Villages thrive in dike 16 years after Pinatubo
BACOLOR, Pampanga—The FVR Megadike is no empty or lonely structure.
It did not only trap lahar from the June 1991 eruptions of Mt. Pinatubo. In ways that seemed to have gone against the design of its builders 16 years ago, most parts of this 56-kilometer, U-shaped lahar catchment structure now teem with economic activity.
Upstream where the Pasig-Potrero River begins, a busy resort called “Poracay” in Barangay Manibaug-Pasig in Porac town takes in late summer bugs.
At midstream, in Barangay Dolores in this town, Jaime Bognot and his wife Delia grow rice and eggplant on a hectare of borrowed land.
Downstream in Barangay Tinajero, also in Bacolor, Cornelio Romero plants pepper beside the Gugu River where the water of Pasig-Potrero River merges with the Pampanga River before it empties into the Manila Bay.
The mango orchards, pasture lands, poultry, sugarcane fields, fishponds, rice plots, vegetable gardens, quarry sites, batching companies and communities that have risen on what used to be gray expanses of lahar proved right a clamor made in 1995.
Back then, after the Oct. 1, 1995, lahar onslaught that almost erased Bacolor from the map, Kapampangans held protest actions and challenged the administration of former President Fidel Ramos “to dike or to die.”
Ramos chose to build a dike and save P10 billion worth of investments in the Pampanga capital of San Fernando. In gratitude, Kapampangans named the structure after the former president.
Originally worth P900 million, the dike’s cost has grown to P6 billion after steel plates and thicker concrete were installed to strengthen it, according to a report of the Mt. Pinatubo Emergency Project Management Office of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
The structure now connects the Clark Freeport, and the cities of Angeles and San Fernando, and the towns of Porac and Bacolor. The Porac side of the dike provides a link to the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway.
Allegations of corruption emerged during the construction period. A case resulted in the conviction of DPWH officials and engineers involved in the construction of the transverse dike built in the middle of the dike.
Lahar that rains washed toward the megadike brought in P13.9 million in income from regulatory fees collected by Bacolor from quarry haulers in 2011, Mayor Jomar Hizon said. Portions of that amount allowed the local government to build a 2-km earthdike to protect the villages of Tinajero and Talba and the Don Honorio Ventura Technological State University.
Hizon said some 22,000 residents have returned to Bacolor because farmers in 14 villages that were occupied by the megadike persist to revive agriculture.
More than 100,000 residents have remained in resettlement sites. They stay there because they lack money to rebuild their houses in Bacolor, their jobs are near Clark or they avail themselves of public education in resettlements, Hizon said.
“You will grow hungry in the resettlements. There are no lands to grow food there,” Romero, 66, said.
Bognot works with few resources. The one-hectare land he tills is borrowed from a relative, the seeds came from a friend and the tractor lent by a cooperative.
Back to normal
Almost 350 children in villages inside the megadike go to kindergarten and primary schools in San Antonio and Sta. Barbara, taking free rides on quarry trucks.
In Barangay Sta. Barbara, farmers get free fertilizers from a company that makes organic composts there.
Life in villages in Sta. Rita town is normal, and wealthy families there had built bigger houses.
Some residents said they feel safer now. The lone reminder of danger is a half-buried Iglesia ni Cristo church.
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