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The City by the river

Today I moved to this hotel, old by the post-war reconstruction of any city. Since 1965, it says. This is Hotel del Rio. There is haughtiness in that name if one reckons by the rivers in this country - stagnant, dull, putrid. But the river to which I look out from my own terrace is clean, green and lacks that rancid smell from mud and garbage.

As we were walking on the bridge, on our way to Molo church, I told my tour guide - a friend I had not seen in forty years - Dr. Vic Salas, that this river is an achievement. I am coming from the perspective of one who travels to towns and cities only to see a body of water that is more of muck and refuse rather than a bounty of natural water.

I have been here in Iloilo for about a week now, first to judge in the Kasadyahan sa Kabanwahanan, a festival of the local festivals from selected towns in Iloilo. They were a spectacle from entrance up to exit, the energies of the performers never for a moment wavering. The contingent from Maasin, a place noted for their bamboo crafts and arts, made use of the musical instruments made from the said material. It was a case of the visuals propped by the audio, the bamboo tools providing the percussive melodies to which the dancers showed their agility and grace.

From Calinog came the chanters of their sugidanun or epic tale. The group made of the old male chanter with his grandson stepped up on the riser created on a panel. From behind them entered two teachers who introduced the act. The dancers made their grand entrance in steps that were quick and dangerous (someone was bound to fall off those makeshift ledges. As the narration done through singing went on, the characters behind the backdrop began changing their forms. Witches trembled through the spaces; figures with giant heads seemed to writhe in agony or enchantment - all this set to music that was contagious.

These two groups would win the contests.

In all of the activities we attended, either we, as judges, were facing the river as navigated by big boats, or passing over the bridges bringing us closer to the greenness of the water. It was hard to ignore this river that was clean by any urban standard.

When the river is mentioned in this city, the second word is not far behind - Esplanade. The word refers to an open area usually located near a body of water, even a sea. The Iloilo Esplanade is built along the river. It stretches for some 9 kilometers.

For us Bikolanos, especially the Nagueños, a clean river is something we aspire to. At Naga city, the challenge lies in a river that has been declared invariably as either dead or dying. Looking at the Iloilo river and the esplanade makes our dream become a practical reality.

If the Ilonggos could do it, what is stopping us Nagueños from transforming the Naga river and, by natural extension, the Bikol river, into a good body of water? Are we not looking forward to walking along the river and not being in awe of the garbage floating around? By patiently walking along the Iloilo river, we can realize that it is always possible to clean a river or stream. That, in fact, it can be done.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. There is just a need to look around, and talk to locals in Iloilo. Once this has been done, the officials with representatives from different sectors can rethink about the cleaning of the river.

Vic Salas was one of the first friends I have in Iloilo who was keen about the development of the Esplanade and the river itself. He once posted the news that a big fish was once more caught in the river. That day of our walking, we indeed see this man near the bridge with his fishing gear, almost meditative waiting for the catch of the day.

Immediately, I saw the big difference between this river and the esplanade and other rivers: Iloilo river had healthy and huge mangroves along the side of the river. While there was indeed this long paved walk, the other side was back to Nature.

Interestingly enough, where those mangroves are now, there used to be informal settlers around the area. With the humans relocated, the river was returned to where it should belong, to Nature.

It was already nighttime when I looked out of my private terrace. Behold outside, the lights were casting their bright reflection on this new, this old river. There was a quietude in the river, a stillness despite the late evening joggers.

Before I sleep, I would go out again and look at this river and thank the world for hope and joy in a river that has refused to die. The lessons are great: Nature is there and Man and Woman are custodians that should help the surrounding become zones of health and wealth. It is a kinship older than the churches that had brought new faith into this land.


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