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Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Pres. Ramon F. Magsaysay, Sr. Millennium Trek

Text by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
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March 18, 2000; Saturday morning. Raging lathery waters, in delicious shade of mocha, rampaged upon river stones and smashed on ebony boulders. The current was indeed strong, but it never succeeded in taking away the faith the mountaineers had. As the waters' tumultuous outburst cascaded down from uphill streams and spilt its froth into the gushing river, which separated the mountain barangay of Tabunan and the foot of Mt. Manunggal, we were determined to make a milestone for the new age - conquering a mountain peak and having communion with nature.
August of 1982. I was only in grade 4 then. In a social studies class, we had lessons on volcanoes and mountains, mentioning prominent ones in the Philippines. My teacher, a spinster, was so dear to us because she really treated the whole class like her own little kids - seeing to it that we learn the lessons by heart. For our homework, Miss Cecille Ramacho asked us to list down the volcanoes and mountains we knew of. Upon reaching home and eager to comply with the assignment, I asked my father about mountains, mountain ranges, and volcanoes in the Philippines. There was my mother too who mentioned of Vesuvius and Krakatoa. But because we were only limited to the Philippines, I listened to my father more. He said there's this very beautiful Mt. Matutom in Marbel, South Cotabato. So, the next day, I presented to Ms. Ramacho my social studies workbook with a list of ten mountains. She was not so pleased with the last item - the Mt. Matutom thing - saying she was doubtful.
She then asked me where in the world did I ever hear of it. That was the first time I argued with a teacher. Never mind if she was older than me. I trusted my father more even if he hadn't had any college degree, for that matter. It was a sorry state for an educator to have taught a lesson she wasn't even well-informed of, I reckoned.
Then the name of Mt. Manunggal popped up in that same class when she started enumerating the beautiful mountains and volcanoes of the Philippine archipelago. In connection to that Mount Manunggal thing, she started discussing about the late President Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay - dear to the hearts of the common tao, champion of the masses - who was given the moniker "my guy". My mother said a song was written about him which went: "Mambo, Mambo Magsaysay; Mabu-Mabu-Mabuhay, our democracy will die kung wala si Magsaysay."
I was only a grader then, amazed to the point of applauding the fact that once this country had a good president but who haplessly met his death in a plane crash aboard his private plane, Mt. Pinatubo, on Mt. Manunggal with Nestor Mata, the journalist, as the lone survivor. Given such information, I went home with all the questions in my mind. So I had to confront my father who I found to be busy scanning my Nancy Drew books. "Why did you not ever inform me about Mt. Manunggal? It is here in Cebu. Why of all mountains was it forgotten? Had you remembered, I could have proudly written it as first item on my list," I insisted. My father only shook his head and plainly recited "I forgot".
He forgot. And must have now forgotten how I insisted Mt. Manunggal on my list. But I haven't forgotten a dream - to someday set foot on a mountain I so long to climb, I so long to discover. Along with a few friends from the University of the Visayas Mountaineers (UV-M), I reached its peak at 1:00 in the afternoon. There, I met residents of barangay Magsaysay who welcomed the visitors while some mountaineers had already pitched their tents on the campsite. I went straight near the late President's bust where information about him was inscribed in marble. Meeting the "guy" - the sculpted Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay gave me a lot of realizations. Dreams are just waiting to be realized. That kid in her grade four social studies class had finally stepped on the reddish brown soil of Mt. Manunggal, over three thousand feet overlooking the pristine beauty of TaƱon strait, and the proud peak of another wonder - Mt. Kanlaon on Negros island.
The activity dubbed "The President Ramon F. Magsaysay, Sr. Millennium Trek" began at barangay Tabunan, with an uphill climb that took us four hours. It was organized by the local government of Balamban to commemorate Magsaysay's death anniversary. I appreciate the way the Good Lord blessed me with a reliable pair of feet that never gave the slightest problem as I travelled the terrain's serpentine path. Fact is, I was just too stubborn to let go of that great opportunity. I was just too bold to explore greater heights even if people around me tend to be pessimistic at times. Expectations are born out of wishes, and those wishes are motivated by dreams as inspired by ideals. Remember the story of the mountain and the squirrel? I have, time and again, been amazed at the way a mountain can carry forests on its back, how the world looks up to it, the way it provides us with quenching waters that spring from its rocks, and how our dining table is filled with the fruits of its earth.
At seven in the early evening, thick fog covered the vicinity of the camping grounds. It was very, very cold indeed that I had to wear three layers of clothing. Strong gusts of wind threatened to swipe our tents out of sight, but then thanks to the expert backpackers who fastened them well to the ground. The thick fog completely covered the hypocrisy of the world below I always deal with, while puffs of cool mountain breeze blew all the boredom I had felt for the past weeks as I had engaged myself in thankless jobs. From where I was comfortably and peacefully stretched out, I could see strobe lights blinking in synchrony to dance music. The discotheque, sponsored by the municipality of Balamban in coordination with its active youth organization, was the highlight of the activities for that night. There was a showdown of talents beforehand participated in by various mountaineering societies and clubs from different universities and colleges of Cebu and the provinces.
Alone in a blue-green tent and laid on a blue soft earth pad at 9:00 in the evening, I could see the thick fog slowly gave way for the moonshine to pour in over us as a handful of stars littered beside the moon. In what one might call as a "quick sojourn" into the grandeur of the universe, I chuckled at how people - in numerous times and occasions - had denied the simple and plain truth: that over all creation, there is this Almighty Hand in charge of its details and whereabouts. I am simply convinced that nothing in this troubled yet still very beautiful world popped into existence without the consent of the Supreme who knows where to place what, and how to sustain who.
I somehow left a trail of footprints on Mt. Manunggal that may not withstand the tests of grueling times, and a track of rebellious spirit that may not at all survive nature's wild forces. So too did I carry home with me a lot of things: memories captured within the borders of photographs, the sense of achievement inspired by Magsaysay's story, and the revitalized energy to conquer new horizons together with fellow mountaineers who love the great outdoors. But most of all, I brought home the idea of simplicity - that inkling to desire desirelessness.(/30)