Metro water crisis traced to Bulacan watershed deforestation

Ramon Efren Lazaro (The Philippine Star) - June 27, 2019 - 12:00am

NORZAGARAY, Philippines — Deforestation of the Bulacan watershed is the main reason for the recurring water crisis in Metro Manila, environmentalists have said.

Bro. Martin Francisco, chairperson of the Sagip Sierra Madre Environmentalist Society Inc. based at the Punduhan ng mga Dumagat in Sitio Suha, Barangay San Mateo in this town, noted that the unabated deforestation of primary forest inside the Angat and Ipo watersheds in Bulacan is a major factor in the depletion of water inside the reservoirs that supply the raw water needs of Metro Manila residents. 

He cited the need to relocate informal settlers inside the watersheds to prevent them from engaging in illegal logging and charcoal making to the detriment of forest reserves, adding the government should also focus on forest protection instead of only reforestation. 

Personnel of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Bulacan, who do not want to be identified, have confirmed to The STAR the presence of informal settlers inside the watersheds, but lamented that the agency has no powers to relocate them. 

Around 60 to 70 percent of the 6,600-hectare Ipo watershed have been “touched by human activities,” the source said.  

On the other hand, Francisco pointed out that in 2014, environmentalists, forest conservationists, mountaineers and outdoorsmen banded together to inform then president Benigno Aquino III on the unabated forest destruction being done inside Ipo watershed.

In a letter addressed to Aquino and dated April 29 that year, the group led by Francisco of Sagip Sierra Madre, Edwin Sta. Maria and Linda Nieva of Sagip Kagubatan, Ian Martinez and Frederick Ochavo of UP Mountaineers, and Jose Mari Daclan of UP Mountaineers environment committee reported that “As outdoorsmen, we have access to remote areas of Ipo watershed and stood witness to illegal activities which gravely threaten the continued viability and stability of the water supply of 12 million residents of Metro Manila (2010 Census).” 

They came forward to attest to the rampant and unabated destruction, “in the hope that military and police intervention be effected, to immediately halt the clearing of forest by chainsaws and arson, to restrict the transport and trade of forest products in the protected areas, and to put a stop to the continued settlement and encroachment of illegal settlers in the watershed,” in what is supposed to be a protected area.

Meanwhile in Malolos, commemoration of Arbor Day last Tuesday in Bulacan’s forests seemed to go unnoticed.

A majority of the forest cover in Bulacan are located in the watersheds of Angat, Ipo and General Tinio, the main water reservoirs for Angat Dam that provides 97 percent of Metro Manila’s potable water needs.

Emelita Lingat, provincial officer in Bulacan of the DENR confirmed to The STAR that their agency had a tree planting activity in Ipo watershed for the Arbor Day commemoration.

The activity would again be followed by other tree-planting activities by the DENR, national and local government agencies in Barangay San Mateo, said Rolly Mulato, community environment officer of DENR in Bulacan.

Proclamation No. 643 signed in 2004 institutionalized the observance of Philippine Arbor Day every June 25.

On the other hand, Republic Act No. 10176 or the “Arbor Day Act of 2012” was approved on Sept. 12, 2012.

RA 10176 revived the Arbor Day celebration by mandating local government units to hold annual tree planting events.

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