Olongapeños on the Losing End (Editorial)

Hernan L. Habacon | February 18, 2018

In the course of History, we have seen how great civilizations ceased to exist when their water source vanished. Olongapo City would suffer the same fate if we fail to address the growing number of informal settlers encroaching into our few remaining watershed areas.

Case in point is SUBICWATER’s so-called Old Dam in Barangay Gordon Heights, up in the mountains where the Waterdam Road leads to. The area was supposed to be a protected area where trees and vegetation should have been left alone for the watershed to thrive. But as of SUBICWATER’s latest counting early in 2012, about 150 families have already settled in the area. This situation has been reported years ago to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and also, to the City Government of Olongapo.

The same applies to SUBICWATER’s main water source for the city— the Santa Rita River Basin, a watershed area about 92.4 square kilometers, which drains into Subic Bay. The company’s pump station for this river is located near Clark Street in Barangay Sta. Rita. SUBICWATER’s concern therefore is concentrated on the river banks upstream, which also covers parts of barangays West Bajac-bajac and Old Cabalan.

The Philippines’ environmental laws state that structures should at least be 10 meters away from river bodies. In fairness to local barangay officials, they have never wavered in reminding their constituents about this requirement, which, aside from maintaining the river’s quality, aims to prevent the river from claiming lives when it swells during the rainy season.

But of course, some people are truly hard-headed.

SUBICWATER as a private entity does not possess any regulating power to put a halt to this problem. The least that the private utility can do is to strictly monitor the situation, and oppose any developments near the river source by reporting these to the proper authorities.

But the situation should not go on like this. The encroachment of informal settlers to this watershed area must be stopped completely. The honorable officials of the DENR, City Hall, and the local barangay must implement what the law prescribes while the circumstances are still manageable.

If this problem is left to linger on for five or ten or twenty years more, Olongapo City would have then lost a valuable natural resource— the planet Earth’s most essential commodity— water.

The Olongapeños are on the losing side here. What use will it be to them when SUBICWATER, after its franchise term, transfers back to Olongapo City all of its water treatment and distribution facilities? What good will the billions of pesos worth of these investments bring to the City when all of its raw water sources have all been lost?

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