By ANALOU DE VERA
Jumping off the Quezon Bridge in Quiapo, Manila into the filthy waters of Pasig River brings excitement to several children who have turned it into an extreme sport of sorts.
“Pag nasa taas ka, pakiramdam mo, humihiwalay ‘yung kaluluwa mo, lalo na pag tatalon ka na,” said 11-year-old John Louie Faller.
Faller describes hitting the water as like slapping your whole body in a wall of concrete.
On a busy Friday, these boys were at it again.
Three boys were laughing excitedly as they reached the middle of the 77-year-old bridge. Standing in a makeshift diving board made of large bamboo sticks, they were joking and poking at each other on who would take the first dive.
Between the bridge and the river below, the dive would be no less than 50 feet. It would be over in just three seconds.
Down below, around 10 children, some of them fully naked, were swimming and waiting for the young jumpers.
On the way below the bridge, the path was narrow. A small community living in shanties appeared. This is where all of the children live.
John Louie, who showed the way to the riverbank, said:
“Dito kami nagsi-swimming at nagsisimula tumalon.”
There had been deaths and accidents, prompting barangay officials to erect metal fences as barriers to prevent children from swimming in the polluted river.
Nanay Yolly, a 48-year-old resident, said a nine-year-old girl almost drowned last week.
“Buti nalang naagapan ko, humingi kami agad ng tulong sa barangay. Nadala sya sa ospital. Nakita ko sumuka sya ng ‘itim’,” said Nanay Yolly, adding that the victim was left unattended by her mother who enrolled her sibling to school.
John Louie said that his uncle Rene, 40, also died while jumping off the bridge in a drunken state. His body was retrieved near the Delpan Bridge in Tondo, Manila.
Lenard Reyes, 15, the tallest among the divers, said he knew the boy who died after jumping off the Jones Bridge last February. His name was Jhayron Malayao.
“Nandun ako nun. Tumalon kasi siya ng kusa saka kinabahan masyado. Tutulungan ko sana siya, pero bigla talaga siyang nawala,” Lenard recalled.
Summer usually attracts these children to the black river.
“Pag nasimulan na, dadami na yan,” Nanay Yolly said despite efforts to stop them.
The children are very much aware to the fact that the river is heavily polluted. They described it as pitch black and full of stones when they dive at the bottom.
“Iniiwasan naming dumilat sa ilalim, magkakasore eyes ka kasi,” said John Louie who like most of the divers had skin rashes.
Aside from garbage, the children also encounter snakes and turtles. But they don’t mind at all, although their parents are prohibiting them from doing such.
“Pagkatapos naman kasi namin dito, magbabanlaw naman kami ng maigi. Naka-Safeguard to!” John Louie proudly said.
Lenard said they could not afford the entrance fees in public pools. “Wala kaming pambayad. Eh dito libre, saka masaya naman kami,” he said.
While most of them went to swim, some of them were enjoined to try diving.
“Yung iba gusto lang maligo talaga, pero naeenganyo silang mag try pag may nakikita silang tumalon. Gusto ring gayahin,” Lenard said.
Among the favorite diving stunts were Double Back Flip and Vertical Flip. A certain “Marjorie”, alias “Baba”, taught the children how to swim and dive.
Lenard and John Louie said they want to become competitive swimmers.
“Pero mukhang malabong mangyari,” said John Louie who also wants to become a policeman someday.
Lenard said he hopes that the government would offer free swimming classes.
Meantime, the children will have to settle for the Pasig River as their swimming pool.