Romancing Chico River


First time in Bontoc, “Is this the Chico river?” I asked pointing to the wide cascading river in the midst of the capital town of Bontoc in Mountain Province. Without hesitation and with pride, their answer was “yes.”

Chico River is not new to many especially those who live in the Cordilleras. Its name is synonymous to the infamous mega-development Chico Dam project of the late dictator, Ferdinand E. Marcos. I was still young then, and the issues were ambiguous to me—but I remember.

Chico River was the reason why the Kalingas and the people of Mountain Province had to resort to armed struggle against the dictator, where Kalinga women had to stand up before the uniformed men and who had to bare their breasts just so they can protect their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons from incarceration; and where their tribal leader and hero, Macli-ing Dulag had to sacrifice his life for his people.

Macli-ing Dulag’s death did not make the struggle anything less formidable despite the military and intelligence force exerted by the Marcos government. This gave them more reason to muster stronger social and political support from the media, local and national leaders, as well as local and international movements sharing their cause. With the unpopularity of the project both at the national level and international community and with the surging mass movements and social unrest that were an inevitable consequence of the martial law regime, Marcos finally admitted his defeat and relinquished the project.

Had the Chico dam been constructed, does it mean we will not be standing right where we are standing in Bontoc, right now?” I know it was a stupid question. Chico dam would have been the biggest dam in Southeast Asia. I just wanted to know if it would also submerge even the capital town of Bontoc—its beautiful scenery, culture, and history.

Again, the answer was a determined “yes.

I could not bear the thought. It was purely unthinkable to submerge scores of indigenous communities including their forests, burial grounds of their ancestors, and century-old rice terraces. This could have uprooted them not only from their economy but from the very roots of their culture and tradition.

Fast-track to 2009, Chico River still freely flows in the heart of the beautiful town of Bontoc down to Kalinga Province. When I was there in April 2009, and because I was not familiar with the tracks, I had to find a way in between houses and negotiated steep cliffs and narrow passages until I set my foot on the rocky river.

Down the river, I found young boys and girls basking under the sun and wading in its cool water, while mothers did their laundry. Downstream along the river banks, were old and young harvesting their palay and enjoying the fruits and bounty of nature.







As if following a ritual, I could not help but touch the stones and its cool and clean water, and I whispered to Kabunian, “So, this is the river Your people have fought for.”

Admittedly, it was like witnessing all the sacrifices of their heroes like Macli-ing Dulag. I was touched. I felt their pain and struggles—and their victory too.

I was honored.

Do you like this article?  Like us on Facebook, too!


Aside from my day job, I love photography and storytelling. Going places--be it a cliche destination or the far side of the road--stoke and free my soul. I dig deeper into the people’s psyche, culture and ethnicity, and heritage. I love to observe how they thrive and build social institutions, preserve their culture and traditions.


Lakad Pilipinas said...

Pa-sidekick naman sa mga travel mo sir Ding! Kakainggit eh. =)

Admin/Author said...

Thanks, christian!

Mga side travels ko lang din ang mga yan because of my work. :-)

xjosh2k6x said...

wow nice shots...nice blog too...:)..just followed you..galing nman


please follow my blog too...

Admin/Author said...

Thanks josh!

rainfield61 said...

You have a good story and series of pictures.

Admin/Author said...

Thank you, rainfield61!

Carl said...

thank you for reviewing my site on LinkReferal the other day. I will also review yours. You have a very nice site here and travel in the Philippines is of particular interest to me as I will be traveling there soon.
I look forward to reading ou in the future.

Admin/Author said...

thank you Carl!

Batang Lakwatsero said...

na-touched din ako...

Admin/Author said...

Thanks Batang Lakwatsero/Ivan!