True, the great Pampanga River is one of the more well-known natural resource that defines the Kapampangan landscape. However, there are other bodies of water in Pampanga—rivers, estuaries, creeks and streams—that are no less important though not as known, providing Kapampangans with livelihood and leisure, main sources of nurture for farms and fields, and in the same vein, causes of some of the province’s most devastating tragedies. Snaking across the province “antimong ubingan” (like a snake) and branching “sanga-sanga” through towns and barrios.
The eruption of Mount Pinatubo brought many of these rivers into our consciousness and on national news. At the foot of Kamias Mountain in Porac is a stretch of the Gumain River, a pathway to the lowlands often used by the hardy Aetas. The river’s water source is Mt. Abu in Zambales, where it streams to Floridablanca and converges with Porac River in barangay San Pedro (Floridablanca) and Sta. Rita (Lubao). Torrential rains often caused the Gumain to flood the entire Lubao region. The cataclysmic eruptions of Pinatubo in 1991 buried the river.
Porac River descends from Mt. Dorst and Mt. Cumino, meandering through Porac, Del Carmen and Lubao, until it joins Gumain. The 1991-1997 lahar years brought unspeakable horror to Porac, causing the town’s evacuation as well as damage to property. Mancatian Bridge was washed out, 119 houses were buried and 3 Japanese perished while attempting to cross the swollen Mancatian River.
An often-mentioned name during the Pinatubo years, is the Pasig-Potrero River. With headwaters from Mt. Cumino, the Pasig-Potreo drains the area of Porac-Angeles and Sta. Rita-San Fernando. Its course shifts erratically, bringing along sand and silt deposits to the plain lands.
The capital city of San Fernando has a river of the same name that originates from Pampanga River and which cuts through Mexico where it is known as Sapang Matulid. When San Fernando River crosses Bacolor and Betis, it is called Betis River—merging with the Dalan Bapor River in Guagua that flows through the larger Guagua-Pasak River.
Another river—Kabalasan—is actually a major tributary of Sapang Balen in Angeles. It joins Calulut River and Sindalan River, losing its water as it heads towards Maimpis where it flows as Maimpis River. These rivers, like many others in the region, derived their name from their unique natural characteristics. Similarly named rivers in northwest San Fernando is the Malino River (named after the clarity of the water) and Pandaras River— “daras”, a gouging tool used in boat-making.
Every town it seems, has its own “Sapang Balen”, but the Sapang Balen of Angeles has a history that is intertwined with Taug River. This creek that cuts through the town proper follows the old path of the Taug River . At one point in time, Taug fed into Abacan, and its ancient riverbed is now occupied by the area that includes Brgy. Cuayan and Carmenville subdivision. Sapang Balen is heavily polluted now and currently, there are efforts led by the local church officials to keep it environmentally safe and clean.
Taug River is an offshoot of Ebus River that originates from the foothills of Mount Pinatubo. It joins Abacan River near Bo. Anunas. The river ( actually a creek that comes to life only during the rainy season) scared the city residents during the Pinatubo days when lahar from Pasig-Potrero River threatened to spill into its channel-- too narrow to contain such water volume. Had the worst case scenario happened, Angeles City would have been engulfed by lahar and pyroclastic materials. Taug River has had a history of dangerous overflows. In 1881, as recorded by Angeles historian Mariano Henson, a typhoon caused Taug River “to swell up to a murky clay-ey tone into the Sapang Balen creek, causing the destruction of three bridges”. Three more overflows were recorded in 1885, 1919 and 1961.
Abacan River separates Balibago (once a part of Mabalacat) from Angeles City proper. Abacan means “ early lunch or brunch”, because in the old days, traders from Mexico and other towns would sail on the once-deep waters and reach Culiat by lunch hour. It made national news on 15 June 1991 when the Abacan Bridge collapsed due to the surge of water and pyroclastic materials from the Pinatubo eruption that the shallow river.
The town of many rivers—Lubao—has interestingly-named waterways that evoke the physical nature of the place: Matsin, Mansanitas, Pinanari, Atlu Busbus, Pulung Kamuti, Maubingan, Sapang Pari, Kuwayan, Kulasisi and Sapang Ebun, Sapang Payung, Sapang Balas, Balantacan.
In Mabalacat, a once-famous watering hole and picnic site since the 1920s was the Mascup River in sitio Bana. Large rocks dot the river banks and its crystal-clear waters were perfect for swimming and wading. Sadly, just like the many rivers in the province affected by Pinatubo, the waters of Mascup flow no more.
Rivers may overflow, ebb, dry up, change course, get silted and polluted. But many resilient Kapampangans used to the fickle ways of nature continue to live by the river’s side. Conditioned to the changing seasons, to the cycles of floods and drought, they live, adapt and thrive--by learning to go with the flow.