Wednesday, August 10, 2005

For the Homesick Cagayanons: A Tale of Land and More Land

Recently took a leisurely drive through the city's newest and third bridge in Taguanao, the barrio of my birth and erstwhile pasturelands of a few of the city's old families. The area is known primarily for the Huluga caves and the archeological excavations that have yielded many ancient artifacts, including some pottery shards dating close to the birth of Christ. A human skull of similar age now sits proudly in a local museum. And this fact caused quite a stir prior to and during the building of the bridge, which physically violated the diggings site slicing through it. Various civic groups loudly cried fouled but were eventually shouted down by the government in the person of the current peripatetic mayor, both endearingly and derisively nicknamed, Dongkoy.

Went along with a cousin whose family continues its fight for some 100 has. of "titled" land, which is traversed by the bridge and the access road, now embroiled in bitter legal suits arising from adverse claims filed by groups of squatters and other long-time residents of the area. Once upon a time, the entire area was public pasturelands leased to private individuals, or so I was wont to hear.

And a good part of my own youth was spent visiting this once pristine area, blessed with easy and close access to a then raging whitewater river and underground springs. I am told I myself was born close to the spot where the Lawndale Spring resort is now in existence and where we as kids used to spend carefree days camping out with relatives. A good part of the fun was travelling to and around the place since we rode horses provided by an uncle. We had prided ourselves as the original local cowboys, at times trotting and galloping around the Capitol grounds or even racing along city streets.

But now change brought on by time and man has altered the looks and lay of the land. The bridge and the access road now cut across like a sharp knife or stampeding bulldozer literally pushing aside and burying telltale vestiges of the past. Though at the present time, the bridge and the service road at both ends have not really generated the traffic expected that gave it their raison d'etre, their very visible presence have brought on both intended and unintended consequences.

Whether as a result of or because of the new bridge, they all remain to be seen. Some more nakedly self-serving than others. The former mayor, under whose administration the idea of a new bridge was broached, is now said to own, conveniently registered under other family members' names, large tracts of land in the area. And his family is said to not even be old Cagayanons.

But most others are definitely veritable toss-ups. Pedro Roa, Jr. has large holdings traversed by the new road on one side of the bridge. A half-sister, Araceli, subdivided certain tracts on the other side, closer to the city side. Of course, my cousin who inherited the property from his father. has his litigated piece neatly sliced by the road and littered with houses galore on both sides. Structures made mostly of hollow blocks. Unquestionable signs of permanency and obstinacy. Our very own Nene Pimentel lays claim to his own legacy there, fed by his greasy pork barrel, with the still under construction Convention Center, which straddles the range opposite that of Lumbia. The still skeletal remains of the building, ongoing for the last two or three years at least, tell the visiting onlookers that it may as well be a rusting white elephant, though continuing to exhibit some visceral movement. Visceral because a small skeletal crew continues to slowly pile away formed pieces of reinforcing bars and tons of concrete.

But without a doubt, from its vantage point one has a commanding view first of the great canyon hacked by the persistent river now many meters down the gorge. Then one can survey the city's newest growth area, the Lumbia area, boasting of the many posh subdivisions, XU high school, SM, Pueblo golf course, even a first-class memorial garden comparable with St. Peter's hoped-for accommodations for the sainted ones. And many more to come. The transfer of XU grade school for one. Maybe another phase for the already operating call center.

Definitely it was intended or expected that real estate prices in the area would quickly soar and they have. Thus, no need to get excited or rushed about where to buy bargain lots. I suppose there are no more. For the Aggies, I had asked about Porta Coeli. Does anybody remember? The area that Baging Arguelles was slowly able to parlay into one big tract that stretches all the way down to the river? I am told, it is still in the family, whole and undivided. Baging and family are now back in Negros. So, go figure what thoughts you want to think about its use.

The bridge itself looks quite inconsequential, short and narrow traversing a rather thin slice of river. The road is cemented, and looks better than the existing city streets. The meandering access to the elevated plateau where the convention center sits looks massive and enduring. But why so, in the middle of nowhere? Legacy, my friend. The fading billboard mutely tells it so.

And thus, my little sentimental journey back to the past ended, still undimmed and showing rays of mild expectations that the new area opened would provide for housing and space for an already burgeoning population.

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