DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 01 January) — Half-naked, the young man obligingly paused for my camera balancing a 50-kilo sack of copra on his head. He summoned a smile as I shot him. He was poised to get off the spanking new PhP 5.8M suspension footbridge that connected the center of Barangay Maglahus to the highway leading to the Cateel-Compostela Road.
“Sorry,” I apologized. “You looked so alive crossing over – like, you totally enjoyed what you’re doing.”
He grinned back as he dumped his load on the neat pile by the roadside.
“It’s our first coconut harvest after Pablo. It’s a good thing we have a bridge again. It sure was a lot harder when we had to carry stuff across the river on a banca,” he replied.
It was a little past noon when we caught up with last-termer barangay kagawad Arman delos Santos at the bridge. He showed us the ruins of the original bridge.
“We built back better,” he proudly said as I jogged back from the other end. “Those are yakal planks, and the cables are really standard. Still, we have to make sure to use the bridge properly, so our village council passed an ordinance.”
The rules are written out on billboards mounted at both ends of the bridge: No peeing on any metal part, no carrying of load above 50 kilos, no riding the motorcycle across. P1,000 for first offense and increments of the same amount for every repeat offense. The concerned citizen who reports the violation gets half of the fine.
“No violations so far?” I asked.
“None yet. We’re all vigilant,” he replied.
“Does the village charge toll for crossing?” I asked, preparing to pay for my short jog.
“No, of course not. It’s free.” And it’s open 24/7.
“What have you carried across since the bridge came up?” I turned to the young man.
“Coco lumber and mangoes and lanzones and rambutan,” he cheerfully rattled off his fingers. “Those tided us over. Plus we also planted bananas so we’ll have something to eat before the coconuts started to bear fruit again.”
He made to cross back for more of his copra. I guess it does make for a lighter load when the bridge adds a spring to your step. Man, I could jog back and forth on this bridge half a day and I won’t tire.
“The footbridge is a big convenience to the village, Ma’am. Do you know that our enrolment in the grades actually went up? It’s because people from across could now get to the elementary school without much trouble,” said delos Santos.
Oh, yes. Keep the children in school.
About half an hour later and we were crossing the bridge that spanned the iconic Aliwagwag Falls. To my surprise, it is now a regulated eco-park, with mountain trails, view decks, souvenir stalls, and refreshment stands. The last time we were here was two years ago. Colin Walch, our affiliate from Upssala University, had clowned poses with Carol and me. This time, RR snaps me taking a selfie to send to C. I had promised C to take him exploring the falls when he next gets back – hopefully after earning his PhD. Unrestrainedly zestful about life, C would think nothing of relieving himself in the bushes or doing handstands and jumping off a cliff to celebrate beauty in nature and people.
Soon we were slipping and sliding on the slippery mountain road.
“Not off road any more, Ma’am. This is no road,” Cezar joked as he took off his seatbelt.
Rats. What’s this? Is my driver getting to jump off the car? I thought I would take a nap, but that road wouldn’t let me.
We tailed solitary delivery trucks until they made room to make us pass. Up and up we went until we touched the clouds. They’d part every now and then to give us a glimpse of the wounded mountains across ravines. In places, milky mist turned the depth of the abyss incalculable.
I heaved a sigh a relief when we got to Sitio Bango on the Compostela side. Rounding a corner, we came upon a mountain full of holes. It looked like a giant termite hill. The road widening had cut a section of the mountain, exposing mine entrances so small that one could only enter on his belly. This, I thought, is how to bring down a mountain. Just drill it full of holes and let Mama Nature take her course. She, after all, abhors a vacuum.
By the looks of it, small scale mining remains to be a livelihood that still calls for government regulation and concerned citizenship in these border villages. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches at the Department of Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University. She is head of the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services. You may send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says.)