Lost and found

Remembrances of what will eventually be forgotten


GONE GREEN Mt Lagyo blasted to construct the Kaliwa Dam

I spent a big chunk of my childhood by the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains in Maconacon, Isabela. My dad in his younger days loved to fly and would take us to so many isolated and far-flung places in the Philippines for fun. Once I asked him, how he would find all these isolated places. My dad said that while out flying, his eye would catch what he considered a beautiful spot and land his small plane on a stretch of beach nearby. Soon my dad would arrange to build a hut and take his entire family there for a visit. During those days it wasn’t unusual to see monkeys, among other wildlife, crossing the dirt road. It even became commonplace to see a line of monkeys crossing hand in hand.

The other day, I was transported to those days when out on a hike in the mountains of Montalban, Rizal—still part of the long, 540-kilometer stretch of the Sierra Madre Mountain range from the North in Cagayan to the South in Quezon—I was brought back to my childhood days when I was introduced to two displaced Philippine long-tailed macaques or Philippine Monkeys.

The two monkeys were chased out of their home by the ongoing blasting of what was left of their habitat in nearby Mt. Lagyo. It was an imposing outcrop rising 396 meters above sea level (MASL).  It’s a mountain beloved by trekkers in Rizal since it offered an amazing view of Rizal’s portion of the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Marikina River. Mt. Lagyo was also filled with caves, homes to the local monkey population.  A local named Joey personally explored close to 30 caves where he, along with other locals I spoke with, said, they would find WWII bullets and bayonets. On my many visits while trekking I would also hear stories from locals seeing “cave art.” I always thought I would have time to explore but the pandemic hit and when I returned Mt. Lagyo was no more. 

EVICTED Displaced Philippine Monkeys of Mt. Lagyo

The new dam being built is called The Kaliwa Dam. It was built on the Marikina River further up where the existing Wawa Dam is located. When constructed, it is expected to provide 600 million liters of water a day to Metro Manila (to about3.5 million homes), relieving our water dependence on Angat Dam in Bulacan.

The loss of MT. Lagyo hit me. To me, Mt. Lagyo was a mountain I “conquered” for the first time during my first Mountain Race in 2016 and, in what seems to be in a blink of an eye, it was lost. 

On a balmy afternoon, I met WOK This Way Tour guide Ivan Man Dy at the Chinese Cemetery in Manila. It just so happened to be the ghost month and for the Chinese this month is when the gates of hell open and all the spirits are allowed to walk among the living. For most Chinese, this year’s ghost month falls from July 20 to Aug. 29, Aug. 12 being the day all ghosts, according to Chinese mythology, were unleashed from the 18 levels of hell. It is also called Hungry Ghost Month since offering of food, paper money, and other material accoutrements is given to the departed. This is to prevent sprits from causing harm to the living.

UP, UP, AND AWAY Climbing Mt. Lagyo, approximately 1,300 feet above sea level, on the author's very first Monte Alba Mountain Race in 2016

The Manila Chinese Cemetery is a vast necropolis spanning 54 hectares amid the dense urban jungle of Metro Manila. Seeing how families treat their dead is thought-provoking. There are very well-maintained mausoleums and graves but there are also long forgotten ones.

Walking around the older part of the cemetery, with the sun slowly sinking into the horizo, we saw more forgotten and abandoned graves and mausoleums. Stone slabs severely weathered are no longer holding the names of those they have long stood over. It’s a testament to the severing of ties with the living.

GRAVITY DAM A few kilometers downstream is Wawa Dam

So how do we keep the dead in the memory of the living? It’s really all about connections because the farther the generation is from you, the less connected you feel you are to it. After all, there is a financial cost to keeping the dead. If your descendants don’t know you, it will be more and more difficult to continue to pay to keep you.

I remember seeing those bonfires on TV in 1986. Little did I know they were burning books, photos, paintings, and clothes to keep the fire going!

Fallen white kalachuchi flowers glowed bright at dusk, lighting our path as we walked in peaceful silence. Thoughts of our own mortality occupied our minds. We will be forgotten but technology can help prolong our presence in memories a while longer.

In January 2021, the government announced it was easing lockdown restrictions. We all heaved a sigh of relief beneath our masks. Freedom at last! I was raring to go and do something productive. I immediately called my fellow busy bee prima Imee Marcos. She texted right back to say I could start with recovering all her father’s photos and albums in his old home in San Juan. Finally, something different to do. A year of lockdown had me in a routine of making meals, watching K-dramas, cleaning, watching K-dramas, washing, K-dramas … This new project was a godsend.

I was also tasked to recover all materials found on the property relating to my uncle and my aunt—photos, books, clothing, and other memorabilia. I didn’t really know my uncle when I was growing up. I was just young enough to remember he was the president of the Republic of the Philippines and he was married to my aunt, the eldest full sister of my dad. I also knew him as the man who took over as father figure to my dad who was just a senior in high school when my lolo died of lung cancer.

A few weeks into my search, I grew puzzled. There were so few photos of my uncle. I was informed most were burned at the palace bonfire during the 1986 revolution. I remember seeing those bonfires on TV. Little did I know they were burning books, photos, paintings, and clothes to keep the fire going! I grew determined to find more photos on the property because at that moment, my uncle did not even have one album to cover each year he served as a public servant. It was therefore momentous to find his mother’s collection of meticulously captioned albums and memorabilia. I was in awe. In a dark, sooty corner of a forgotten, termite-infested, and water-stained bodega, I saw a mother’s love for her son captured in pages, making it possible for us today to know more about the child she loved.

I remember standing in a room in my uncle’s old San Juan home surrounded with his things that I managed to recover, thinking that if history is the story of a people, my uncle is part of that history, then he too has the right to be remembered, not to be forgotten… just yet.