Rivers and their stories
BUSINESS AFTER BUSINESS - Girlie Garces (The Freeman) - September 6, 2018 - 12:00am

When John Lloyd Cruz was starting in his career, we used to see him in an afternoon series called Tabing Ilog. The river was witness to the many things that happened among the characters of that story. How in their youth, they were confronted with many challenges, that as friends or sweethearts they would always find themselves along the river bank, to either emote, discuss, make-up or simply have fun. And we have such a river in Mandaue. The Butuanon River.

Although the Butuanon no longer has the sparkle and life it used to have, its presence reminds me of the story of the “giving tree”, where to its very last root, the tree gave itself to the little boy it loved so much, who in his adulthood forgot to care for the tree and just drew from it all that the boy could get.

The Butuanon River, which traverses the City of Mandaue, spills itself into the Mactan Channel, starting from the uplands of Cebu City. With Cebu City having an elevation of 900 meters above mean sea level, Mandaue City having only 17 meters above mean sea level becomes the recipient of the waters and all that go with it in the Butuanon River.

Butuanon derived its name from the plant “Botan” which used to abound along its banks.  And another story that was passed on about the name of the river is that the river was used as a reference for the migrants who decided to reside in that area, who came from Butuan.

Be as it may, the Butuanon River used to be a fishing ground as the waters teemed with life and became a source of livelihood and food on the table for the settlers in the area. There were children who used to play with their paper sailboats in those areas. Older folks claim that the river was a picnic site for families and one can just imagine that bancas could move upstream and downstream with ease in those days.

Now the river is in a deplorable state. The influx of industries in Cebu and Mandaue City brought in people who wanted to live near their places of work. With them, came their families.  Informal settlers have set up their dwellings in the area and through the course of time, due to the lack of space to set up their homes, have made the river their sceptic tank. With the informal homesteads, companies also flushed some of their untreated wastes into the waters.

Slowly the clear waters changed hue, and one could no longer see green, let alone the soil on its bed. Children who swam there either got skin diseases or parasites, and the river to some, became a flowing dumpsite until the squalor led the waters to be less fluid.

If the river could complain it would. Maybe it would be moaning in pain, and yelling with all the discomfort of debris and the gooey flotsam that gather like small islands of muck.  But it cannot speak.

So a Butuanon River Watershed Management Board was created in 1998 with the help of the Environment Protection Agency of the United States of America and multi-sectoral representatives with concerned business organizations and the Local Government of Mandaue City to look into the deteriorating  condition of the river. The BRWMB was then convened through its secretariat the Citizens League for Environmental Awareness or Responsibility (CLEAR), a Mandaue City-based non-government organization.

For years, the BRWMB have met on and off to look into what could be done about the river. In the course of time, some of the members lost interest or the energy to address the insurmountable task of cleaning up and revitalizing the Butuanon River, ‘til now.

With the upcoming International River Summit, Mandaue City has found once again, another light of hope to enliven one of the main arteries of the city, the Butuanon River. With international attention on the river, it is hoped that more minds can help in finding solutions to this ailing body of water, and perhaps breath life back into it again so more river stories can be made, and more lives, in the area, whether human or marine, can live with quality again.

JOHN LLOYD CRUZ
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