There are many ways to tell a story. And there are many ways to view the truth.
These are photos of Hinulugang Taktak. As a photo enthusiast, I could choose to tell you that there are two ways to capture the image of flowing water.
In the photo above, the drops of water are discernible. By changing the shutter speed of the camera, the appearance of the water can have that smooth fluid look like what you see in the photo below.
But as a concerned resident of Antipolo and a citizen of the Philippines, I have to tell you too that the photos above were carefully framed so that only the beautiful aspects of the falls are visible. The photos are not a truthful representation of Hinulugang Taktak. They are more in the nature of product shots — the kind used in glossy brochures for promoting tourism. Let me tell you about the REAL Hinulugang Taktak.
When we moved to Antipolo in 2001, one of this first things we promised ourselves was to visit Hinulugang Taktak. About two years later, in the summer of 2003, visit Hinulugang Taktak we did with friends who had moved to Antipolo years before us but had never visited the falls either. Understand that after two years of living in Antipolo, we still felt and acted like city folk driving out of town for the weekend. We were exploring and looking for spots that couldn’t be more unlike everything we grew up with in the city. Hence, the decision to go to Hinuligang Taktak which I hadn’t seen since I was a child.
The place had been turned into a park and resort, complete with picnic huts and a pool. We thought about paying the entrance fee and spending the afternoon in a picnic hut when I decided to peek through the eateries first for a closer view of the top of the falls. I can’t describe exactly how I felt at that moment. Shock would be an understatement. People have warned me that Hinulugang Taktak was not what it was decades ago but I was still unprepared for the sight that greeted me. The water at the top of the falls was filthy and appeared oily, and foamy with what looked like soap suds. Plastic bags and all kinds of garbage were floating all over.
Legend has it that the residents of Antipolo were once bothered by the excessive tolling of a church bell and demanded that it be removed. The parish priest, yielding to the public clamor, dropped the bell into the river and that river came to be known as “Hinulugang Taktak” which literally translates to “where the bell was dropped.”
Rural folk are superstitious. And not too long ago, Antipolo City was a rural town. I wonder if the legend about the dropping of the bell has been interpreted as a license to drop just about anything in the falls. Because just about everything seems to have been dropped into it – plastic bottles, dead animals, human waste, spoiled food… We turned back in disgust. Instead of the planned picnic beside a waterfall, we drove to Sumulong Highway and ate crispy pata and sisig while gazing at a panoramic view of Metro Manila.
According to the official Hinulugang Taktak website, Hinulugang Taktak was declared a recreation area by President Elpidio Quirino in 1952. In 1990, it was proclaimed a national historical shrine by the National Historical Institute placing it under the jurisdiction of the DENR Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. In 2009, then Antipolo mayor Vic Sumulong sought the return of the falls from the jurisdiction of DENR back to the Antipolo city government. Sumulong died, Vice Mayor Nilo Leyble took over, pledged to continue the project and managed to have the DENR agree to allow the Antipolo government to co-manage the site and to rehabilitate it.
Well. 2009 is almost over. Alex and her classmates are doing a documentary film about Hinulugang Taktak and it was she who told me about the legend. We visited Hinulugang Taktak over the weekend. This time, however, we did more than peek. We paid the entrance fee and explored the place. And I took over a hundred photos documenting the different parts of the falls and the adjacent park and resort.
From the ticket booth on the roadside, we entered a gate that led to concrete steps winding down to the park at the bottom of the falls (there is even a ramp for the disabled).
But even before descending the steps, Sam (who never gets up before noon on Sunday but who was bathed and raring to go by mid-morning for what we hoped would be a wonderful photo op session) and I started taking photos right behind the ticket booth. The waterfall was party hidden by the trees and it appeared pristine and white and shimmering in the sunlight.
We started to descend and, midway, we stopped at an open platform that afforded a partial view of the bottom of the falls. And we saw froth.
So, things haven’t changed much since 2003. The water was still dirty. We took photos. At we continued to descend, the unmistakable stench of decomposing garbage grew stronger. It was the kind of stench that makes one wince, so permeating that it seems to stick to one’s clothing.
By the time we reached the bottom of the steps, the horror was complete.
The froth – no, it was thick foam – was several inches high and covered most of the surface of the water.
And on (or is it IN?) the foam was garbage.
And we took more photos.
We stayed for two hours as Alex and her classmate filmed an interview with the park’s caretaker.
I don’t know what information they got (Alex said he was very helpful and informative), I didn’t ask because I wanted to write this piece independently of whatever information they gathered.
The park and resort are not in bad shape. In fact, they looked quite well maintained. The vegetation was lush and the huge old trees provided shade from the harsh sunlight.
The picnic huts were clean. The water of the pool was blue and clear. Separate trash bins for biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste were strategically situated all over the park.
The irony, of course, is that the focal point – the main attraction – is the very thing that I can’t rave about.
Too bad, really. It would have been swell to sit on a bench under the trees with a iced drink in one hand and a good book in another.
The sound of the waterfall was music to my ears.
The rustle of the leaves was relaxing and the greenery was mesmerizing. But the stench that blew with the breeze was terrible. And I just couldn’t wait to get away from there.