POSTSCRIPT / March 11, 2007 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Has military taken over nation's capital?

SNEAKY PRESENCE: President Gloria Arroyo the commander-in-chief should order an immediate stop to all military operations in Metro Manila, under whatever guise they have been sneaked into the populous capital.

There is nothing soldiers can do in the metropolis that civilian personnel cannot do better — except probably engaging an invading force.

If it is just doing community relations, building bridges and repairing roads, cleaning esteros, teaching useful skills, et cetera, soldiers have a lot to learn from their civilian counterparts in government and the private sector.

If the concern is peace and order, the proper agency to attack the problem is the POLICE, not the military. So what are soldiers, even if in civvies, doing in Manila at a time like this when the nation is gearing up for a make-or-break election?

Has the military captured Malacañang — the seat of power — in an undeclared coup d’etat?

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CRITICAL LEVEL: Instead of simply deploring the drying up and contamination of Metro Manila’s overused aquifers (underground layers of permeable rock, sand, or gravel through which groundwater flows), Quezon City has been doing something positive about it.

In many parts of Metro Manila, especially in the southern sections and in areas near the bay, overused deep wells have been drying up. If wells still spout water, it is dark, sometimes smelly and usually not potable. Salty water from the bay sometimes seeps into the aquifers that have been drying up.

The resulting water scarcity explains the flourishing water delivery business in many districts, making instant millionaires of owners of powerful deep wells that are still productive. Water problem has dampened real estate values in many subdivisions.

Facing the grim prospects, Quezon City under Mayor Sonny Belmonte has been the trailblazer in a groundwater advocacy. To lay the basis, City Hall has enacted an ordinance strictly regulating the use of deep wells in places where there is already 24-hour piped-in water supply.

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‘GUARDIANS’: With summer creeping in, Belmonte took time yesterday to praise the “Guardians of the Environment” program, the city’s public-private sector advocacy with Manila Water Company to protect the underground environment.

The program recently won the Anvil Award of Excellence, the Oscar Awards of the public relations industry.

“Guardians” was established last year by Manila Water, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the National Water Resources Board, and Metro Manila local governments, to conserve the city’s endangered groundwater supply.

Unlike the “Lason Awards” that shames environmental violators into compliance, the “Guardians” extols companies and subdivisions that use surface water and resist cheap but environmentally damaging options like the over-tapping of dwindling ground water.

“This advocacy focuses on the need to preserve our underground aquifers,” Belmonte said. “We want to jolt residents of Metro Manila into waking up to the ticking time bomb — the possible loss of underground water.”

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KEY ORDINANCE: The city ordinance regulating the use of deep wells was authored by Councilors Bolet Banal and Ariel Inton. It is being studied by other local units such as Makati, San Juan, Pasig and Mandaluyong where aquifer depletion is also a critical issue.

“Quezon City prides itself in being a financially successful local government that partners with its commercial and residential taxpayers,” Belmonte said. “But when it comes to the environment, we are uncompromising particularly with the protection of our groundwater resources that are overexploited and fast diminishing.”

He acknowledged that for many businesses and residential enclaves, the use of deep well water makes business sense because of cost savings — although at great, long-term cost to the environment.

The mayor said: “When Quezon City passed its landmark ordinance to limit groundwater extraction, our objectives were very clear: in critical areas where there is adequate water supply from the water concessionaire, drilling of new wells will no longer be allowed, and permits now issued (or extended) by the NWRB will be valid only until piped-in surface water supply is available.”

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AWARDEES: That Metro Manila is drying up and sinking should be a cause for concern, Belmonte said, adding:

“The intrusion of sea water should emphasize the enormity of the situation. Studies have shown that the status of the metropolis’ aquifers is critical because of Metro Manila’s being below sea level, the fast rate of extraction and the lack of recharging.”

Last November, Belmonte hosted the Quezon City leg of the “Tribute to Guardians of the Environment” where 19 executives of various Quezon City companies and homeowners associations received awards for their groundwater advocacy.

Leading the awardees were ABS – CBN Broadcasting Corp., North Susana Executive Village, East Avenue Hospital, Philippine Children’s Medical Center, National Kidney Institute, Philippine Heart Center, Social Security System, Samahan ng Patubig ng Durian, Department of Agrarian Reform, Araneta Center, Farmers Plaza, Ali Mall, Araneta Coliseum, Gateway Mall, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp., World City Medical Center, Camp Crame, Delos Santos STI Hospital, St. Paul College QC, and Capitol Medical Center.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 11, 2007)

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