By MARIA CONGEE S. GOMEZ
It could have been an ordinary cruise of the Cagayan De Oro river had it not been for the river taxi that brought us through 17 river barangays.
Liceo de Cagayan University currently manages two river taxis that ply the 10-kilometer stretch of the Cagayan de Oro River. But these are not patrol cars, clarified Dr. Rosalina Huerbana, executive director of the Safer River, Life Saver Foundation (SRLSF), Inc.
The river taxi was conceptualized as part a of a technical paper produced by Liceo de Cagayan’s School of Graduate Studies in 1997 in its effort to protect the river from the dangers of present and future pollution pressures. It is a transportation model that wades through the river barangays, where incessant throwing of garbage is rampant.
“Locals throw their waste into the river without any concern but with the creation of the river taxis and the university’s constant meetings with residents, they got to know better what environment means to them and how, in their own small ways, they can protect the river. Through this, the Foundation was able to encourage a genuine participation towards a clean, green, and wholesome environment. Our commitment is to uphold the City’s water resources from pollution, and to maximize the benefits derived from the river’s vast potential to the best interest of the society,” said Dr. Huerbana.
But raising the awareness of residents was not an easy task. Through an intensified information campaign, the locals were taught that they are accountable for their actions that would contribute to the death of their water system.
In a briefer written by advocates of Kagay-an Watershed Alliance (KAWAL), it decscribed Cagayan de Oro River as “the key element that bridges the ridge to reef landscape of Kitanglad in Bukidnon and Macajalar Bay; a crucial habitat of endemic fishes, eels, birds (that included the Brahminny Hawk and Philippine Eagle) tarsiers and other wildlife in the landscape; and the leading White Water Rafting site in the country.”
The River is also classified as one of the few Class A systems in the country (and possibly in the whole of Southeast Asia) that provides daily supply of water for drinking and domestic purposes.Water hauled from here fulfilled the water requirements of the City and the adjacent municipalities of Alubijid and Laguindingan. The locals get their daily supply of water from the river and drink it without necessarily applying any filtration or purification processes.
Aside from the fact that the river taxi was dubbed as an “environment transportation,” it was also designed for leisurely cruise, offering a one-and-a-half hour interactive tour. It comes complete with informative lectures on ecology, life ways of communities, and issues that affect the CDO River. It has the following packages: Family, Corporate, Barkadahan, Special Trips and a School Cruise, whose costs range from P1, 800 to P4, 000 exclusive of food.
One Friday morning when our mixed group of 15 individuals hopped in, we were all excited to get a glimpse of the River’s stretch. The amusing tales of the locals, specifically on how the River became part of their lives provided the fun part of the cruise. The camaraderie was simply good and the growing concern to protect the water system was something you couldn’t undermine.
Operating the river taxi system roughly produce an average income of P15,000 to P20,000 a month.
The Foundation has forged ties with the local tourism department, hotels, universities, schools, and restaurants for sales and promotions of the cruise.
At the time of our cruise, the Foundation and the local Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources led in the dispersal of 40,000 tilapia fingerlings. There were also tree- planting activities of Lambago and giant bamboo species.
Truly, Cagayan de Oro’s river taxis were created for environmental purposes and minimally for commercial activities, serving more as a transport monitor for concerns on the Cagayan de Oro watershed area.