Water security and the environment are major concerns of the MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION OF THE PHILIPPINES (MAP).
The recent water crisis in parts of Metro Manila exposed the Achilles Heel of Metro Manila’s water security. Almost all of raw water supply currently comes from one source — Angat dam in Bulacan. The water in the dam is vulnerable to extended drought, as being experienced now and in past years. Catastrophic earthquakes are another risk to water infrastructure. Activation of the West Valley Fault is said to be overdue and there is the recent revelation of the existence of hidden earth faults similar to the one that figured in the recent earthquake in Pampanga.
Water is essential to sustain life. The government cannot allow a scenario where water supply is severely disrupted and the teeming population of metropolitan Manila area would be denied or left to struggle for water to drink, cook food, clean, and wash, and in a mass exodus out of the metropolis in a desperate dash for water from other sources.
No matter how remote the possibility of such a dire scenario, contingency measures must nevertheless be put in place. Metro Manila has a fifth of the country’s population and accounts for over a third of the economy. A disaster here will inflict collateral damage to supply chains in the other regions.
It is for these reasons that MAP urges an immediate effort by the national government to emplace a failsafe water security system, with dams and Laguna Lake playing a redundant complementary role to ensure water supply, under any eventuality.
Laguna Lake is the largest freshwater lake in our country and among the largest in Southeast Asia. It is an ideal, logical, inexhaustible, and proximately-located source of fresh water for Metro Manila. It is well endowed to serve as a major component of a failsafe water security system together with dams, as well as having vast potential for public recreation and eco-tourism.
Unfortunately, the water quality of Laguna Lake has, despite sporadic efforts, continuously degenerated from long years of neglect and wanton disregard for the lake’s wellbeing much like other natural resources of our country. This deplorable condition persists despite Republic Act No. 4850, creating the Laguna Lake Development Authority, and Republic Act No. 9275, or the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004, both of which remain to be fully implemented.
We have seen in Boracay the beneficial effects of strong political will exercised by President Duterte and concerted action taken by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). We urge the President to order similar draconian measures in Laguna Lake with the issuance of an Executive Order to direct all national and local government units and instrumentalities to immediately implement all existing laws, rules, regulations and directives, particularly R.A. 4850 and 9275, to clean, rehabilitate, protect and conserve Laguna Lake and the forest cover of its watershed in the surrounding hills and mountains.
The President should make a policy declaration giving priority utilization of the lake as a viable and sustainable raw water supply for domestic, commercial and industrial uses, and that all other utilization of the lake, such as aqua and agriculture, shall be subordinated such that these secondary uses be allowed and maintained at an appropriate and sustainable level that would not conflict or put into jeopardy the priority purpose.
Pending the rehabilitation of Laguna Lake, the National Water Resources Board should prepare ready-to-implement contingency measures for implementation in the event of disruption of water supply from other sources in the minimum quantity required for the survival of the population of metropolitan Manila, and that the national security adviser shall see to it that the plan is credible, viable and all resources available for its implementation when the need arises.
The public must be warned that the government will strictly enforce existing laws that prohibit, under pain of penalty, the dumping of waste into the lake. Polluting industries, such as factories, fish culture, poultry and livestock farms, must be strictly regulated.
All developments and structures must be banned within a no-build zone starting from the high-water mark to within, preferably, no less than fifty meters, especially in populated areas, to allow access to the public with ample space for recreation and common enjoyment of a national resource.
Necessarily, massive reforestation must be sustainably undertaken in the surrounding hills and mountains to enhance the productivity of the watershed. Ideally, indigenous wood species, fruit-bearing trees and bamboo should be utilized. No-build zones must likewise be established at the foot of the surrounding hills and mountains to guard against encroachment.
In accordance with R.A. 4850, the full potential of Laguna Lake must be harnessed to optimally utilize the resources of the lake regions, including for eco-tourism purposes, while guarding against unmanageable pollution and ecological imbalance. For public benefit, the Biodiversity Management Bureau (formerly Parks and Wildlife Bureau) should recommend and establish public recreational parks along the lakeshores.
As an alternative mode to land transportation, a lake ferry transportation system, preferably using green energy, can provide convenient, affordable and reliable connectivity between the towns and cities around the lake. Transportation connectivity is likewise necessary for convenient access to lakeshore developments.
This rehabilitation and development effort ought to be a Save Laguna Lake Movement participated in, supported and sustained by all, including private corporations as among their primary social responsibility projects. Civil society, including all environment protection organizations, is a stakeholder and must likewise participate.
Lastly, let the Laguna Lake rehabilitation be the model for all our freshwater lakes to be replicated all over the country.
Eduardo H. Yap is the Chair of the National Issues Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines and Initiator of this advocacy approved by its board of governors.