IF there is ever a place in Metro Manila that is truly considered “sacred and inviolable“ but for entirely pragmatic, life-sustaining purposes, that is La Mesa Dam and its precious watershed. Let us get down to the facts. The Dam, sustained by its 2,000 hectares or so watershed area, has been the main source of drinking water for the 12 million or more people of Metro Manila (the population swells during daytime with workers from Southern and Central Luzon).
The dam affects all metropolitan households regardless of locale and setting, from Bahay Pangarap to the seediest, grimiest hovel. Despoil the Dam and you will bring the entire Metro Manila to its knees.
There is no other main source except the Dam. Just imagine the Dam in a polluted state. Just imagine the vulnerability of 12 million or so people in a nightmarish scenario involving an assault on the dam. In a metropolis ever conscious of how precious water is, a breach in a major water pipe merits a sensational prime time TV story.
The narrative that Laguna de Bay–because of its proximity to Metro Manila–would be tapped as an alternative source has been the topic of press releases from ancient times. A century would pass before any real “tapping” would take place.
So, it is only the La Mesa Dam that shields millions of metropolitan residents from a horrific water shortage. And policy dictated by the modicum of sanity has to be this: protect the Dam at all costs from despoilers.
The compelling arguments to protect the Dam spans the range from A to Z. The “A” represents the fact that there is no alternative source of potable water for the economic, political and cultural capital of the country.
The Z represents what is in the law. Zero tolerance toward those who despoil watershed areas. The zero tolerance toward any kind of assault on watershed areas is the heart and soul of the country’s environmental protection laws.
With the protect-the-dam arguments and the legal foundation–all formidable–now institutionalized, it is unthinkable for any individual or business entity to mount an assault on the Dam. But then again this is the Philippines–a thriving ground for scammers and schemers. And for this subset of inhumanity, not even the source of water for 12 million people is deemed sacred and inviolable.
And now we have this horrible story of environmental impunity.
An Associated Press dispatch recently reported that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has scrapped the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) issued to Century Communities Corporation and the firm’s plan to put up a housing project right at the Dam. Approved by the feckless previous administration was a 58-hectare housing project proposed by the CCC.
Had it not been for the cancellation of the ECC, CCC would have bulldozed the area by now, flattening the land and balling every tree that would have stood in the way of its proposed housing project. The owner of the CCC, the Antonio family, is some sort of partner to Donald Trump and holds the right to Trump Tower in Manila. The Antonio family patriarch has been appointed as a special envoy to the United States.
We can only hope that the cancellation stays and the Antonio family’s influence with the current administration will not lead to the reversal of the ECC’s cancellation. Two questions, however, are still worth asking.
Why did the Aquino administration green-light the ECC? Was it so oblivious to human sustenance–and the water sustenance of 12 million people at that–that it approved the application to log over more than 50 hectares of precious and irreplaceable watershed inside in the Dam? What were the millions of reasons behind the ECC approval?
Second, what kind of conscience is possessed by people who want to build inside a watershed? And the La Mesa Dam watershed at that? Greed and profit are the stock in trade ofmost real estate developers but it would take the skin of a rhino to even plan an assault on the La Mesa Dam.
As the DAR, in fulfilling a basic mandate, is losing the effort to stop the conversion of prime agricultural lands into commercial use, the reverse is true of the strategically located urban lands owned by the state, with the National Government Center site in Quezon City as a prime example.
The crown jewel of the government’s real estate holdings, the NGC site is being snapped up by real estate developers (the major real estate players owned by the country’s dollar billionaires) and the public is not even being informed about the terms of the disposition. Was it lease? Was it sale? Was there public bidding? Even the UP lands have not been spared from this land-dealing mania.
Every deal was done in secrecy and with impunity.
And, to top it all, there was this foiled attempt to despoil the La Mesa Dam watershed.
The cancellation of CCC’s ECC may just be a temporary setback for major real estate players.
One day, we will wake up to the reality that they have been green-lighted to plunder La Mesa Dam’s watershed to build condos and malls.