By KATHLEEN T. OKUBO
In the sixties to the eighties, the embrace of the atmosphere and soothing colors of the whole spread of environment— along the river, the hills and mountains traversed by the old Kennon Road from Sison uphill home to Baguio — as one enters the province of Benguet. This part of the trip was always a healing time for me from the heat and grime of travel thru the lowlands until the late seventies when the mining boom brought down the rocks and greenery that rapidly changed the landscape and quality of a once wholesome environment and well used road.
The Bued River (that runs along the road) turned gray, red and yellow from washed down diggings and mine wastes from three minesites along the road. Furthermore, Benguet Consolidated Inc (BCI) and Philex mines burrowed their drainange tunnel from the minesite to the Bued River.
The kiwet (eel) disappeared from the main river Bued. The monkeys, I last heard of their presence in the area in 1962. The last time I was told there was still wild deer in the area was 1976 by Manong Panay (bless his soul) who said the kinoday (jerky) he brought then was a “deer they trapped above the Kennon Road. Like the deer, there used to be wild boars and stray-turned-wild cattle that used to raid the camote and vegetable patches near the river. The motit, buu-et, banyas (monitor lizard), boa constrictors, land turtles, bakbakan, and the local cobra native to that area are all gone now with the disappearance of their natural habitat.
Running down the mountainsides were several streams, brooks and waterfalls that supplied drinking water, fishing and swimming holes; nearby taro fields, rice paddies, and camote patches that gave off a delicious aroma near harvest time that made one feel hungry and mouth water for a meal. In Camp 1, below the thick pine tree forest then, manggo trees lined the river banks and the road that perfumed the air during the flowering season and sugared it so sweet of manggo flavor.
In Camp 3 across the river was an underground cathedral with all the stalactites and grand stalagnites. In one strong typhoon in the mid-eighties, the whole mountain came down and damned the river, flooded mine tunnels, carried away kilometers long of the Kennon Road and bridges, washed away hectares of rice fields and gardens from Camp 1 to Rosario. That was a grand overhaul for Kennon Road. In the Camp 4 area, the road was rebuilt from the eastside of the Bued River to the westside. It was also raised higher up the mountainsides. Major mining activities there stopped, communities were displaced and livelihoods disappeared in the devastation.
The path of development planned and taken for the area of the Kennon Road by whoever were at the helm quickly exploited and consumed whatever resources the area had, and left the area as is to repair and revive itself. No one can be blamed for creating an earthquake but the destruction caused by the massive extraction of natural structures without plans or programs to rehabilitate or rebuild or support it afterwards to make it safe for the people, is so irresponsible and immoral especially in the face of other natural threats like the earthquake, or landslide, etc.
The youth of today may never see that nature and environment my generation experienced for it is practically destroyed now. Even that healing time I used to relish and enjoy was suddenly transformed to a haunting, trauma and grief when I lost a brother along that historical road when that terrible earthquake struck. He was travelling the road with others in busses, cars, jeeps, and trucks; commuters, farmers, miners and villagers who now are all reduced to a number of victims of the earthquake.
The integrity of those mountains has been destroyed by large scale mining aggravated by natural calamities, and the lack or absence of necessary vegetation or forest cover continues to be simply schemed over and mentioned as noted by concerned government agencies which does not help lighten the dangerous situation. Training to run for cover and stock up supplies every Disaster Prevention Month still does not keep the population safe. Even the promulgation of laws and orders like the recent Executive Order 79 of Malacañang issues a double death sentence for a historical heritage like the Kennon Road, and it was written in the name of the people.
Every year as we commemorate that fateful July 16, 1990 when the “killer earthquake struck” Baguio and Benguet hopes it never happens again. That is dreaming, what is demanding the recall of that recent EO 79? # nordis.net