You saw me grow up in this silent little town of Bontoc in Southern Leyte. You saw me walked towards school, play games on the streets (not video games), hangout with kids my age and felt my delight when our Tatay Dindo take us siblings for a swim in the pantalan. One of our most cherished childhood memories are those good old summer days where we go for a swim during high tides. There we learned how to swim thanks to our Tatay. We love to hangout at the parked pukotan (fishing boats) where we can swim, play and jump dive under the sun. In no time I saw myself jumping at the tip of our pantalan as our unspoken test to validate our boyhood claim of our manhood. I grow up loving every moment I could spend at the pantalan.
Years later I learned that the road across the sea in the pantalan is called the Bontoc Boulevard, and that bridge-like structure aimlessly looking towards the sea is actually the Bontoc Port where ships rarely docked. Years gone by and I no longer visit pantalan than I used to as a boy. The mornings that were used to swim were replaced by the hours watching cable TV. Then girls became interesting, books were irresistible, movies became persistent, music came liberating, and studies became priorities. And the love for the sea took the backstage. Then college came, and I saw the pantalan no more, at least not through they eyes of childhood wonder.
Some more years later after spending years of wars in the fine art of accounting and working from faraway I came back, but to my dismay the pantalan that I used to know no longer resemble those glorious summers of the past. What I can see is a quiet and compromised place, still breathing but suffering. It is an ugly sight to behold such a beloved place getting abused beyond repair. The port’s nose is now damaged, it’s side dumped in an unforgiving way with gravels and boulders as make-shift docking area. But the thing that docks there is a monstrosity I can never be fond of – that huge barge that transports tons after tons of sands and gravels out of our river. I don’t know where the ship and our natural resource are heading, but all I knew is they are leaving is an ugly trail of natural destruction and social corruption.
Your river now getting bigger because of the massive quarrying activities operating 24 hours a day. I wonder how long the Salug River can hold on. But what we are so worried about is the devastation that will happen if the quarry goes on. Will Bontoc become the next Ormoc a city drowned in a flash flood, or a Guinsaogon forever buried in the world map forever? Wait, I’m asking the wrong question. It should be, Who in the world allowed the quarrying? And how much money this quarrying will generate to the operators, to the politicians who signed the permits? It doesn’t matter who they are, what matters is how much destruction they will allow. I wonder if they thought of the people and the community. And I wonder if the local community will ever benefit from the quarrying.
What can we – your citizens – ever do to stop the destruction and the devastation? Fortunately there are a few brave souls who exerted their efforts to remind your people that the only way to save our river, our pantalan and our beloved hometown is TO STAND UP and SPEAK UP. Thanks to the unselfish efforts of sir Rodel Bontuyan the town of Bontoc not only found a leader but a face against the townspeople’s battle against the quarrying. And thanks to the Facebook page he created, Movement Against Quarrying in Bontoc, Southern Leyte!, we now have a have a united and powerful Voice to express our concerns, fears and ideas. Suddenly a crusade is born to raise awareness of the destruction, to effectively control if not to eliminate the quarrying completely, and most importantly to preserve and to save our beloved hometown.
Our voice maybe small, our pockets thin and our internet connections not reliable, but 1,667 voices (and still counting) in Facebook can make a lot of serious noise. Bontocanons all over the world, public officials from Brgy. Captain up to the office of the President, local and regional medias are now aware of the quarry and the movements the local people have done and will be organizing to stop the quarry. A public Environmental Forum recently wrapped up successfully and promises even more dialogues involving multiple sectors to discuss the issues. Together we have created HOPE that we can still save Bontoc and its river and the pantalan. Our crusade is still a long way to go. There’s still a lot more to say and do.
The legacy that we can pass to the next generation must cannot be in the form of suffering and despair, but let it be a sense of pride that Bontocanons once stood up and done something for what is right and that we never turned a blind eye against any abuses in our hometown. And perhaps in the future there will still be a river and a pantalan for our young kids to swim in to. Only then I can proudly retell these events of today, “Son, this is how much Bontocanons love Bontoc.”
Note: Cover photo was taken from a friend’s facebook account, courtesy of Pagapaguitan Photography. The rest are taken from the facebook group Movement Against Quarrying in Bontoc, Southern Leyte! All rights reserved.