Category: land use

water woes

our water problem is sooo complicated.  we need more dams, we need more rain, say government officials and their cohorts.  no one dares talk about how deforestation is at the very root of it.  government’s logging bans are a joke.

By Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan
7 January 2019

BONTOC, Mountain Province—An eerie calm exists over the villages of Fedelisan, Sagada and Dalican in Bontoc in Mountain Province in northern Philippines. It is because there is no telling how many killings will again turn the pristine waters red. Not too long ago, 10 people died and scores injured in prolonged tribal war over water.

Water has become a major bone of contention not only in villages but also nationwide. Water-related conflicts have been increasing lately.

The Philippine National Police (PNP), in four regions covering 56 provinces, identified 34 areas last year where shooting and killing erupted due to conflicts on water rights, boundaries, use and sharing.

In urban areas, it may not be long before the problem of diminishing water resource goes uncontrolled toward social unrest. Per capita demands are increasing and per capita water availability is declining due to population growth and trends in economic development.

The country’s capital, Manila, is the most vulnerable to water scarcity, so  are the major cities of Baguio, Cebu,  Bacolod, Iloilo, Olongapo, Angeles, Cagayan de Oro, Pagadian and Davao, the Philippine Center for Water and Sanitation (PCWS) said. These cities are currently experiencing severe water shortages.

Enough water but unavailable for all

It may be unthinkable because according to Dr. Peter H. Glieck of the Pacific Institute for Environment, the country happens to have 323 km3 per year of total renewable fresh water supply, third-most bountiful in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and Malaysia. But think again.

Of that amount, the country can only withdraw a total of 29.5 percent yearly of water.

Glieck reported in the 2012 edition of the World Water that the Philippines will need some 393 percent of total withdrawal until the next 10 years.

Of the total withdrawable amount, 18 percent is consumed for domestic use, 21 percent for industrial purposes and 61 percent for agricultural irrigation.

Luzon itself is a paradoxical case. Even with the Gran Cordillera, Caraballo and Sierra Madre ranges, which cradle three giant river basins—Agno, Angat and Cagayan—water scarcity has not only become a problem in the country’s biggest island. It is also causing sanitation constraints and increasing incidences of water-related diseases. The amount of land irrigated is falling as competition for agricultural water is being strained to the limit.

Deforestation and water mismanagement are culprits

Not surprisingly, massive deforestation is behind the problem.

Deforestation is rampant nationwide. If the country’s deforestation rate pegged at 1,500 hectares a day as of 1995 by the World Resources Institute is not scary enough, deforestation rates in several provinces are more alarming with many provinces falling below the  ideal 60:40 forest-settlement ratio to maintain ecological balance.

The Cordillera Ecological Center (CEC), an environmental nongovernment organization, said at least six provinces in the Cordillera region have only between 20 percent and 30 percent forest cover, based from Landsat satellites estimates, with the province of Benguet having the least forest cover.

The Philippines itself has only a little more than 4 million hectares of forests left, 700,000 hectares of which are virgin forests as bared by former Senate Committee on Environment head, Sen. Loren B. Legarda.

But it may not be long before these are wiped out, what with the deforestation rate far outstripping reforestation efforts.

According to former director of PCWS, Rory Villaluna, deforestation is not the only cause for worsening water inadequacy. Rather, water resources—like river basins, rivers, creeks, brooks and underground water—are inadequately protected, conserved and rehabilitated.

She said water levels have not only gone down. These are being polluted at an alarming rate such that it is not fit for domestic or agricultural use.

Such statements only prove Legarda’s lamentable revelation that only one forester guards and protects every 3,000 hectares of forests in the country.

“We often equate water with forests, but actually ill water management and use has only aggravated the sad state of our watersheds—our main sources of water. Much water, if not polluted and poisoned, can be used back for the burgeoning population,” Villaluna said.

“We ask what forests can give us, but we don’t do enough to give back to conserve our forests and water,” she added.

Dying rivers

The Agno River of the Philippines is a very good example. While it feeds three dams—San Roque, Ambuklao and Binga which generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity—it is dying.

From its headwaters in Mount Data and Loo, Buguias in Benguet, now the country’s center of highland vegetable production, toxic pesticides find their way to the river.

Along its stretch, vegetable gardens using dangerous broad spectrum pesticides exist. The deadly chemicals eventually find their way to the river through soil and water surface, as well as underground run-off.

As the river reaches Itogon municipality, cyanide and mercury from the various mines and hundreds of pocket miners seep to the river. A Japan International Cooperation Agency study in 1990 showed that at Lingayen Gulf, Pangasinan, the delta of Agno, shellfishes have trace deposits of cyanide and mercury.

Mercurial and cyanide poisoning cause weakening of the human body, and these are characterized by symptoms coughing, vomiting, reddening of eyes, nausea and difficulty of breathing, said the Dr. Charles Cheng, a noted medical researcher and director of the Baguio-based Chinese-Filipino General Hospital.

Because both have cumulative effects, they may not kill instantly in small deposits in the human body. But when accumulation defeats the tolerable level of the human body, instant death occurs, said Cheng, who has recently passed away.

Besides the two deadly chemicals, an independent assessment team commissioned by the Friends of the Earth and the International Rivers Network found several more harmful chemicals in Agno’s river. Dr. Sergio Feld of the team identified these as lead, selenium, molybdenum, iron, manganese, zinc, arsenic, copper, nickel and even radioactive compounds like uranium.

The Manila-based Upland NGO Committee (Unac) said 27 rivers which used to provide household water, irrigation, fishing haven, and washing and swimming grounds are “crying in silence” as they go to die in dams or either run dry.

Unac member and secretary-general of the NGO Bantay Mina, Nestor Caoli, said six of the 27 rivers—Balili, Agno, Baroro, Balincaquin, Bued and Dagupan—are biologically dead due to mining.

Six more rivers are heavily polluted and silted by mining activities. These are Naguillan, Upper Magat, Caraballo, Santa Fe, Amburayan and Pasil.

Expanding agricultural operations are pouring pesticide elements into the river, Caoli said. The dead and dying rivers are adversely affecting economic and social activities of people living within and along the rivers’ headwaters and tributaries, Unac added.

CEC added that one river that feeds the country’s vegetable bowl, Balili River, is being killed mainly by solid-waste pollution, including human excrement from Baguio City, a known highland tourism city. An estimated 3,000 tons monthly of human excreta is treated by the Baguio Sewage Plant but still find their way to Balili river.

The Cordillera, it appears, is fast turning out to be the region of not only the “dammed damned, but also of dying rivers,” CEC said.

The government’s Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources came out with a different view but still complements the findings of the NGOs. It said Amburayan and Baroro rivers in La Union are dead, so are Agno and Dagupan of Pangasinan.

Even the rivers in the provinces of Bulacan and Batangas are dying; Balagtas, Bocaue, Guiguinto, Marilao and Meycauayan in Bulacan, and Dumaca-a in Batangas.

In Luzon’s heart, Metro Manila, nine river sub-basins may soon have only poisoned water. These are Obando-Malabon-Navotas estuary in Balut and Malabon; Tullahan in Valenzuela; and the three Taguig-Napindan river basins in Taguig and Taguig-Napindan in Fort Bonifacio.

These are in the most critical situations among the country’s 18 river basins whose areas total to more than 110,000 square kilometers.

No water means death of communities

The dead and silent rivers are now the subject of fierce rhetoric from environmentalists hell-bent on protecting what is left of the country’s water sources. NGOs in Luzon look squarely at logging companies, mines, dams and insensitive farmers as culprits.

Forester George Facsoy of the CEC, for instance, sees the death of rivers as the decapitation of communities from the ecosystem that once supported them.

In the Cordillera, “water is looked upon as life itself,” as the Igorot hero Macli-ing Dulag once said.

Death of a river means people will suffer deep economic recession. There will be no farms and fishing areas, and people will be marginalized, making them dependent on outside culture difficult for them to adapt to, he said.

The precious water from rivers replenishes the paddies and deposits fertile silt onto thousands of hectares of farms which foster populations along rivers. If and when the rivers run dry, the imprint of many centuries of human civilizations’ cumulative toiling, ethnic culture and identity will be forever lost, he said.

Groundwater will be affected

The extinction of rivers will directly affect underground water resources, the National Water Resources Center warned. Of all the nation’s provinces, only 12 have groundwater resources that are expected to provide water in the near future. Not one of these has a groundwater area of more than 30,000 hectares—meaning—population density will definitely bear hard on water that these sources can provide.

Groundwater, often looked upon as an unreliable resource, is possible of being lost. It is very vulnerable and with the water and sanitation sectors’ poor management of it, like surface water, it may soon be lost to oblivion.

If so, biodiversity will be lost too, and economic and social activities will altogether be disrupted, especially in the lower regions.

Water wars in this millennium

The specter of water crisis will cause communities to fight tooth and nail for its possession and use.

The politics of water is as difficult as preventing a war. It makes rivers no longer “deep and wide” as the song goes, but the rift between communities.

Sandra Postel of the influential Worldwatch Institute said: “In efforts to seek and prevent water as flashpoints of conflict, there is a must for mediators to allocate strategies where communities or nations can agree to equal sharing.”

Easier said than done, especially so when no law exists where pressure is put on lower communities to either pay for the water that flows or die without. Moreso, putting water scarcity to the already crowded policy agenda of the government has not yet been done with genuine interest by Philippine lawmakers, even though the challenge to recognize water scarcity as an increasingly powerful cause of political and social instability is so great.

In fact, politicians have yet to pass a Code of Conduct for the water and sanitation sector.

“Communities and even counties will go to war,” warned Facsoy, “and the government may find it too late to act.”

The villages in Mountain Province are not the only volatile places. This year’s drought, the impending long, hot summer and El Niño next year, need not spell these out.

Bengwayan has a Master’s Degree and PhD in Development Studies and Environmental Resource Management from University College Dublin, Ireland, as a European Union fellow. He is currently a fellow of Echoing Green Foundation in New York.


By Mong Palatino

Inequality in Philippine society is reflected in the whole stretch of Edsa. Despite its People Power past with its egalitarian promise, the site Edsa is still very much a territory dominated by the elite. In fact, the relics of the feudal past are visible along Edsa. Several prime properties which dot the 54 kilometer highway are former hacienda estates of the old rich. The Cubao Araneta Center was part of the estate owned by the Aranetas. Their relatives (Tuason family) used to own the nearby Katipunan and Marikina. The Madrigals have properties in New Manila, while the Quezon family is the original owner of the PSBA lot today which used to have the best view of the quaint Marikina Valley. Adjacent the Araneta Hacienda is the estate owned by the Ortigas Family. They donated some parts of their vast estate to the government which later became Camp Aguinaldo. The hacienda owned by the Ayalas in Makati was developed in the 1970s and quickly evolved into a major financial mecca.

Read on…

demolition blues

says fr. joaquin g. bernas in inquirer:

Relocation of informal settlers. You might say that the constitutional command is clear enough: “Urban or rural poor dwellers shall not be evicted nor their dwellings demolished, except in accordance with law and in a just and humane manner. No resettlement of urban or rural dwellers shall be undertaken without adequate consultation with them and the communities where they are to be relocated.”

Does this mean that the validity or legality of the demolition or eviction hinges on the existence of a resettlement area designated or earmarked by the government? That would be the ideal; but jurisprudence has answered that question in the negative. What is required is that “the person to be evicted be accorded due process or an opportunity to controvert the allegation that his or her occupation or possession of the property involved is unlawful or against the will of the landowner; that should the illegal or unlawful occupation be proven, the occupant be sufficiently notified before actual eviction or demolition is done; and there be no loss of lives, physical injuries or unnecessary loss of or damage to properties.”

As can readily be seen, legal pronouncements on the subject will not be enough to prevent the confusion and damage to persons such as those which happened in recent evictions in Metro Manila.

says bantay pilipinas’ jerry esguerra on facebook:


The driving force behind the P3 billion Quezon City Central Business District (QCCBD) project is none other than World Bank itself. From its early inception WB has sold the idea of QCCBD as the mecca of new and forward looking economic development within Metro Manila area and outlying regions.

Generally dubbed as a mixed-use commercial/residential/recreational district – the 250 hectare Triangle Park project will displace 16,000 poor families. Ironically the 37 hectare property where San Roque is nestled belongs to the National Housing Authority of the Philippines and is leased to Robinsons Land Corporation – one of the biggest mall and residential developer in the Philippines.

Past World Bank projects were designed to expand capitalist activities in its host country hence greatly enhancing the profitability of American Companies. The Triangle Park development project which is closely modeled after the Makati Business and Commercial District will surely benefit Citigroup, American Express, Starbucks, KFC, Coca Cola, Nike, Gap, Hollywood film and music companies, etc.

San Roque is where the “rubber meets the road” in the realm of the antagonism between the capitalists and the poor.

says mon ramirez on facebook:

1. Does Quezon City really need another mall and… commercial area? I don’t think there is need for more when we have so much square feet of them in various parts of the city already.

2. The area in question is 37 hectares and is owned by government.

Why can’t the city government allot 4 hectares to build low-cost housing for these settlers? One hectare is equivalent to 10,000 square meters. A five to six-story housing in a hectare of land can contain 50-60,000 square meters, enough to house 2,000 families if given a 30 sqm unit each (in Montalban, the NHA is offering them a living space of 20 sqm each).

Three or four of such buildings can accommodate these families, leaving enough space for the business development plans of the city government.

And perhaps the settlers will be willing to pay more than the P200-300 they are asked to pay in Montalban, maybe P500 or more, for the ‘premium’ of staying near their jobs or close to job opportunities.

3. These settlers can be trained and/or enskilled (there are so many NGOs, which are supposed to be helping and can help, apart from government agencies like TESDA) to take on the construction and other jobs once actual construction begins. So they need not be dependent on government and will have the income to pay for their needs, including the mortgage for their housing units.

One problem with conventional ‘master planning’ and ‘city planning’ is planners only see the likes ofthe Ayalas and other developers as creators of value, not the mass of the lower income classes on whose muscle and sweat the high-rise and fancy malls and other real estate projects get built, not the security guard or driver or plumber or gardener who perform various odd jobs and services so that our homes and lawns and toilets and cars and offices run smoothly, and so that we don’t have do and/or learn the job ourselves.

They conjure their ‘development visions’ of the city as if these spaces were ’empty’ or can be ’emptied’ of these lives, who have as much right to the city as the Juan or Juana already paying the mortgage for their homes in private subdivisions.

‘Development’ gets spatialised, with the poor, literally and figuratively, pushed to the margins. It is as if we put them 23 kilometers away or far away where we can’t see them the poverty they experience will go away. The problem just gets transferred temporarily. It does not contribute to solving poverty in the city, and in the country in general. And perhaps makes it even worse as these people lose their jobs and their meager sources of income in the city.

When the city planners developed their master plan in 2007, they should have included these settlers as part of the planning team; in development jargon, as among the ‘stakeholders’, whose stakes are as equal, if not more, since it is their homes/shelters and livelihood that are at risk. What is 4 hectares out of 37? What is the social value that can be created when these people are given better chances to fight poverty rather than pushed further into the social and spatial edges, where their chances are less or diminished?

It would be refreshing to have a city executive, whose jurisdiction encompasses the largest number of informal settlers in the metropolis, whose ‘development vision’ of the city is truly ‘social’ (not just paying lip service and ‘politicking’), and approaches city development from the perspective of human rights, not just of the rich and middle class, but of the poor as well, and their right to have a place in the city as well as contribute to its development and planning.

says james cordova in asian correspondent:

It’s not as if these squatters have a choice. It’s not as if these communities are little Edens. For many of these people, being in a slum area is about survival, about life and death. You move them to another province without viable livelihood and you kill them.

Their existence betrays the government’s incompetence and troubles: it lacks the livelihood to keep people in their provinces and it lacks the same thing when the squatters are forced to move to urban areas. At least in the urban areas, their options for livelihood are far greater.

What adds insult to injury in this case is that the land in question is not something that is owned by a private person or group. It is owned by the government. For some reason, the National Housing Authority, whose mission is to provide housing for the poor, has struck a deal with Ayala Land that deprived the squatters of their houses.

To be fair to the squatters, they’re not saying they don’t want to give up their homes. All they want is a relocation site that is near their places of work and the schools of their children. But no, the NHA decided to relocate them 20 kilometers away, to the town of Montalban, Rizal, where it takes more than an hour to commute…

The lives of these 6,000 families have been disrupted by the shortsightedness of the government. But I’m probably being kind. More to the point, the government treats these people as trash. Montalban, after all, is where Metro Manila throws its garbage, both the literal and human kind.