IN this retelling of the urban history of Cagayan de Oro, it is crucial to go back to 1894.
That year, there was good news in town. It is difficult now to render the import and impact of that hometown news that spread like wildfire. But here it was: The talk of the town was that a bridge was finally built across the river, connecting the town center of Cagayan de Misamis to the other bank of Carmen, and thus to the western Mindanao outposts of the colonial dispensation all the way to Zamboanga.
But there was bad news that came with it. On the day the bridge was opened to the public, so many Kagay-anons rushed to the bridge, savoring the technological advancement that allowed them to walk over the river. They could not believe that they could actually hover above the ancient waters.
How the river thrived in the collective imagination, teeming with myths and legends that peopled dreams and desires. On that day, the river swimming in the shared unconscious through the various generations seemed to have been won over. Walking on the bridge, the people felt strange that life could go on without a daily dip in the river; they realized that, if they so wished from thenceforth, they could no longer be bothered by it.
But in an instance of supremacy, the river, the primal waterway from which sprang the lifescapes of Cagayan’s unfolding, welcomed them back, each one of them—because the bridge that was inaugurated that day, packed with what seemed to be almost the entire population at the time, cracked and crashed into the waters below.
A sturdier bridge was built in the wake of this first recorded disaster at the Cagayan River. Now named Ysalina Bridge, it opened the western bank to development.
During World War II, a wooden bridge situated about where the new J.R. Borja Bridge now lies allowed the troops easy access to the airfield in Patag.
After the war, the districts of Carmen, Kauswagan, and Patag began to take shape, shifting the urbanization into these new areas—and further. The uplands leading to Lumbia began to gain currency. Fr. William Masterson, S.J. not only bought prime land here for Xavier University but also instituted an engineering feat that allowed water from the Cagayan River below to go up the hillside and be utilized for these uplands.
The city’s first airport was built in these uplands. The iconic hotel with a bird’s eye view of the city was built here. Residential subdivisions, ranging from low-cost—P.N. Roa Subdivision, named after former Mayor Pedro N. Roa, is reputed to be the country’s first private low-cost housing project—to the most expensive, were built here.
As were malls and schools and adventure parks and state-of-the-art facilities for business process outsourcing.
There is even a memorial park in the vicinity where Datu Salangsang’s village once perched.
And a proposed city extension — or, really, a central business district — is being planned hereabouts.
Today, many bridges later, the river’s western bank is as important as the eastern bank, traditionally the city’s core.
It can be said that, with this balancing act of the river’s left and right embankments, the center of the city has shifted: from the old town centro, where the city’s urban development began, to the river once more.
The Cagayan River has renewed its claim over Cagayan de Oro—the primordial gateway through which flowed the transactions and transformations of people and progress, commerce and culture, ideas and values.
And so this riverine tale continues.