Disclaimer: All the photos used in this post are owned by either Sir Lemuel Lloyd Manalo of IDIS or Ace Perez of Sunstar Davao. They are used with permission.
I am used to wake up at seven in the morning during ordinary days. If I feel like to pump up in a Zumba session at People’s Park during weekends, I get up at four or five. But my waking time last October 15 became earlier than the usual. I woke up at three in the morning to prepare for the fulfillment of the long been scheduled annual Panigan-Tamugan Watershed Tour organized by the environmental non-government organization Interface Development Intervention (IDIS).
The night before, I could hardly sleep, perhaps due to brimming excitement. It was previously scheduled last August, and then was moved to September and finally, this October. Imagine how it accumulated the desire to marvel at the green surroundings of the Panigan River in Barangay Tawan-Tawan, Baguio District in Davao City.
I packed the necessary things Lemuel Lloyd Manalo, the group’s media advocacy specialist, told us to bring. The lights were kept off so as not to awaken my one-year and ten-month old nephew. In the dark I groped for my gears, notebooks and pen, extra clothes to name a few, notwithstanding dressing up like a blind man. After keeping everything in check, I whispered goodbye to my mother. This trip, I told myself, would be a memorable visit to the source of the water I drink every day. An honor.
IDIS is one of the major environmental organizations that gave attention to the welfare of the environment and natural resources in Davao City, particularly the watersheds that provide potable water to the residents of the city. Currently, it is the Talomo-Lipadas Watershed which supplies us water but, according to the Davao City Water District (DCWD), the watershed is being threatened by shortage due to rapid population and industrial growth. That is why, the DCWD collaborated Apo Agua Infrastructura, Inc. to explore the potential of another stream-the Tamugan River to where the bulk water project will be constructed. The project is set to be finished by 2019.
The Tamugan River’s surface water, as part of the entire Panigan-Tamugan Watershed, said IDIS, is very critical to heavy metal and bacterial contamination from nearby unsustainable industries. “These include rampant use of pesticides and herbicides for monocrop banana and pineapple plantations, forest land conversions, sewage from poultries and livestock farms and other pollutants,” said IDIS. And so, the group had painstakingly devised initiatives and efforts to rehabilitate the river, saving it for future use. And I am ready to see how everything fared.
It was five when I arrived at the rendezvous. As I got out of the jeepney, I immediately saw my former colleagues in print, Ace Perez of Sunstar Davao, and in broadcast media, Jandiane Esteban of RGMA Super Radyo. Four more people was also with us in the tour, Ibyang and Dan of Ecoteneo, an environmental organization in Ateneo De Davao University, Rai from the Philippine Eagle Center, and foreigner, an English man and an experienced birder Pete Simon who is a member of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP). Orange streaks began percolating the sky. Few more minutes, Sunstar Davao Editor-in-chief and birder Stella Estremera along with another member of the WBCP, Martin Pineda parked their car. As soon as Sir Lem came, we trailed the road towards Brgy. Tawan-Tawan.
Ace, Jandi, Ibyang and I are aboard Sir Martin’s vehicle with Ms. Stella and tailed Sir Pete’s car. The coldness inside his car seemingly simulated the bed-weather ambiance outside. We were quiet at the back, listening to Sir Martin’s lesson about being a birder and some ways to do it, bewildering us with his deep fascination with birds. He told us, in our approving silence, the nitty-gritties of birdwatching and its significance. “Birdwatching can be frustrating at first. You need patience because they are hard to see. They most of the time blend in the canopies. One tip: to be able to know where they are, find a tree which has fruits. They are like us. They go where the food is,” he discussed.
We were in our inexpressive aha-moments. “Don’t you know that birds are indications of a healthy environment? People before don’t choose to stay in a place where there are no longer birds. It could mean that the air in that area is polluted or the soil is not ideal for planting,” he continued, caring less if we were attentive or not. That was an information-packed roughly 45-minute ride.
We passed by the Philippine Eagle Foundation for a while. Sir Martin did not cease telling us everything he knew about birding, perhaps prodding the birder in us, as if pleading to release the illegally encaged avian interest, if there is any. Maybe not now for the birder, but the concern, the sympathy to the plight of the bird’s flight was sparked. In our short stay, we saw, through Pete’s arm-structured telescope, a resting egret, looking for food. The rest were busy capturing the egret’s perfect pose. Until, at a whim, we returned to the road heading to our real destination.
FIRST STOP: ACTUAL BIRDWATCHING BESIDE PANIGAN RIVER
Sir Lem gave us a brief orientation and background of the activity, its purpose, and few reminders. It is prohibited, he said, to drink from the river. “Although it is tested to be safe but still double caution should be observed.” And another, “keep your voices low as you may drive birds away.”- a reminder to a magpie like me.
Pete handed each of us binocular and we tried it like assassins. And we were apprentices destined to fail at our mission to have a clear sight of our elusive targets. We finally trekked down the rocky yet relatively muddy trail going to the river. The trees along the way were all had their heads up and green. They are worth a grin.
Our tour guide, aside from Sir Lem, is a member, in fact, a leader of Bantayo Aweg, Jay Ronnie Gubat, a native in the area. The indigent youth volunteers comprising Bantayo Aweg are the ones who ensure the water quality of the current and future sources of safe drinking water for the city. Properly trained youth conduct water quality monitoring on the Panigan and Tamugan Rivers every end of the month. The monitoring enables us to assess the conditions of various bodies of water whether they are safe to drink, to swim in or to fish from.
It is from this method that the IDIS found out that 8 out of 10 sampling stations in Talomo-Lipadas (current water source) and Panigan-Tamugan (future water source) have pesticides residues at least once during the sampling period in 2006 to 2008. However, the waters in the Panigan-Tamugan river is considered to be Class AA based on the standards of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB). It means it can be a potential site for drinking but still needs further study. This explains the first reminder.
I almost forgot the second reminder after someone exclaimed to have spotted a White-breasted Kingfisher perched in a tree not far from the riverside where we stand. We immediately peeked through our binoculars, hoping we did not startle it so we can still see it. Luckily, everyone saw it. We looked for more and we found Everett’s and Mountain White-Eyes, Brown tit Babblers, Gray Wagtail who caused traffic on our way back to our vehicles, to name a few.
I thought finding birds was hard, as expected by an amateur in birdwatching who barely identifies every bird because he sees them all the same. But for Pete, it is even tougher more than the struggle of identification and selective vision the moment the birds camouflage. He said it is “difficult”, surprising for an experienced birder who had spent all his life birdwatching and traveled hundreds of islands around the globe pursuing this passion.
“Birdwatching in the Philippines is difficult because the birds are afraid of the people. They often see them with guns, the children with slingshots. People also made them captives and sell them,” he confessed.
It is a crestfallen reality to a region in the country, even the world, which has more endemic bird species next to Indonesia. Forty of the bird species can only be found in Mindanao. Added to that, most of them are critically endangered, and yes, that includes the country’s national bird-the Philippine Eagle.
SECOND STOP: PANIGAN CAVE
Our next stop was the Panigan cave and the continuation of the Panigan River. The only way to get there is to descend through the sinuous and inclined track guarded by Cacao trees at the sides, standing at attention with its yields dressed in maroon or yellow or green, silently wishing us to trip off and roll down as the quickest way to reach the destination. The Cacao trees were also accompanied by its Goliath, the Durian trees. I noticed that among the rows and columns of Cacao trees, there always stood some Durian trees. Sir Lem explained that Cacao trees are shade-loving beings and the Durian trees provide them that. Good thing, they can co-exist.
What welcomed us is just a tip of the whole reforestation efforts under the Up-scaling Community Action and Response (UCARE) Program, still a part of the initiative of IDIS. It is noticeable that in Baguio District, especially those populated areas, foliage of trees like Cacao, Durian, Lanzones, Marang, Guyabano, Mangosteen, Santol, Avocado and Banana forms canopies. The fruit trees are planted by the resident themselves as a reforestation and watershed rehabilitation efforts as well as the source of their livelihood. Sir Lem referred to it as Agroforestry. Native non-fruit-bearing trees on the other hand were planted nearest to the stream such as Apitong, Patikan (palm species), Almon, Almaciga, Anitap, Malibago, Barubo, Tiger and Vertiger grass along riverbanks, and Ulingon (Hypericacea). They were the ones who quietly watched us as we struggle on our way down.
I was catching breath after I reached the mouth of the Panigan Bridge. I perambulated the huge, white-painted steel bridge to the other end where the cave was.
The cave was covered with leaves and trees, concealing its opening but it was made conspicuous by the busy flight of Glossy Swiflets. They flew fast and ‘swift’ (perhaps the origin of their name) back and forth the cave. As we patiently waited for our guide Kuya Ernie Baratas, a Bantay Bukid (forest guard) to lead us to the cave, I was overwhelmed at the sight of a white egret and a young Brahminy Kite majestically gliding above us.
After a few more hours, the approaching of Kuya Ernie, an average man clad in blue shirt with a wooden bolo sheath hanging by his side, signaled us to prepare for the climb. We stood up and headed to the tricky side of the cliff. Sir Lem told us to free our hands because we will be using all our limbs for the climb. And indeed we did. The way up was steep and was made slippery by the dried Cacao leaves, but terrible than others. We latched ourselves on the edge by digging some holes with our feet. Good thing there are sturdy Cacao tree everywhere to hold on.
After the struggles, we were able to get to the cave. Its mouth was dripping with water. The colossal roots that hugged the cavern’s figure were wet and cold. In an unfortunate chance that Kuya Ernie forgot his flashlight. And so we resorted to our phone’s light as we entered the dark, cold, and wet cave.
We were not able to go farther inside because the floor was muddy and soft. Meanwhile, the swiflets were passing by us, ignoring our presence. The ceiling was filled with their small nests that can only hold two eggs in every laying time. Bats were also their roommate but I could hardly see one that time, probably because they were still asleep.
Because we can’t enter few more doors, we decided to return. Going down is a lot more difficult than climbing up. I almost caught up in an accident. Luckily, I was able to control my weight and had a good grip at the nearby Cacao trees and went down safe. Praise God.
On our way up, Kuya Ernie shared how the Bantay Bukid restored the verdant forest in Barangay Tawan-Tawan that affected their communities and other forest inhabitants. He said the reforestation helped increased the yield of other fruit-bearing trees from where they get their income. There are also more birds than before and other wild animals have returned. Mt. Tipolog is now teeming with life.
Bantay Bukid is a community-based forest guard group. It is composed of committed volunteers from the nearby sitios of Panigan, Sumpitan, Gading and Ubay-Nanap in Barangay Tawan-Tawan. The patrollers are deputized by the city government to assist in the enforcement of the rules and regulations of the Watershed Code. They regularly monitor the seedlings, clear foot trails of Mt. Tipolog where the Panigan River runs, and confiscate chainsaws from illegal loggers.
The tour was capped off in an indulgence of the magnificent and exhilarating lush view of the Mt. Tipolog while a riding one of the tramline system in Sitio Sumpitan.
Huge thanks and kudos to the people and organizations who opened our eyes to the real score of our environment, particularly in Davao City. To Sir Lemuel, Sir Pete, Sir Martin, Mam Stella, Mam Rai, Jay Ron, Kuya Ernie, the Interface Development Interventions (IDIS), the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCD), and the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) and Philippine Eagle Center (PEF). This acknowledgement is not limited to the provisions during the tour but extends beyond the conservation efforts they have done for the environment.
Thank you also to the company of my colleagues, Ace, Jandi, Dan, and Ibyang. There was never a dull moment with these guys.
I could have returned to sleep because the call time was too early for me. Or if I have won the fight of dozing off back, I could have instead danced my way to a fitter figure. Rather, I choose to see what and who cleans the air I breathe and purifies the water I drink and turned out, it exceeded my expectations. It was a Saturday best spent. Thank you for the time 🙂