MANILA — What started out as a personal trip turned into advocacy work for Gigie Cruz.
In March 2010, the photojournalist and environment activist embarked on a journey to Magat Dam in Ramon, Isabela, after getting wind of the massive fish kill that happened there.
"Nagkaroon ng fish kill noon. Tapos sabi, ang nag-cause no'n ay 'yong kawalan ng water doon sa dam," she told ABS-CBN News. "Na-curious ako kung bakit nawalan ng tubig. It turned out na walang rainfall simula no'ng December."
Cruz spent 5 days immersing in communities around Magat. This first-hand experience of drought opened her eyes to conditions there, where many people depend on fishing and agriculture.
"Sa Magat Dam, tag-tuyot, namatay ang mga crops, walang makain ang mga tao. And hindi napapansin 'yong mga taong nagugutom kasi walang death. For me, ang kawalan ng pagkain equates to death," she said.
The trip to Magat encouraged Cruz to continue documenting the seemingly unpredictable rise and fall of water levels at different dams. This brought her to Bulacan to check out Angat Dam — Metro Manila's main source of fresh water.
" 'Yong Angat kasi hindi lang siya tubig ng Metro Manila. Irrigation din siya ng mga taga-Central Luzon. Ang unang-unang kina-cut kapag mababa 'yong tubig ay 'yong irrigation ng Central Luzon e doon nanggagaling 'yong bigas natin," she said.
The power of imagery
Cruz has been a professional photojournalist since 2007. She believes that images play a powerful role in conveying a story, especially in delivering socially relevant messages.
"Kapag binasa mo siya as story, naiisip mo 'yong scenario based sa imagination mo. Pero hindi mo talaga nakikita kung ano 'yong meron. Sa tingin ko, doon pumapasok 'yong power ng photos, ng visual materials para mas maintindihan ng tao kung ano 'yong nangyayari," she said.
Images, Cruz added, have the power to help people visualize the gravity of climate change, in this case serving as a visceral window to the alarming status of water reservoirs.
Cruz wants her images to spark awareness among people, particularly those who live in the better sides of Metro Manila who are barely affected by water shortage.
"Iniisip natin napaka-convenient ng pagkuha ng water kasi pagbukas natin ng faucet, may tubig na agad. Hindi natin iniisip na everytime na nag-o-open tayo ng faucet may mga ibang communities na napeperwisyo," she said.
Seven years after her trip to Magat and Angat, Cruz is featuring some of her photographs in the exhibit titled "Damned: The Growing Thirst For Water" at Kanto Artist-Run Space in Makati Square. The exhibit runs until April 8.
Hope for a better future
Cruz said she will continue monitoring Angat and Magat to check the changes in water levels. She also wants to check the progress of the community and if the local government is doing its part.
As mother of two girls, Cruz said the future worries her; her youngest is still 4 years old. "Kung tayo may water tayong naiinom, tapos napaka-unpredictable noong climate pattern, ano 'yong maiiwan para sa kanila?" she added.
Global water shortages could be so severe one day that it could trigger armed conflict, like in oil-rich regions, a possibility that stresses out Cruz. "Mabubuhay ka ng walang fuel," she said, "pero hindi ka mabubuhay ng walang tubig."
Cruz is currently the photo editor of news.abs-cbn.com and a volunteer at Greenpeace Philippines, among other environmental NGOs. She is also the chairperson of the Photojournalists' Center of the Philippines and a founding member of the Tala Photo Collective.