The multi-million-peso project that was the dredging of Burnham Lake is done, all that’s needed now is more water to bring back the nature-initiated, man-made lake’s water level to its usual depth. It reminded me of a similar project we did with fellow artists in Manila long ago.
Actor Ronnie Lazaro gathered us in his studio in 1996 to discuss a project he dubbed “Bayang Ginigiliw” – the clean up of the relief Philippine map at the Rizal Park. There was no money involved, all we had was the permission of the local government to go ahead with it.
On the first day, there were tens of us – theater actors, visual artists, ballet dancers, videographers, photographers, filmmakers, etc. armed with nothing more than shovels, walis tingting and other improvised implements and the determination to clean up the submerged relief map. The area is a bit smaller than the Burnham Lake. We watched as the water slowly drained revealing the stories of people part of whose lives were reflected in, told to, depended on that lake.
As the last of the water was released, years of neglect became apparent. The silt was up to our knees, in some parts waist deep. What we thought was going to be a two-day project ended up being almost a week-long labor of love. We started digging in – picking up coins thrown by people who wished for a better life, and other objects of some value, necklaces, rings, earrings, a watch or two, wallets with washed out photographs, which we later donated to an orphanage. There were guns thrown into the lake by lawless elements being pursued by law enforcers, which we surrendered to the police.
In the days that followed, despite the noticeable decrease in the number of volunteers – by the third day there were only a less than ten os uf left, we toiled from sun up to sun down for days, prodded by the sight of the Philippine map becoming cleaner and cleaner. A lot of passersby, job seekers, stopped to ask how much were getting paid for the job, and were shocked upon learning that we were doing it for free.
We chipped in for food – one day I cooked a huge batch of pasta, another day we ate at some nearby karinderya, once we cooked with an improvised wooden stove right there in the water-less lake.
As the last dust-pan full of silt was swept away, we watched as the lake was slowly filled again with water which played the role of the Philippine seas that cradle this archipelago. It was a beautiful sight, it was a very beautiful feeling.
The dredging of Burnham Lake cost the people twenty million pesos.