Piddig PhilippinesA dam comes true. No, it is not “a dream comes true;” it is “a dam comes true.” It is a crude pun, but somehow “dam” and “dream” interchangeably mean the same in the context of this particular column.

It is about a water-impounding dam in my rural village in Piddig, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. The dam project, my long-time dream, is finally completed and operational. Thus, “a dam comes true.”

The punning is one of the ways by which I’m celebrating the realization of my dream that had its genesis when I was seven or eight years old. In those days, there was a water-impounding dam (called “kabite”) in the shadows of two mountains that straddle two barrios – Suksuken and Tangaoan.

Manually built by the villagers, the small Kabasiag dam provided irrigation water to some 20 hectares of rice fields. But due to lack of an engineering plan and strong materials like cement, it did not last long. One rainy season, the force of the rampaging runoff water from the mountains destroyed it.

My uncle, the late Benito Antonio, and the other men in the village looked very sad when the communal dam collapsed. They saw it collapse, but they just stood there because they could not do anything to save it.

As a boy, I empathized with them. Without the dam, they lost hope of producing more rice and vegetables. I told myself then that when I grow up I will rebuild the dam. And this dream had been always in the back of my mind even when I already migrated to the city.          

I saw a chance to realize my dream in the early 1990s when I was a reporter of the Manila Bulletin. The late Salvador “Sonny” Escudero, father of Senator Chiz Escudero, was then the secretary of agriculture. I approached him and requested him to allot funds for a water-impounding project in our barrio.

Sonny reviewed the plans and later informed me that P4.8 million had been appropriated for the project which is designed to provide irrigation water to at least 150 hectares of farms. Hearing the good news, I was ecstatic, happy in the thought that at last my village is given a much needed break.

A water-impounding dam means a lot to the hard-working residents because this would enable them to plant rice twice a year and grow vegetables the whole year.

A few months later, I went back to my village to participate in the ground-breaking rites at the project site which is about one kilometer downstream of the destroyed Kabasiag dam.

The construction of the dam followed. For several months, tractors and other earth-moving equipment were used to build the dam. The project was awarded by the Bureau of Soils and Water Management to a contractor based in Currimao, Ilocos Norte and was sub-contracted to a company owned by former Bangui Mayor Teddy Sales.

The construction was already about 50 percent complete when the rainy days came. With the impounded water as deep as 12 to 15 feet, we seeded it with tilapia fingerlings, and some three months later, the villagers harvested the fish.

But the merry mood was short-lived. The construction of the dam stopped. When I inquired about it, I was told that the allotted funds were not sufficient for its completion. I also learned that the contractor made it appear that it had accomplished so much, but in fact the actual accomplishment was much less than his claim. But the irony was that the contractor got fully paid for the accomplishment he had claimed.

My subsequent efforts to secure additional funds proved futile. As a result, the project was abandoned. And because the earth foundation was weak, the runoff water from the mountains partially destroyed the structure.

A few years later, I requested the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to evaluate the structure. NIA later told me that the mounds of earth which served as the foundation should be reinforced to enable it to withstand the force of the runoff water.

Disheartened by the inefficiency and incompetence of the government, I could not help but accept the fact that my dream for my village had vanished into thin air. For some 15 years, I forgot all about it.

But in late 2013, came the good news: My sister Fe texted me to inform me that the project has been revived, and reconstruction of the dam has started.

In July 2013 when I went back to my hometown to attend the burial of my mother, I met the incumbent mayor, Eddie Guillen, who told me that he had secured funds for the project. (If I remember it right the figure he mentioned was P18 million.) I welcome the news from the young, forward-looking mayor and profusely thanked him. But I thought then it would take some time to start implementing it.

I learned that in the following months, Mayor Guillen had closely supervised the construction of the dam and saw to it that the specifications were followed.

I salute the young mayor for doing a good job.

In the third week of last month (December 2014), some of my relatives in Hawaii emailed to me some colored photos showing people kayaking in the water of the newly finished dam.

Seeing the photos, I felt so happy that I punched the air. In the confines of my room here in cold Michigan, I kept mumbling to myself, “My dream has come true, my dream has come true…”