La Mesa Watershed Story

We always hear “La Mesa” on TV, La Mesa Ecopark, save the La Mesa watershed, etc. No it has nothing to do with tables. But what exactly is the La Mesa, the issues surrounding it, some piece of its history, and why must we care to preserve it?

In a Nutshell

The La Mesa Watershed covers a total area of 2,700 hectares, 2,000 hectares of forest lands and 700 hectares of man-made lake that serves as a water reservoir. It is the last forest of its size in Metro Manila and it straddles Quezon City, Caloocan City and Rizal Province. It is a vital link to the water requirements of 12 million residents of Metro Manila considering that 1.5 million liters of water pass through this reservoir everyday.

A Piece of its History

1968 – Metropolitan Water District (later NWSA, presently the MWSS), owner-manager of La Mesa forest entered into a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with two labor unions – the Kaisahan at Kapatiran ng mga Manggagawa at Kawani sa NWSA (KKMK) and the Balara Employees and Laborers Association. The CBA granted them the right to purchase a 58-hectare tract of land for housing inside the La Mesa (then the Balara watershed), awarded by raffle to 1,411 union members. The employees union bought the property from the MWSS for P3 million. Water district officials selected an area downstream from the water reservoir, outside the forested part of the 2,700-hectare watershed. But three years of inaction had the KKMK filing a case in 1971, asking the NWSA to finally issue a Deed of Absolute Sale for the awarded 58 hectares. When the case reached the Supreme Court, it “ruled with finality” in favor of the NWSA employees in 1975 – only to have President Marcos issuing a Letter of Instruction transferring the original awarded area to give way to a filtration plant in 1976. It took another 13 years before the NWSA selected another housing site upstream of the water reservoir which was a bad idea where building upstream meant inevitable pollution downstream.

Current Situation

There are two threats to the La Mesa watershed that the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources lead by committee chair Senator Pia Cayetano are currently looking into – the proposed 58-hectare housing project for MWSS employees, and the three-hectare executive housing village for the agency’s top officials which is already under construction.

Cayetano said MWSS executives who earlier opposed the construction of a 58-hectare housing project for the agency’s employees, should explain their apparent silence on the housing villas already being built for them.

“MWSS officials should come clean on this issue. All this time, they had been issuing statements against the housing project for their rank-and-file employees for posing risks to the watershed,” she said.

“But as it turns out, their (executives) own housing project is already in existence and almost ready for occupancy.”

“It’s not an issue whether the housing project is for ordinary employees or officials. We should look into both projects in view of their potential threat to the watershed, which is the main source of water for Metro Manila’s 12 million residents,” she concluded.