Verhungern – Amnestysia

Contributor

Angel Castillo

BIT of old news this week – the story was on our paper last week, but I think it bears a little highlighting, especially since it is also on the PIO page this week. The story, for context, is that the city council is pressing for the implementation of water amnesty for certain long-time residents inside the Baguio watersheds.

Under the amnesty, the Baguio Water District (BWD) is authorized to grant pending applications for residents inside the Baguio watersheds as long as they are qualified for all other requirements for the purpose. 

A quick aside – the reason authorization is needed for this is because the residents are inside a protected area, a watershed, and a protected area is protected from, among other things, residents.

Back to the amnesty – the council passed Resolution No. 644, series of 2022 that granted amnesty to applicants for water supply connections of long-time residents inside watersheds in the city, allowing them to be provided water where they normally would not be allowed.

The reason I find this interesting is that the city itself is projecting that there will be a water shortage due to, among other things, unregulated exploitation of its water table by means of private, unregistered wells. There are many factors at play here, but the city has warned of a water shortage – this much is an immutable fact.

Why would I bring this up? Well (heh), it is just an interesting juxtaposition of the city declaring of a need – in this case, the need for water, and the need to protect its sources of water i.e. watersheds, and then ordering to the benefit of those that are contrary to this mandate i.e. people residing in protected areas – watersheds.

I am not entirely familiar with the law, and how the residents and the law interact – I know on a baseline level that the protected areas are not supposed to have residents in them – they are protected – and that these protections are enforceable by law.

Quoth PD 1076 – “Rules and regulations may be promulgated by such Department to prohibit or control such activities by the owners or occupants thereof within the protected area which may damage or cause the deterioration of the surface water or groundwater or interfere with the investigation, use, control, protection, management or administration of such waters.”

Does residency within not qualify as “such activities?” Where does the wastewater go? What of the space itself? Were not trees felled to make way for the residences? How many of these residents are in the watersheds and given amnesty?

While it is arguable that this is a case of law versus individual homeowner rights, I would also argue that by virtue of the watersheds being protected areas, they are not supposed to be there in the first place. It isn’t as if the places became watersheds overnight – they were declared as such in 1992 – and I argue that by granting amnesty here we set a precedent that encourages more exploitation of the watersheds. In Buyog alone, 12 out of the 20 hectares of the watershed have been occupied by settlers.

I would argue that to properly protect our threatened water table and watersheds, amnesty is the exact opposite of what needs to happen. Amnesty and the promise of water access would further encourage settlers to breach further into the protected areas. 

This is a hard task because water is a universal human right. And it is never a good look to be the one opposing universal human rights, but I believe in this particular scenario the correct move would be to relocate these residents elsewhere that is not in a protected area and with access to water and all the basic needs.

A precedent needs to be set that the watersheds are in fact, genuinely protected. Baguio water is already stretched thin as it is with the dense population of the city. We need not hasten its consumption.

And of course, this is only a single facet of the multifaceted water situation. Many other moves need to be made in tandem with these to ensure a steady water supply in the city – other regulatory measures, other rules, and other sources to tap.

Well (hehe), there is a lot to consider on this matter. Hopefully, the local government will act on this matter well (hehehe).

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