environmental issues

Last ride? You can still bike, run in La Mesa watershed soon

Iya Gozum

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Last ride? You can still bike, run in La Mesa watershed soon

HAVEN. Bikers and runners have long patronized La Mesa Nature Reserve as one of the few spaces in Metro Manila where they can do recreational outdoor activities.

Aris Soriano

La Mesa Nature Reserve and Ecopark are expected to reopen in March. Park rangers will be absorbed under new management.

MANILA, Philippines – Good news, jocks! La Mesa Nature Reserve, which temporarily closed to the public on February 12 along with La Mesa Ecopark, will still open for outdoor activities under the management of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), division manager Patrick Dizon confirmed to Rappler.

La Mesa Nature Reserve is a popular training ground for trail runners and mountain bikers, owing to its wide expanse of green space and proximity to many who live in Metro Manila.

It is expected to open this March again, MWSS administrator Leonor Cleofas confirmed during a handover ceremony on Thursday, February 15.

Upon news of the closure, long-time patrons of the nature reserve had turned to social media to express their sentiment on the future of the watershed without the ABS-CBN Foundation (AFI). Cyclists, supporters started a petition calling for continuity of ecotourism under new management.

Meanwhile, park rangers who are set to receive severance pay from the ABS-CBN Foundation (AFI) can still expect employment under MWSS. Park rangers not only patrol the watershed but also serve as trail guides for visitors.

“In the interim, while the engagement of the service provider is still being processed, the rangers and the security will be absorbed by the MWSS through our concessionaires starting February 16,” said Dizon.

Retaining park rangers should help in the smooth transition of the conservation of the watershed.

“Sila po talaga ang nakakaalam ng daily needs ng ating watershed reservation at saka ng ating ecopark,” Cleofas said.

(They’re the ones who really know the daily needs of the watershed reservation and our ecopark.)

The nature reserve and ecopark are expected to open again in March. Cleofas said this will be done in phases.

Plant, Vegetation, Bicycle
TWO WHEELS. Bikers turned to social media to post old photos of the nature reserve, hoping for good news that the watershed will still open to the public soon for outdoor activities. Photo by Aris Soriano
Transition period

The watershed is now under the MWSS, which is set to implement a sustainability roadmap together with concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad.

The arrangement with AFI expired on December 31, 2023.

How reforestation programs will continue and the roadmap implemented under the new leadership are still under discussion. “For the transition, constant communication is still being undertaken among parties,” Dizon said.

Last December, MWSS took over as chair of the technical working group of the La Mesa Watershed Reservation Multi-Sectoral Management Council.

The council was created when former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared the watershed, covering 2,659 hectares, as a protected area.

Shadow of past MWSS housing project

While the turnover is said to be aligned with the Integrated Watershed Management Roadmap for Angat, Ipo, and La Mesa (IWMRAIL), there are concerns over the new management given the history of MWSS and the watershed.

IWMRAIL is the sustainability roadmap crafted by the MWSS and concessionaires to sustainably develop watersheds until 2047 to provide clean water for Metro Manila.

One long-standing issue in the watershed is the MWSS housing project, which necessitated intervention from the Office of the President and the Supreme Court.

The housing project for MWSS workers and employees was approved back in June 18, 1968, in compliance with the collective bargaining agreement of the MWSS with two labor unions. A total of 1,411 employees were supposed to benefit from the housing project.

It was delayed when a former acting general manager refused to sign the deed of sale to beneficiaries and when former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. wanted a Maynilad filtration plant built on the housing project land.

In 1999, the AFI began campaigning for the rehabilitation of the La Mesa watershed.

Two years later, the University of the Philippines-National Hydraulic Research Center (UP-NHRC) recommended in its study that the watershed not be used for housing projects.

The study said the reservoir water, which is consumed by Metro Manila residents, may potentially be contaminated because of construction activities. Tree cutting to make way for the housing project may also increase sedimentation and siltation in streams.

Path, Nature, Outdoors

In 2006, the Senate conducted two hearings on the issue. The Senate recommended the passage of a law to declare it as a protected area.

“The inclusion of the La Mesa watershed as an initial component of NIPAS [National Integrated Protected Areas System] and its eventual declaration as a protected area through Congressional action will prevent MWSS from further alienating lands within the reservoir just to satisfy its contractual obligations,” the Senate committee report released in 2007 read.

Arroyo did so when she signed Proclamation No. 1336, series of 2007. She ordered the DENR and the MWSS to manage the watershed “in accordance with sustainable development, without impairing its usefulness as source of water for domestic use and other related purposes.”

However, the proclamation also said that the watershed is “subject to private rights.”

The housing project has not proceeded since the DENR cancelled the environmental compliance certificate of property developer Century Communities in 2016. – Rappler.com

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.