from the North Reclamation Area transferred offered us glimpses of the ways to destroy a waterway.
The Lahug River was clean and unhindered in parts where the riverbank was not peopled yet. In places where communities have taken over the riverbank, the blight was obvious.
It didn’t matter whether the riverbank occupant was rich or poor. Each one of them contributed in the killing of the river in their own ways.
The rich had the money to reshape the riverbanks, constructing concrete walls and ripraps that artificially break or hinder the flow of water, doubling or tripling the force of its downward push. And both the rich and the poor transformed the river into a garbage and human waste dump.
Where nature had its way the river was alive and idyllic. The questionable practices of the few that settled in the riverbank were overcome by the natural cycle of replenishment, with the cleansing power of rain and greenery holding sway.
It was such that even in our place in Sitio Kawayan, which is kilometers away from Sapangdaku and Kalunasan Rivers, two of the Guadalupe river’s main tributaries, the bamboo trees were lush and the water that flowed was dirtied only by the soil eroded from the slopes of upland barangays.
I congratulate those who initiated the river cleanup, but rehabilitating the city’s waterways is not a one and done thing and needs the participation mainly of those living on the riverbanks. Like in solving the city’s drainage woes, a cleanup master plan needs to be laid down aimed not only at clearing our waterways but more so at rehabilitating our rivers and allowing them live again.
That’s a tall order, I agree. But since we are already at it, we might just as well complete the process.