PANTABANGAN, Nueva Ecija – Inadequate rainfall that caused the below normal depth of the Pantabangan Dam reservoir gave the townsfolk the rare opportunity to set foot on the ground of the old Poblacion – seat of the old town hall, Catholic church, and cemetery.
But the ruins retell stories of the people’s sacrifice, albeit initial resistance, for the sake of progress in agriculture.
Former constabulary man Teodulo Barcelo, 67, was a high school student when he joined series of rallies in the late 1960‘s when then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos pushed for the construction of the Pantabangan Dam per Republic Act 5499, known as Upper Pampanga River Project Act of 1966.
Barcelo said they even staged a rally in front of Malacañang as thousands of people in Poblacion were uncertain of the life ahead of them in the then proposed resettlement area, the mountainous portion of the town.
“Walang tubig, walang kuryente, yung bahay mo walang bintana, walang pintuan,” he said of the houses in the relocation site, now center of West Poblacion.
The reservoir that then covered some 8,100 hectares comprised portions of Barangays West Poblacion and Liberty.
“Ayaw namin siyempre mawawalay kami dun sa lugar na kinalakihan namin,” he said, noting that most residents found it hard to let go of the parish church of San Andres.
Their parents, however, gave in when the government insisted that everyone had to sacrifice in favor of improving food production and progress.
“E, ang gusto naman daw ng gobyerno ay mapaunlad ang Central Luzon sa pamamagitan ng irigasyon at yung mas mababa sa amin ay mabigyan ng patubig,” Barcelo, who later served as village chair, said.
On Wednesday, a Mass was held at the old church which remaining parts were beams and slabs towered by a cross. It was attended by local officials, residents and local tourists who came to see the ruins.
“Iba pala yung pakiramdam na yung bayan na pinagsimulan ng iyong pamilya, ng mga ninuno mo, na lumubog at lumitaw at natuntungan mo yung lupa ay mararamdaman mo yung talagang naramdaman ng mga kababayan namin nun na talagang kakaiba,” said Mayor Roberto Agdipa who led the local offcials in attendance.
He said giving way to the dam was one of the greatest sacrifices that the government and their forefathers had made: “Yung magbuwis ng mga ari-arian para lamang sa ikabubuti at ikauunlad hindi lamang ng Pantabangan kundi ng ibang bayan at ng bansa.“
He said the national government made true of its promise to affected families as far as the provision of housing and livelihood programs.
The main priority of Pantabangan Dam is to provide irrigation to over 100,000 hectares of farms in Nueva Ecija and portions of Bulacan, Tarlac, and Pampanga. But the water that flows from it is also being used in hydro power production through First Gen Hydro Power Corp.
The municipal government with Central Luzon State University, Bureau of Aquatic Resources, and the Department of Agriculture regularly releases different kinds of fingerlings in the reservoir for food and livelihood of the residents.
Records showed the first time the water in the dam dipped down to this level was in 1983, then in 2014.
As thousands came to visit the place, the local inter-agency task force ruled that only residents are now allowed to make sure that minimum health protocols imposed to contain the spread of novel coronavirus are observed.