By MICHAEL UMAMING
Rafting down the Chico to experience the sweet melody of Kalinga’s ullalim (traditional song) and work for a matagu-an (life enhancing) development of the Cordillera people.
The Ullalim Run and Mataguan Run are two whitewater rafting stretches along the Chico River in the province of Kalinga that has been gaining popularity. In year 2005, it attracted 560 people from the youngest allowable age of 13 to a 72 year old grandfather.
“It’s perfect!” said Dr. Julie Cabato. “It makes me think more of protecting the river. We have saved it from dams, now we should save it from ourselves.”
The 68 year-old civic leader and advocate of indigenous people’s rights from Baguio City tried the three hour Ullalim Run, which takes off from the Tomiangan Bridge in Pasil, Kalinga and ends at Barangay Dupag in the capital town of Tabuk.
World-class whitewater rafting destination
Whitewater rafting is a new tourism come-on in the country. The Chico River Quest, Inc. (CRDI), the only rafting company in the region and among only four major rafting destination in the country has been organized in 1999 and had its first commercial trips in year 2000. It is now in the primary tourism directory of Philippine Travel Tours.
“The Chico River is a spectacular rafting destination offering all classes of rapids from Class I to Class V,” said Ted Turner, a professional rafter from Oregon, USA who trained 35 local rafting guides now organized under the Kalinga Raft Guides Association (KRGA). He said that Chico’s smooth granite rocks contribute to the safe rafting trip.
Rapids are rated I through VI, with VI defined as “unrunnable”. Class I is easy and ideal for photo opportunities while Class V is extremely difficult with violent rapids following each other and where the rafter encounters serious obstacles, big drops, and steep gradients.
“The higher the class the more exciting,” said local rafting guide Eugene Cos-agon. One should try the Tinglayan to Tomiangan stretch, which is generally Class IV, and experience several jumps including a 6-feet fall.
The most patronized stretch, the Ullalim Run, offers Classes I to III, mostly Class III, of rough waves and requires experienced guides to maneuver. “ Classes I and II can actually be boring for one who seek adventure. With a good guide, the Ullalim Run is ideal for a beginner,” said Turner.
Highly trained guides
The Chico River whitewater rafting guides are well trained. Daniel Bravo, president of KRGA now works in Japan as a whitewater rafting guide. When opportunity allows, he comes back to the river that launched his career.
Aside from knowing the river by heart, the guides have paddled it in different water levels.
“There are times when the water level tells you that it is not safe to get clients because discipline and coordinated rowing is required,” relates Cos-agon. “But for us rafting guides, it is an opportunity for further training.”
Before a boarding, a briefing and orientation is given by the guide. It emphasizes on safety and that rafting is a team effort. The guide also gives instructions, commands and a trial. If he notices uncoordinated actions he has to adjust his maneuvering.
The rafting trip allows exciting sceneries of forests and age-old terraces. To the social-oriented traveler, it revives stories of a successful people’s struggle that placed at center stage on an international scale, the issues of indigenous people.
Natividad Sugguiyao, eco-tourism coordinator of Kalinga and manager of CRQI says, “The river should be declared a heritage site, No river in the country ever united a people so passionately.”
In 1974, the National Power Corporation (NPC), with funding from World Bank, proposed four big dams along the Chico stretch. People opposed to it challenged traditional development perspectives and raised the moral question of “Development for whom and at whose expense?”
Tinglayan, the take-off site of Matagu-an Run and the town of celebrated Kalinga hero Macli-ing Dulag would have been submerged by Chico Dam III. The take-off point of Ullalim Run is the confluence of the Pasil and Chico Rivers, was the proposed site for Chico Dam IV, the priority and the biggest of the four dams. Here, naked Kalinga women uprooted the equipment of NPC and literally carried them down a 30-kilometer road to the main camp of the military in Bulanao, Tabuk that had been providing security to the power company.
“If we try to delineate a point in time or some significant event which sparked off the popular movement in the region in defense of indigenous people’s rights, it would undoubtedly be the Kalinga and Bontok people’s struggles against the construction of the Chico Dams,” said Joanna Cariño, a Cordillera activist.
Cariño said that the concept of ancestral land and self-determination were a vague abstract for many before the Chico dam struggle.
Saving Chico River
“The Cordillera is the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon. Something must be done to enhance this important role,” said Cabato.
Upstream in Bontoc, Mountain Province, the Chico River was turned into a garbage dump site.
It is an indefensible action so that Mountain Province Governor and current chairman of the Regional Development Council (RDC) Maximo Dalog promised to do something about it.
“Any private individual can actually file a case against the LGU responsible for the dump site” he said during an RDC meeting in Kalinga.
Observers say that along the Chico stretch, solid waste and sewage is directed towards the river.
In Mount Data, Bauko, Mountain Province, the headwaters of Chico, it is ironic that this place called Cada is now a wide area of sprawling, commercial vegetable farms. Cada in the local vernacular means thick forest.
A joke from those who live near the river reflects the predicament of the Chico: In the 1970’s, a carabao cannot cross the river. At the turn of the century, a rat could run through it.
One rafting guide identified corporate mining as the biggest threat to the Chico.
With the government’s thrust to revitalize the mining industry, numerous mining companies salivating for the Cordillera gold are queuing-up in droves. As of 2005, the Mines and Geo-Science Bureau of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) has received 11 Financial Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAA), 65 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA), and 37 Exploration Permit Applications (EPA) covering a total of 1.7 million hectares of the 1.8 million-hectare total land area of CAR.
Kalinga and Mountain Province are considered rich in gold and other minerals. The Chico glitters through these provinces so that any mining activity in these areas would certainly put the river at risk to mine pollution.
The RDC, the regional highest policy-making body, which puts together provincial governors, regional directors of government agencies, capital town mayors and some representatives of non-government organizations recognize the environmental threat of mining that it recently came up with a communication plan for sustainable mining.
The council said that the adverse environmental and ecological impact of mining can still be felt today due mostly to the pollution and degradations experienced from a number of mining projects that were abandoned or are now largely dormant. It said that as mining companies extracted the natural resource wealth of local communities and brought it to their home countries they leave behind the unwanted and disadvantageous remains of their activities.
More and more people and organizations in the Cordillera are expressing concerns to the possible environmental impact of mining. The region will certainly test the national government’s determination to pursue mining, which to its view would change the face of the economy.
Meanwhile, an image is playing in the head of Sugguiyao: A convoy of whitewater rafters riding the Chico River with the banner NO TO DESTRUCTIVE MINING! #