Saturday, August 08, 2015

WHAT do we know of rivers? Like other city dwellers, I remember rivers only when, swollen by torrential rain or clogged by refuse, these overflow and confront us with the detritus of urban life, ranging from the inconvenient to the tragic.

Alongside reports of metro flashfloods worsened by unfinished drainage projects ironically called “flood interceptors” are stories of children who drowned while swimming or after falling into a swollen river as they were going home from school.

I Googled and found out that nearly all searches associate rivers with disaster. Trash, not riverine life, dominates six of Metro Cebu’s major rivers, reported Sun.Star Cebu’s Jujemay G. Awit last June 4. Leading the Guadalupe River in Cebu City, Sapangdaku in Toledo, Guindarohan in Minglanilla, Luknay in Liloan, and Cansaga in Consolacion is the Butuanon River, classified as one of the nation’s worst by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) central office.

In some reports, rivers and creeks are left unnamed as if these waterways were not newsworthy except as sites of calamities.

Perhaps there lies the tragedy of rivers in our time.

How many of us retain a memory of rivers before we despoiled these? How many of us have seen a river without floating garbage, industrial waste or illegal settlements? How many of us can name a river? Or want to know its name?

What we cannot name, we cannot care about. What we cannot feel concern for, we cannot take part in its solution.

I realized this after reading and rereading the Sun.Star Cebu special report, “Swamped: Flood-proofing Mandaue City”. Written by Rebelander S. Basilan and edited by Isolde D. Amante, the four-part series was published on May 24-27.

Basilan reported on the incentives given by Mandaue politicians, from exchanging groceries for recyclable trash to offering food-for-work to weed out trash from creeks and rivers. Instead of dole-outs, local leaders should encourage “bayanihan (self-help volunteerism)”. In DENR river clean-ups, residents simply look on or point out garbage to the volunteers, reported Awit.

Poet Myke U. Obenieta once planned to compile the local lore surrounding rivers. His idea predates the Rivers of the World project. Through a British and Philippine partnership, elementary and high school students and teachers make artworks capturing the history of local rivers.

By following the meandering of history—“river of life, river culture, river city, resourceful river, polluted river, and working river”—it is hoped that the youth see and treat rivers as part of their community.

Long before Myke dreamt of following wherever riverine stories will take him, my cousins and I detoured from hearing Sunday mass to explore a “canal” along Mango Ave.

City-bred, we did not have the range of words that rural children have for natural waterways that are interwoven with their life: “suba,” “sapa,” and “sapa-sapa”. We thought “canal” was the Cebuano word for the Mango Ave. waterway that often overflowed, spilling slime and smell; hence, our name for it.

Later, odorous in our Sunday’s best clothes, we ogled our catch. Tiny and nearly invisible in the jar of tap water, the “canal” fish was a creature of wonder. Before evening, it went belly up.

Our youth deserve better memories of rivers.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 26, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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