Sacobia River is one of the five major rivers emanating from the eastern slope of Mount Pinatubo (the others being Abacan, Pasig Potrero, Porac-Gumain and Tarlac Rivers). Strangely, however, Sacobia River does not appear in maps made during the entire colonial period until after mid-1800s. Cartographers could not have missed such a large water system, especially when smaller rivers and creeks in the vicinity of the Sacobia River are depicted in the old maps—but not Sacobia River. Is it possible that the Sacobia River did not exist before the middle of the 1800s? And where did the name Sacobia come from? What does it mean?

Sacobia originates on the slopes of Pinatubo perhaps after a lake breakout formed when the headwaters of Abacan River were blocked by landslides. You see Sacobia on the map forking away from the same source of Abacan River and flowing downstream along the northern border of Clark Air Base towards Mabalacat. But it elbows at the last minute when it finds a narrow gap in the foothills called Mascup, and then turns to connect with the Parua River, which comes from a separate source, the so-called Sapang Mabanglu (‘fragrant river”) in Bamban. So when it proceeds towards Concepcion town, it has the combined force of two rivers.

In 1856, the town of San Bartolome in southern Tarlac was completely inundated with floodwaters from what old documents still called Parua River. My theory is that was the moment the newly formed (but still unknown) Sacobia River joined with Parua River to create the cataclysmic flood that sent the people of San Bartolome fleeing to higher ground near Mt. Arayat and establishing a new town called Magalang. You can still find the original site of the abandoned town fondly referred to by old Magalang folks as their Balen Melacuan (“the town left behind”), now a mere barrio in Concepcion town. In fact, a sitio in barrio San Bartolome is still called Balen Melacuan and I suspect this is the exact spot of the original church of Magalang buried underneath the silt from the 1856 overflow of the Parua (+ Sacobia) River.

When I visited the place in 2014, the barrio folks were renovating their chapel in imitation of the Magalang parish church—an acknowledgment of their emotional attachment to their ancestors who have relocated to the new town across the Sacobia River. Concepcion on the Tarlac side and Magalang on the Pampanga side may be separated by a river, but their histories and destinies are forever linked.

In the summer of 1950, the Rose of Tacloban came to Magalang to visit her first cousin, a congressman named Daniel Romualdez who was married to a local girl named Paz Gueco, who had a nephew living across the river—a dashing journalist recently arrived from covering the Korean War and decorated with a Legion of Honor medal by President Quirino. That was how Imelda and Ninoy met during a picnic on the banks of the Sacobia River and fell in love—who knows? That’s another story to tell in the next column.