Bad water supply noted since 1903 (who cares?)
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - August 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Not much has changed judging by information from a hundred years ago,” historian Dr. Augusto de Viana says. He points to the 1903 Philippine Commission report on unsanitary conditions in Manila at the start of American occupation. The old findings are startling in that the wrongs go on to this day nationwide: garbage dumping into rivers and seas, untreated sewage, and dirty water supply. Toilets are crude, if there are at all. People spit and defecate in public like their work animals. “A catastrophe waiting to happen,” de Viana says of the serious threats to public health and environment, in “Night Soil and Other Unmentionables”.

That chapter, from de Viana’s book “Stories Rarely Told, Volume I” (New Day Publishers, 2013), condenses the Commission’s report. City planners, local government officials, and Manila Bay rehabilitators would do well to “learn from this frequently ignored aspect of our history,” he says. Excerpts (continued from Wednesday):

“Cemeteries. Manila used to have 13 cemeteries – La Loma, Paco, Santa Cruz, Balic-Balic, Binondo, Tondo, Maytubig, Malate, Pandacan, Santa Ana, San Pedro Macati, American National, and Chinese. The dead were interred in niches or graves. Graves were usually 7 feet long, 2-1/2 feet wide, and 5 feet deep for adults; of smaller proportion for children. The distance between each grave was one meter. Those who die of infectious diseases, if not cremated, were buried covered with quicklime 7 feet deep. Ordinary graves were filled in with earth and left with a mound about a foot and a half high. Sometimes they were covered with mortar made of lime and sand.

“Before and some months into the American occupation of Manila, burials without coffins were permitted. With the organization of the Board of Health for the Philippines, such practice was forbidden. Niches were sometimes used, but were costly so only by the wealthy. Formerly interred bodies in the ground or in niches were undisturbed for five years. The government charged 34.65 Mexican pesos for the niche of an adult and 16.80 Mexican pesos for a child. The fee is good for five years rent. If the bereaved do not renew the rent, the bones of the departed were collected and buried in a common pit or placed in small crypts.

“Water Supply. At the start of the American occupation, Manila water came from four sources: Marikina River, wells, cisterns, and Pasig River. The main supply came from the Marikina River. This system, built in the 19th century, had a daily capacity of 10,000,000 gallons. Water was pumped from the river at Santolan onto two subterranean reservoirs or ‘depositos’ at San Juan. One ‘deposito’ had a capacity of 6,300,000 gallons, the other 8,200,000 gallons – two days’ supply for Manila. From San Juan the water was let to flow by gravity to Sampaloc where it branched out to other districts. For constant water pressure these reservoirs were kept full even during the dry season. Maximum pressure was only 40 pounds per square inch. By the time water reaches distant sections of Manila, the pressure was almost negligible.

“Supply from the waterworks was unsafe. The Marikina River passed through heavily populated areas: Montalban, San Mateo, and Marikina. People living along the river used the water to bathe themselves and domestic animals. During the rainy season filth from the Marikina Valley washed into the river. Studying the water bacteriology at several points below and above Marikina, the US Army found as much as 613,703 bacteria to a cubic meter. That was a striking contrast to 73 in Boston and 50-75 in New York. The water was unsafe for drinking unless boiled or filtered.

“There was no accurate record on the number of wells. Most were located in backyards – polluted. That water sourcing was abolished to prevent disease outbreak. Cisterns, or artesian wells, were common in Intramuros and in older, better houses of Manila. Those were made of sheet iron situated aboveground, or concrete if underground.

“Aside from being contaminated, water supply was insufficient. Pumps and hydrants were added. The number of connections for public supply was far below of any American city the size of Manila. In 1903 there were only 1,825 service subscribers. Filtration beds and more pumping stations were planned. Considered was a new water source far from Manila.”

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Thanks to sponsoring Sen. Grace Poe, we now have “An Act to Improve Land Transportation Terminals, Stations, Stops, Rest Areas, and Roll On-Roll Off Terminals”. Owners and operators of such facilities must henceforth provide clean, bright flushing toilets; safe, secluded areas for infant breastfeeding and diaper change; and Wi-Fi – all free. The Dept. of Transport is drafting the implementing rules. That’s just one of many needed measures to boost sanitation and health.

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DeDennis Garcia’s painting exhibit “Dede Land” tit-illates, as did his music as bandleader of the legendary Hotdog. Intimate works on his favorite imagined female body part come from the bosom of the heart. Till Aug. 30 at Art Center, 4th floor, SM Megamall, EDSA, Mandaluyong.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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