I have witnessed the rampaging waters of the Agus River as a child. The current was so strong that only the best swimmers can swim from one side to the opposite bank. I have glimpsed of naked little boys jump from the bridge into the River to show off their swimming skills.
I have also seen one late night at the Mapandi bridge, a garbage truck dump its refuse into the River, assured that by early morning, no visible trace of its deed will be noticeable to the public. The rushing river would have already carried it downstream.
As a young activist, I joined the thousands of Meranaos who barricaded with sandbags the Agus 1 Hydroelectric Dam which forever altered the landscape of Lanao and that of the Lake.
I have seen Meranao leaders literally cry for Lanao and its Lake, and also saw their dedication and commitment for the protection for both petering out like a smoke evaporating leaving most of us in quandary and some in dire straits.
I have laid eyes on an Agus River so emaciated that it looked like Lugasing, may Allah bless her soul. Lugasing was an old lady who used to roam Marawi City clothed with only her malong covering both her hair and body. But, one can see how thin she was. Seeing the boulders of the Agus river jutting out made me think of her who had to fend for herself even at her age, with bones almost jumping out from her skin. She may not have been in full control of her mental faculties, but, maybe if nobody cared for her, losing her mind was her relief if not the result.
Now, I see the same River of my childhood, only that, it has grown older, faster than I did. I never expected the River to be almost reduced to a brook while I am still young. But through this withering life of the Agus River (and the Lake Lanao from where we, Meranaos or People of the Lake derive our name identity), the iconic “Sleeping Lady” or the mountain ranges that comprise Mt. Piyapayongan remained constantly in deep slumber, unbothered by whatever is happening around her. Somehow, her unchanging form is an inspiration that some things will remain the same. Having lived most of my life in MSU Campus, Marawi City, the view of the Sleeping Lady is the first thing that I see as I go to work. Sometimes the naughty clouds hide her, but most of the times she is visible—lying with her long hair flowing, both arms clasping her tummy and with her knees bent.
She remained a silent witness to the many (r)evolutions of the City and Lanao del Sur. From being renamed Islamic City of Marawi from its original name of Dansalan, to its being tagged as the shabu capital of Mindanao, the Sleeping Lady was a constant reminder that another day is a new day, new hope. The sun will rise just the same and spread its rays through the Sleeping Lady, giving us another day of dream.
The Sleeping Lady’s being symbolical as hope for the Meranaos is poignantly captured by Atty. Adom Macarambon as he uploads a daily photo of the rising sun serving as the backdrop to the Sleeping Lady in a spectacular panorama. The daily vista indeed projects an image of hope (and longing for me) every time he posts his circadian photos of the Sleeping Lady. No matter what transpired yesterday, tomorrow the sun will rise to another day. The colours vary depending on the season, but basically the image remains the same—a living painting of the Lake Lanao, the Sleeping Lady and the mighty Rising Sun.
For the first time, however, Adom posted a different photo of the Sleeping Lady. Visible at the foot of the Sleeping Lady is a smoke indicative of a fire which was spotted yesterday January 21, 2016 at 9:05 pm by Sharief Khan who took a photo of the furious fire. There are speculations what caused the forest fire. Some say it could be caused by a kaingin fire or by hunters. One thing is sure, as Adom says, “she is hurt.” People are helpless to stop this conflagration as they can only watch from a distance and post photos of the burning Sleeping Lady and express their frustrations online.
It is obvious, even in her silence, she feels what is going on. Now, she is on fire, maybe it’s time for people to start putting out the flames enveloping her right now. These flames are but the immediate and physical manifestation of the many forms of fire burning her for many decades now. This fire is but the tail end of a long inferno which started eons ago. By all means, let us put it out but let us also extinguish the source. We need a deep introspection to unmask the sources of this blaze.