By Pet Melliza
* Dengue carrying mosquitoes multiplied exponentially as chemicals wiped out natural predators like dragon flies, fish, spiders and frogs
Freshwater fish – catfish, mudfish, puyu, and tilapia to name a few – are a making a comeback in Mandurriao, a district in Iloilo City. These bounties, along with ulang (shrimp), kalampay (crabs), paka bug-ungan (bull frogs), igi (snails) dwindled since the late 60s when Iloilo converted to the idolatry of chemical farming that multinationals and their sales agents disguised as government officials promoted.
Mandurriao to old inhabitants is still “banwa” (town center). “Mapabanwa anay ako,” is a common expression of locals when all they mean is going to the town center where the plaza is.
Three decades back, much of the scenery from the plaza down to San Miguel town is dominated by farms that bloomed with rice during rainy months, and melons and vegetables in summer.
Residents still have clear memories of those years. I have one such conversation with Efren Paredes, an official of the Bureau of Customs, and a “kingmaker” at Brgy. Guzman, a kilometer west of the Mandurriao Plaza.
Now in his early 60s, “Tay Efren” as he is called, recalls that hunger was unheard of in those yonder years even during the “tigkiriwi” referring to the planting season where farmers contract debts. The paddies, irrigation canals and ditches on roadsides teemed with tilapia, puyu, mudfish and catfish. One using hook and line can catch half a dozen of fish in less than an hour. Both his parents knew how to fish.
His father had erected a “pen” in the irrigation canal which he stocked with newly caught fish in excess of what the family could consume. Anybody could share the fish so long as he/she had his permission.
His mother produced extra harvest for the family by planting fragrant rice in roadside ditches that also abound for six months of rains with fish, snails, shrimps, frogs and crabs that provided the protein needs of the family.
With the advent of chemical farming, food insecurity followed: freshwater fish dwindled . The igi, for instance, disappeared and replaced by golden kuhul which didn’t suit the residents’ appetite. Children now can hardly imagine the tales of their elders harvesting the edible bull frogs. All that they have now are “Hawaiian frogs” that are actually toads which are also in the wait list of extinction.
Water has become scarce. Chemical farming is not the culprit for dwindling supply of water but it contributed to that. In those bygone years, shallow wells were safe sources of drinking water and for free. Now, according to the NGO Kahublagan sg Panimalay, 80 percent of underground water in Iloilo City is unsafe.
Farmers lost their sources of cheap protein, and poisoned the food that they ate, the water that they drank, and the air they breathed as chemical-dependent farming practices spread.
Dengue carrying mosquitoes multiplied exponentially as chemicals wiped out natural predators like dragon flies, fish, spiders and frogs. Rice farming became costlier and the farmer, more often than not, buries himself deeper in debts.
At that time, the pumping station of the Metro Iloilo Water District in San Miguel, Iloilo had water freely flowing from underground source without need for pumping. Kids bathed and swam in the pool under the flowing pipe. Rep. Salvador P. Cabaluna III (1-CARE Party List), recalls that children frolicking at the pool on in the ditch was a common sight in his trips to Iloilo City from his native Leon town.
That scene completely disappeared. MIWD’s well is running out of water and has to bore deeper to the aquifer. From 200 meters, it’s well today has gone past 500 meters deep. It wants to set up more pumping stations but the government of San Miguel turned down its request because the latter must also ensure water for its own residents.
Freshwater fish has made a comeback in Mandurriao, not by political will of public officials but by accident. Rice farming just stopped because the farms were converted for other uses.
Chemical-free or Organic farming is popular in at least two Iloilo towns—Leon and Alimodian. Leon farmers, for example, run a bazaar of organic vegetables and fruits every Friday at the capitol ground. Try visiting the Capitol and listen to the farmer-vendors extolling organic farming.*