Malaig

There will be gadflies pointing an accusing finger at the highly industrialized West and Europe as being the greatest polluters and culprits.

I was born in the once-sleepy town of Wato along the shoreline of mythical Lake Lanao. It was bucolic. Life was simple until modernity and progress spawned in and out-migration and activated residents. Our barrio (now barangay) is called Malaig, a name up until recently was a source of wonder for my generation where the name came from. But Malaig is a portmanteau of the Maranaw words “mala” (big) and “ig” (water), which simply means “big water.” Why is that so?

The topography of Malaig is such that on its northwest side are Mount Gurain and hills brimming with virgin forest and thick foliage of trees. It was green and full of rare species of animal life, flora and fauna, and greenery, an iconic view one sees only nowadays in movies. Now, they are bald and barren. Words like deforestation, climate change, and global warming were unknown then. Our common belief was that trees are an essential part of nature and that if you cut or uproot one, another will spring out naturally. No need to reforest, nature will do it. They were a common source for building homes. Commercial logging and “kaingin” or slash and burn did not reach my barrio.

Boundaries of sitios were commonly marked by rivers, springs, and brooks. Malaig is bounded by rivers that separate it from Barangay Salipongan and the rest. The rivers then were pristine flows of water rich with marine life. I fondly remember bathing in our river and fishing for freshwater riches like crabs, shrimps, and mollusks. There was a bottomless flow of clean and healthy mineral water for everybody to enjoy. That was then.

Last week, my barangay was hit by a huge flow of mud water cascading from the mountains and higher grounds. The current was thunderous according to the residents, who took a video recording and uploaded it on social media, that the rumblings caused tremors on the ground. There was a rush of “big water” carrying debris, wastes, and uprooted logs which destroyed houses along the path of the cascade. Houses were destroyed and hopefully, no life was lost (as I write this piece). Traffic was cut because of washed-away bridges. Now, we know that Malaig was referred to by the old folks as the big flood that occasionally hit the area. In other words, as early as before our generation knew the devastating effect of destroying the watershed and the water impounded by the roots of trees was already felt by the residents, thus, the word Malaig or big volume of water.

We are not sure if the heavy downpour and landslide that hit Malaig were an after-effect of tropical storm “Paeng” or “Queenie” which came on the heels of “Paeng”. Meteorologists have no explanation for the phenomenon.

All these thoughts came to mind as world leaders, Presidents, Ministers, and heads of non-government organizations are presently meeting at the Red Sea tourist resort of Sharm el Shiek in Egypt. The 2-week (6-18 November) COP27 Climate Summit sponsored by the United Nations, for the nth time will confront the issue of the devastating effect of climate change and global warming which, if not arrested, will lead us to doomsday. There will be gadflies pointing an accusing finger at the highly industrialized West and Europe as being the greatest polluters and culprits. On the opposite side are the optimists who claim that if only countries will comply with their Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions there is a chance that the earth will be saved.

Meantime, the tragedy that my townmates just experienced was an eye-opener and wake-up call for them. It was a blessing in disguise. Now, more than ever, they will be vanguards of our environment.

It was a good thing only material things were lost and not lives. They could organize themselves into “environment warriors” to combat the cutting of trees in the mountain ranges. The local town government should play a focal role in this renewed crusade to prevent environmental disasters.

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