by Rex Godinez Ortega
ILIGAN CITY–What do you call people who visit waterfalls?
According to the World of Waterfalls site, “waterfallers” is the term being used nowadays to describe people who like to go “waterfalling”.
“Waterfalling” is, of course, the act of collecting waterfalls sightings; and I consider myself as one who likes to do just that.
As a “waterfaller” who lives in Iligan, I have plenty of waterfalls to visit. In fact, there are 23 of them here. (Some say more.)
The adjective “majestic”—which is attached to the names of both waterfalls—is there not as another ploy to bring in tourists, but to actually serve as a description of them.
However, as awed as I am at the size and power of the 320-foot twin waterfalls, Maria Cristina, and the hidden beauty that is Tinago Falls, nothing did prepare me for the monstrous wonder that waited at a remote corner of Iligan.
Tucked away in the jungles of Barangay Rogongon here is the little-known two-tiered Limunsudan Falls.
(If you are an Iliganon and you have not even heard of this waterfalls, do not be embarrassed. Limunsudan Falls has managed to stay hidden from the public due to its location.)
In 2008, I happened to join a party that consisted of photographers Rene Pernia, Ace Reston, and Roger Marcelo, and led by Ms Agnes Clerigo of the Tourism Office that was headed for Limunsudan Falls.
Despite the fact that Limunsudan Falls was just 55 kilometers South-East of downtown Iligan, the journey took several hours.
The long circuitous route took us through three provinces!
Of course, the alternative was a trek through the jungles of Brgy. Rogongon. A trek that would have taken days—not to mention expose us to more dangers (and I’m not talking about the wildlife).
Rogongon is a vast hinterland of mountains and jungle (35,555 hectares in all) that sits next to Bukidnon and Lanao del Sur. It is home to the lumad Higaunon tribe. Moro rebels and armed groups are said to be sighted crossing the area from time to time.
Anyway, I say “more dangers” as the route we took also posed dangers of its own.
I remember feeling very uneasy in the last few kilometers of the journey as we were clearly passing through empty open places where there were no semblances of authority.
The sight of people on the road could actually make one nervous.
The unpaved road itself was dangerous, too. It was more suited to vehicles with large tires like dump trucks, not beat-up old pick-up trucks like the one we used.
After nearly four or five hours on the road, we arrived at Sitio Limunsudan—the farthest of the seven Sitios of Brgy. Rogongon.
Our lumad guides, who were armed with bolos and pistols, immediately took us on a trek through thick jungle foliage.
After about only a few minutes, and as we brushed aside the remaining vegetation that was in our way, we suddenly found ourselves on a small clearing.
And the roaring creature we had been hearing during the short trek came into view.
As our jaws dropped in amazement, I noticed that at the end of the small patch of grass we were standing on was a drop of several hundred feet. And directly across from us was Limunsudan Falls—a massive watery monster that fell, flowed, and fell again into the bottom of the gigantic bowl.
It was the biggest waterfalls I had ever seen in my entire life as a “waterfaller”.
As an Iliganon, I felt it almost sacrilegious to think this was more awesome than the truly majestic Maria Cristina Falls. (Limunsudan Falls was indeed way bigger. Each of its tiers was taller than Maria Cristina’s twins.)
However, I quickly dismissed the thought as I reminded myself that Limunsudan Falls was also in Iligan. And like Maria Cristina Falls, it was unique in its own way. A big unique; that’s what I like to call it.
To my mind, this WAS the holy grail for waterfalls tourists. Well, at least, to “waterfallers” in the Philippines. This is because Limunsudan Falls could very well be the biggest and tallest waterfalls in the country.
Limunsudan Falls is an 870-foot wonder of nature, I’ve been told. However, seeing it with my own two eyes, and from such a wonderful vantage point, made me believe it was even more.
Aside from its beauty, one could not escape thoughts of power to be generated while in the presence of such a huge waterfall.
The might of the Maria Cristina Falls, which has been harnessed by engineers through the Agus VI Hydro-Power Plant, has been estimated to have a “potential capacity” of around 200 MW.
I am not an engineer, but seeing the size of Limunsudan Falls, I believe it could easily rack up that same number (even much more) if ever it is harnessed.
Many Iliganons today truly feel it is ridiculous for them to be paying so much for electricity with the presence of Maria Cristina Falls.
With the continuing threat of power shortage plaguing Mindanao, I cannot help but wonder how much longer this untapped natural resource could sit there in the jungle undisturbed.
I got my answer very recently during my visit to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Provincial Office here in Iligan.
According to Wilma Sihagso-ong Wade-Bado of the NCIP, a hydro power company has already conducted a feasibility study on Limunsudan Falls.
Wilma, who is the descendant of a Higaunon princess from the area, said that the company was in the process of securing a Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) from the Higaunons.
Securing this certificate is required by law since it involves the lumad Higaunon’s anscestral domain.
Thus, it would seem that Limunsudan Falls is to share the same fate as Maria Cristina’s. Perhaps it could also generate revenues from tourists and “waterfallers” like Maria Cristina.
After taking pictures and admiring Limunsundan Falls for several minutes, our party decided it was time to leave as we didn’t want night to catch us on the road.
The drive back proved to be another adventure.
As we were passing through a lonely stretch of dirt road framed by tall cogon grass, three armed men suddenly appeared, and they motioned for us to stop.
One was carrying an M-16 Armalite rifle, the other was holding a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), and the third was carrying a Springfield carbine rifle.
Given the firepower these three were carrying, we had no choice but to stop.
The armed men’s accents told us they were Maranaos.
As we nervously wondered what they wanted from us, they informed us, in gentle voices, that they only wanted to hitch a ride.
It turned out they were security men from a nearby plantation. They got off a few minutes later.
As we continued on, we ran into another group of three. This time, they looked lumad.
We slowed down to avoid kicking up too much dust as we got closer: a courtesy rarely extended by drivers nowadays.
However, once we were close enough, one of the men suddenly pulled out a gun.
Wearing an I’m-gonna-kill-you look on his face with the eyes flashing with anger, the man threateningly waved the gun in the air and then pointed it at us.
We all turned shades of white. Our driver floored the accelerator and everyone dove for cover.
However, no shot came.
Perhaps the man’s gun jammed. Or maybe he only meant to scare us.
Whatever the reason, I clearly remember I was the one seated by the window and the first to have been hit. I also had the unfortunate pleasure of admiring his ugly mug the most from that side.
As we got closer to civilization, our driver put on the radio, and the song by The Three Degrees: “When Will I See You Again” came on.
As the significance of the song sunk in, we all smiled and wondered to ourselves: When indeed would we ever see Limunsudan Falls again?
Given the distance, the difficult terrain, and the guys with guns on the road, I believe it would be for quite some time again. (Rex Godinez Ortega)