Novaliches folk laud DENR chief’s rejection of housing project at La Mesa watershed

Residents of the divided former town of Novaliches have lauded the decision of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez to cancel the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of the Century Properties Group Inc. to put up a housing project on a portion of the 2,700-hectare La Mesa Dam or Novaliches watershed and reservation.

The La Mesa Reservoir, located off Barangays Pasong Putik and Greater Lagro, Novaliches, is the storage area for water from Ipo and Angat Dams in Bulacan for filtration before distribution to over 12 million residents of Metropolitan Manila and nearby provinces such as Cavite, Laguna and Rizal.

Owing to the proximity of the proposed housing project to the reservoir, the Novaliches residents, numbering over a million from both portions of Quezon City and Caloocan City, support the move of the DENR chief to cancel the ECC for the project since it will pollute the source of drinking water and endanger the health of millions of people being served by the water supply concessionaires Maynilad Water Services Inc. (MWSI) and Manila Water Company Inc. (MWCI)

The proposed housing project is supposed to benefit the employees of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

Half of the more than 2,000-hectare La Mesa Dam and Watershed is located in the Quezon City portion of Novaliches; the other half in Caloocan City. It is bounded on the west by Quirino Highway from Barangays Greater Lagro, Pasong Putik and Amparo (with approximately a perimeter distance of three kilometers); on the north by Barangay Pangarap of Caloocan City North and San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan; on the east by the towns of Rodriguez (formerly Montalban) and San Mateo, Rizal; and on the south by Barangays Greater Lagro, North Fairview, Payatas and Bagong Silanganan in Novaliches, Quezon City.

This writer, a retired executive editor of the Philippine News Agency, remembers that the proposed housing project has been on the drawing board for over 40 years. It was planned since the early 1970s, when the present MWSS was still known as the National Waterworks and Sewerage Administration or NAWASA.

The area, located some 25 kilometers from Manila and two kilometers upstream of the La Mesa Reservoir, was then dominated by thick growth of "talahib" and cogon grass in spaces between tall trees.

The project did not push through at that time as there was strong opposition from Novaliches and Manila residents, supported by the former National Pollution Control Commission (NPCC), because of fear of contaminating the La Mesa reservoir.

Three years after former President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial rule in September 1972, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) put up a field office in the area and began a sericulture or silkworm project there.

Sometime later, the Malacanang Homeowners and Employees Association headed then by Mrs. Anselma B. Domondon, chief stenographer of President Marcos, conducted a massive tree planting on a big portion of the same area.

At that time, I was writing extensively about the need to restore Novaliches to its former town status, including the La Mesa watershed.

However, the trees planted by the Palace employees and the silkworm plants were destroyed by a big forest fire that raged in the area for at least three straight days during the Holy Week of 1982.

After that destructive forest fire, I stopped writing about the La Mesa watershed and dam as I became fully occupied with deskwork as national news editor and later as supervising/executive editor of the state-run Philippine News Agency.

When I revisited the place after my retirement from PNA in 2003, I was surprised to find that a six- or seven-foot high concrete fence has been erected along the more than one-kilometer perimeter of the MWSS property along Quirino Highway. Written on the fence are warning signs in big letters saying: "No Trespassing/Private Property/By: G. Bautista."

Such a surprise became a big puzzle for me, particularly on how a portion of the vast La Mesa reservation and watershed which I know is owned by the government could be titled to a private individual or firm.

The puzzle remained unanswered until media reports came out sometime this year about the revival of the controversial housing project within the Novaliches watershed.

Meanwhile, a book entitled "Ang Kasaysayan ng Novaliches" (History of Novaliches), written by mother-and-son historian team Rosalina M. Franco-Calairo and Emmanuel F. Calairo, narrates that the La Mesa Dam was constructed in 1929 to replace the outdated Wawa Dam in Montalban, Rizal, the original source of water supply for the people of Manila and suburban areas during the American regime in the Philippines.

Incidentally, this writer's late father, born in 1900 when Novaliches was still a town distinct from Quezon City and Caloocan City, was among those who were involved in the erection of the dam spearheaded by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), predecessor of both the NAWASA and the present-day MWSS.

Source: Philippines News Agency