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SPECIAL REPORT

WITH floods in the National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining provinces now getting to be a mainstay in the local scene, the government has again floated the idea of rehabilitating the biggest freshwater basin in the country, the Laguna de Bay.

The most recent flooding saw all localities surrounding the Laguna de Bay, submerged under deep water on what experts believe as the result of a “shrinking lake.”

Web sources, which included government websites, showed some interesting facts about the Laguna de Bay. Few decades ago, Laguna de Bay was considered the second largest freshwater basin in Asia. It was during this time that the lake still has an aggregate surface area of about 900 square kilometers and an average depth of 12.5 meters.

Years after, the lake was relegated one spot down and as such became just the third largest freshwater basin in Southeast Asia. There is no exact figure as to the area covered by the lake, but most recent figures showed the Laguna de Bay accumulating too much silt to an extent that its average depth is down from 12.5 meters to just 2.1 meters. 

Shrinking Lake

The shrinking of the largest lake in the Philippines could well be attributed to the wanton disregard of the environmental laws designed to protect Laguna de Bay.

Among the reasons that caused the Laguna de Bay to shrink includes the proliferation of structures in the entire stretch of its lakeshores. These structures include industries, residences and guess what, dumpsites.

Another factor is reclamation. It significantly contributes to the diminishing area of the lake. These reclamation projects are mostly undertaken by moneyed groups and individuals, into big businesses, mostly industries and residential subdivision developments.

Heavy siltation also hounds the Laguna de Bay.  Siltation is most often caused by soil erosion or sediment spill from the upland forests which have been converted into residential subdivisions, golf courses and mining sites.

Garbage from both domestic and industrial sources is also deemed liable for the deterioration of the lake in terms of area and ecological integrity.

Shrinking Tributaries

Around 100 rivers and streams drain into the lake, of which 22 are significant river systems. There is only one outlet, the Napindan Channel, through the Pasig River that drains lake waters to Manila Bay. The Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure (HCS) built in 1982 controls the outflow to Manila Bay. As designed, the HCS controls the backflow of saline water and pollution from the Pasig River.

These tributary rivers are the Pagsanjan River, the Sta. Cruz River, the Balanak River, the Marikina River, the Mangangate River, the Tunasan River, the San Pedro River, the Cabuyao River, the San Cristobal River, the San Juan River, the Bay, Calo, and Maitem Rivers in Bay, the Molawin, Dampalit and Pele rivers in Los Baños, the Pangil River, the Tanay River, the Morong River, the Siniloan River, and the Sapang Baho River, Sta. Maria, Jala-jala, Pililia, Baras, Pila, Angono, Manggahan, Calauan.

There are common denominators being shared by all these tributaries. The width of these rivers has been significantly reduced and all have been reduced to shallow waterways.

The riverbanks of these tributaries have all been filled up, which is in wanton disregard of the easement law which restricts any form of construction at least five meters away from the riverbank itself.

As if disregarding the easement law is not enough, many of these waterways have suffered a depleted width in view of illegal reclamation to give way to industrial plants. 

Another contributing factor behind the shrinking waterways is the practice of dumping of garbage in rivers.

Payback Time

As it is, the sad realities in the last five decades saw the rapid deterioration of the Laguna de Bay, which has significantly reduced its capability to catch water from the denuded upland areas in the region – thus the floods.

Looking back in 2009 when Typhoon Ondoy unleashed a phenomenally high downpour, Almost all towns surrounding the Laguna de Bay were submerged into waist-deep flood water, damaging infrastructures, and agriculture, cut off power and water supplies, paralyzed communication system, displacing millions whose houses were destroyed, and killing a handful.

The same scenario took place three years after when monsoon rains [Habagat] pummeled the region.

Interestingly, these two weather disturbances don’t seem enough for us to learn as the government failed to take radical steps that could have avoided the predicament that the people in the Laguna de Bay region has gone through when twin Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses wreaked havoc across Metro Manila and adjoining regions.

“Epal” Time

Under these extreme conditions, it has been a common practice among politicians to make a noise over issues that they have been touching on year in and year out.

They are called “epalloids” or those who are into “epalism,” or the fine art of lip service through a PR stunt.

With the 2022 general elections rapidly closing in, many are seen and heard drum beating for “their solutions” to the massive floods, while those in the national government make announcements of investigations as to what caused the massive flooding, while non-government organizations take the opportunity to blame illegal mining operations and illegal logging.

True enough, the proliferation of these activities heavily contributed to the massive flooding but what lacks in all these noises are concrete solutions beyond the publicities, documents and radical calls.

People who have been suffering don’t need publicity stunts. What they need is the political will of the government to clamp down the causes of floods, prosecution of the liable parties and genuine acts of humanity.

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