AFTER the failed attempt by the Cebu City Government to build a cemetery in Barangay Guba for those who succumbed to Covid-19, officials are shifting their gaze to Sapangdaku, the barangay at the hemline of the mountains overlooking the city’s plains. Reports the other day said the site would be in the villages of Patayng Yuta and Baksan, places that incidentally I am familiar with.
I have written a chapter of what I conceived to be a novel with my experiences in the Cebu mountains as the raw material for it. I thought titling the novel “Patayng Yuta” was appropriate because the world I would be describing is already gone. Even the Patayng Yuta of old is no longer a village after the residents there were forced to evacuate and a local anti-communist group burned the houses.
The area is part of a very delicate Cebu City mountain ecosystem. When the Buhisan dam was built, a man-made forest was built in the watershed where the dam sourced its water. The mini forest was planted with teak. This affected the livelihood of farmers living in the area, including those who partly earned money from making charcoal. These charcoal makers cut trees to make them into charcoal. This prompted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to hire forest guards, who then tangled with the local farmers.
The DENR eventually came up with a compromise: charcoal makers can cut indigenous trees but not the planted ones, meaning the teaks. I was there in one of the dialogues officials of the DENR 7 held and which, if I remember correctly, was presided by Isabelo Montejo, who would later become a high-ranking DENR 7 official.
I say DENR 7 at that time gave importance to the protection of the watershed linked to the Buhisan dam. Forest guards risked their lives for it. Baksan is, of course, part of that watershed. While water in the Baksan river flows downhill and eventually connects with the Guadalupe river, the higher portions of Baksan link up with Barangays Pamutan and Buwacao, which are located uphill of Barangay Buhisan.
Incidentally, the other source of livelihood for farmers in the area is tending to the mango trees that proliferate in the Cebu City mountains. There are a number of “manggang karaan” in Patayng Yuta, decades-old trees that bear thousands of fruits. Which is why it is wrong to call Cebu’s famous mangoes, as “Guadalupe mangoes.” Guadalupe is an urban barangay and the mango trees are mostly on the uplands.
I don’t know who is suggesting the construction of a cemetery in a watershed area. It must not have been Roy Cimatu, who is leading Cebu’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic because he heads the DENR and is familiar with environmental laws and environmental protection. The worst site for a cemetery would surely be a watershed with a fragile ecosystem near densely populated areas.
The Cebu City Government and Mayor Edgardo Labella have been getting lots of flak for its Covid-19 response. I just hope this cemetery project won’t be added to these.