Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream – a dream not for myself but for my poor village in my hometown – Piddig, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. My dream is not as profound as that of King’s as I wish only an improvement even a little bit of the living standards of the some 150 families residing in our village.
Having been born and raised in my village called Suksuken, I know how tough life is for the villagers, mostly farmers and many of them my relatives. All the families are not exactly dirt poor, but there are times they cannot make ends meet and encounter difficulties in sending their children to school.
I saw a chance to realize my vision for my village 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 after a few weeks he informed me that P4.8 million had been appropriated for the project which is designed to provide irrigation water to at least 100 hectares of rice 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. The dam can even be used as a fishpond to grow tilapia or catfish. My poor village, I then thought, was on its way to self-sufficiency.
A few months after, I went back to my village to participate in the ground-breaking ceremonies at the project site which is located in the shadows of two mountains. The guests included the town mayor and the lady secretary of then Ilocos Norte Governor Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.
The construction of the dam followed soon after. 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 (BSWM) 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 dam impounding water as deep as 12 to 15 feet, we seeded it with tilapia fingerlings, and some three months later, the villagers harvested the fish. My brother, Maximino Antonio, who was then barangay chairman, told me that the villagers were happy because finally they were benefiting from the project.
But the merry mood was short-lived. The construction of the dam stopped. When I inquired about the status of the project, 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 its claim. The wonder of all wonders is that the contractor got fully paid for the accomplishment it 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, 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 at least 10 years now, I have forgotten all about it.
Recently, however, 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.
Last year when I visited my hometown, the incumbent mayor, Eddie Guillen, told me that he had secured funds for the project. (If I remember it right the figure he mentioned was P18 million.) I lauded the news from the young, forward-looking mayor and profusely thanked him for his effort. But I thought then it would take some time to start implementing it.
To say that I was simply happy because my dream has been revived is an understatement. I drank two glasses of red wine to celebrate the revival of the project.
With Mayor Guillen overseeing the construction of the dam, I am hopeful that my dream will soon become a reality. I am praying, though, that this time NIA is going to ensure that project’s specifications are strictly followed and that it is completed within schedule.