By Vanna Abegail N. Binasoy
From being a prime tourist spot known for its cool breeze, crystal clear water, and exquisite surroundings, Antipolo City’s golden waterfall Hinulugang Taktak had a fall from grace after losing its beauty.
Annabelle Belvis remembers differently. The 51-year-old mother used to visit the virgin slopes of Hinulugang Taktak with her grandparents in the 1980s.
“Every May, our grandparents used to bring us in ‘Taktak’, because we liked to swim in the waterfall,” Belvis fondly reminisced. “Despite the increasing influx of visitors then, we were disciplined and we took our trash home,” she said.
Today, Belvis is puzzled and saddened as to what happened to Taktak. “It is no longer the same back when we were still kids.”
Declared as a National Park in 1990 and as a protected landscape in 2000, Hinulugang Taktak is a 7-foot waterfall found along Road Taktak, Barangay Dela Paz in Antipolo City. Antipoleños (locals of Antipolo) believed in the legend that during the 16th century, talks about how residents complained of the loud clangor of the bell every prayer time and demanded the local priest to remove it. The priest then took the bell to a nearby river. It explains the name of the falls as “Hinulugang Taktak” which means “where the bell was dropped”.
From this, the waterfall began its glory days as it attracted hundreds of people and served as a picnic spot in the early 1970s.
Hinulugang Taktak became popular with tourists at the same rate the city began its modernization. The population of Brgy. Dela Paz grew from over 20,000 in 1990 to almost 70,000 in 2015, with a growth rate of 2.27%.
Businesses and population increased as well with the building of infrastructures and establishments becoming the trend. The city passively witnessed the destruction of the waterfall with abusive human activities, poor maintenance, and negligence that led straight to pollution.
The fall of the treasured waterfall has changed the life of Antipoleños.
Role not played
For many years, Hinulugang Taktak has been the source of pride and awe of the locals. So, it seemed that the community is not oblivious to what Taktak falls has become and rejected the idea that nature had been exhausted.
Residents started to complain about the horrible changes in the fall especially the smell of the flowing water. According to some residents, the odor was caused by the families living in the village upstream, treating Hinulugang Taktak as a dump.
In a 2016 report by the Philippines Daily Inquirer, the Taktak falls had suffered environmental degradation due to illegal settlers living along its tributaries.
“The scenery would have been very good because it looks like a small forest, it would have been very nice to stay and unwind, but now the smell of the water is unpleasant. It is obvious that the residents’ dirt had already mixed in the flowing water that is why the falls smell like a canal,” Lei Andrea Azer expressed in the comment section of Antipolo City Government Facebook post regarding the status of Hinulugang Taktak.
“The water from the fall is stinky and murky, the river where the water flow was already shallow, and a lot of garbage is caught in between the rocks,” Mel Datuin Pasuigi also commented about the waterfall.
The Global Development Research Center on Communities along Rivers: Importance of Community Networking said that communities living along rivers need to be the key agents for action to mitigate problems related to water pollution.
Antipoleños require better efforts on educational campaigns and public awareness to further understand that Hinulugang Taktak’s condition is more than what meets the eye.
Beyond the talk of the town
Missing the imagination was the real deal on the effects of improper waste disposal and the lack of a proper sewage system of the community which destroyed the waterfall.
In 2011, Antipolo City produced 139 tons of trash daily and has since enacted Ordinance 2008-287, also known as the “Basura Code,” which prohibits littering. The trash being thrown into the river and other household activities resulted in a foul smell and polluted water.
In the case of Hinulugang Taktak, the lagoon at the foot of the waterfalls was almost entirely covered in snow-white soap suds from upstream laundry and sewage water waste.
Based on the Water Quality Assessment of Sapang Baho River of the Laguna Lake Development Authority conducted in 2011, on the water of Taktak falls during a sampling (both dry and wet seasons), it was found that the “presence of bubbles on the surface of the water is very evident and with pungent odor. The fast-flowing water coming from the falls is clear showing the sandy/pebble bottom, dried leaves/branches and garbages.”
Little did Antipoleños know that given the extent of the damage, Taktak Falls plays with the possibility of being dead and dry.
Greenpeace reports that the water pollution in the Philippines is mostly wastewater from many sources such as domestic sewage which contains pathogens that threaten human health and life.
The same report shows that out of the Philippines’ 421 rivers, as many as 50 are considered dead and unable to support any but the most robust life.
Making up for lost time
It has been years since the fall of Tatak, and only in recent years was it noticed and realized.
Antipoleños, headed by the Ynares administration are now doing their best to save the beloved waterfall from its great devastation.
In 2009, the local government of Antipolo and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) agreed to rehabilitate Hinulugang Taktak and worked on it for three years. The team announced plans to pool P100 million for the task. The Mayor’s Office and DENR pledged P30 million each for the effort.
While there were changes like renovated swimming pool, newly-built toilets, and a souvenir shop, officials of the City Environment and Waste Management Office (CEWMO) and the DENR provincial office admitted that the rehabilitation plan did not materialize due to the changes in government authority and personnel.
The fall underwent rehabilitation for the improvement of its water quality by 2014. The local government units coordinated with the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection (OPAEP) on the said project.
Dr. Egay Maranan, a biotechnologist, presented a bioremediation technology to Gov. Nini Ynares and the provincial government of Rizal as an environmental solution on how to improve Hinulugang Taktak’s water quality.
Bioremediation is a “treatment that uses naturally occurring organisms to break down hazardous substances into less toxic or non-toxic substances.”
In addition, Dr. Maranan proposed the use of EM23, a combination of 23 natural organisms that will help improve the water quality of the park by decreasing its coliform level and removal of the lingering smell.
After a year of rehabilitation, Hinulugang Taktak falls was opened to the public in 2015.
As a continued effort to revive the National Park, mayor Andrea Bautista Ynares recently signed a usufruct agreement with the East Zone water concessionaire, Manila Water, concerning the city government’s plan to put up a Waste Water Management Treatment Plant (WWMTP) in the area leading to the waterfalls.
Manila Water is set to construct the WWMTP within five years from effectivity. Once completed, it shall be exclusively operated by Manila Water in coordination with the city government, according to the office of Mayor Ynares.
The city government expressed that with the construction of WWMTP, 16 million liters of wastewater can be processed per day.
There are also tree-planting activities and regular clean-up events that are regularly held in the vicinity of the waterfalls as part of the local government’s rehabilitation initiatives.
Through the joint forces of the government and the people, Taktak can be resurrected to its former glory. Yet, it will take years and a lot more discipline to relive the golden days of the tourist attraction.
This article was written and prepared by Vanna Abigail Binasoy (Student-Journalist) and Joanna Bernadine Lacerna (School Paper Adviser) from Antipolo National High School, Division of Antipolo City as a final output of DepEd-DRRMS and AYEJ.org’s Green Beat Initiative: An Online Environmental Journalism Training.
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