By Coores Epie Celoy and Vic Arthur Masliyan
Balili, one of the Barangays in the municipality of La Trinidad, Benguet is home to Balili River. This river became infamous when it was pronounced as a biologically dead in 2004 by the Department of Environment Natural Resources (DENR).
Accounts say, however, that the river used to be clean where fishes thrived abundantly.
“I remember washing my white uniform in the river in 1960’s,” recalls Terisita Panagan, Indigenous People’s Mandatory Representative of Brgy. Balili.
The river used to be clean and unpolluted, she said. This state of the river, however, changed when establishments and settlers started to flock in the municipality. Its population grew from 18, 921 to 19, 705 in 2015. According to the reports, these contributed to the contamination of Balili River due to chemical spills and garbage.
Over the years, the river started to emit unusual stinky smell. Just recently, as investigation was conducted and it was found out that the unwanted smell is due to chemical spills coming from the big establishments in the municipality. This was reported to the DENR. As of press time, a letter was addressed to the said establishments about the result of the investigation.
This situation, however, did not flatter the hopes of the Barangay and its community to save the river. As such, they started a clean-up drive and continue to do so up to this time. The clean-up drive was initiated by the Barangay in partnership with different institutions such as Municipal Environment Natural resources Office (MENRO), DENR, and the Benguet State University (BSU). Moreover, the barangay passed an ordinance mandating the officials and the residents to conduct a clean-up drive every first Saturday of the month.
Apart from this routine, a house-to-house campaign on river pollution is also done by the officials in partnership with the DENR. The campaign aims to widen the understanding of cause and effect of the worsening condition of the river. In return, it will enable them to unite and instill discipline among the residents.
Along with the house-to-house campaign are other information drive through production and development of Informational Educational Communication (IEC) materials. These materials are strategically posted in different locale of the municipality.
Some residents, however, cannot stop but voice out their sentiments. Terisita Panangan claims that residents themselves and nearby business establishments contribute to the current state of the river.
Geronimo Vasques, a carinderia owner, countered the claim saying, “How can they say that we are the main contributor if we have our own sink and CR not connected to the river?”
He said that efforts must focus more in addressing the source of problem in Baguio because the water flows from Baguio and descends towards Balili.
Modesto Cabatan, Provincial Environment Natural Resources Officer (PENRO), also said that establishments and residents from the Barangay are not the only contributors to the pollution but also the neighboring barangays. He also said that the issue of reviving the river is not new to everyone.
“No matter how much we wanted to put the river back to life, we can’t at the moment because there is lack of cooperation among the community,” he lamented.
He also emphasized during the interview that, “Only if there is political will to do so, I believe Balili River will return into class ‘A’ river”.
Barangay Balili has the same concern. They believe that the river can be revived with the full support and participation not only from Barangay Balili, but also among nearby communities.
In addition, residents of Balili also gave suggestions. Geronimo suggested a technological innovation like filter to be placed at the river to filter dirt and garbage from water coming from Baguio.
Gypsy Martes, also suggested a 24-hour shift from the task force to strictly monitor and catch whoever from the residents are throwing garbage at the river indiscriminately.
Finally, the residents intimated their willingness to cooperate in the activities regarding the clean-up drive of the river.
“We urge the barangay residents and the concerned citizens to lend a hand in this endeavour,” ended Cabatan.