Lessons lost

Wasting water seems to be a national vice because many of us take this precious life-sustaining commodity for granted. How bitterly we complain when water has to be rationed during hot summer days, but do we ever stop to think of how water gets to where we are?

Perhaps this appalling indifference stems from ignorance of the history of water works in this country. More than a decade ago, I received a message from my good friend Architect Manuel Noche (University of Santo Tomas and Heritage Conservation Society): “Sad news, while I was driving along N. Domingo Street in San Juan, I noticed that the Spanish period masonry aqueduct built by Genaro Palacios of the Inspección General de Obras Públicas has been demolished. This bridge had six arches of adobe and was part of the Carriedo waterworks which supplied Manila with water from Montalban, passing through San Juan. Our concern for heritage structures is indeed lamentable. “ Arch. Noche believes the historic bridge could have been preserved by the San Juan local government, instead of blaming it for floods that usually afflict the area. He also said: “ At the risk of sounding like a broken record, what else is new”? Our officials are dead-bent on removing these traces of the past instead of thinking of its contribution to the community as a whole.

According to reliable sources, the mayor’s office demolished the bridge with haste because the Department of Public Works and Highways was about to get a court order prohibiting its destruction. This bridge which stood for more than a century and a half served the people of Manila well: it could have been preserved as a memento of that contribution. There goes another chapter of our history torn to shreds. No wonder we waste water.

At almost the same time, Mr. Ivan Henares, who was then with the tourism commission of San Fernando, Pampanga, reported that conservationists were trying to save the city’s water tower, a veritable landmark built during the American colonial period. It was more than 83 years old then when threatened with demolition. .

To improve on what Spain left behind, the American colonizers established a modern water supply system that would distribute q hundred thousand gallons of potable water to end-users through an efficient network of pipes. The San Fernando Tower was decommissioned in the 1990’s after a British consultant found the structure “unsafe” . It tilts several degrees to the southeast which is why residents fondly refer to it as their “leaning tower of Pisa.” When Ivan learned that the Barangay Lourdes Council passed a resolution to demolish it, ostensibly to protect an elementary school located within crumbling distance, he asked for the help of the Heritage Conservation Society and the National Historical Institute ( now NHCP).

Surprisingly enough, the City of San Fernando Water District deferred action while conducting public consultations. It looked like a turf war to us heritage advocates but we carried on with the advocacy.

Architect Dan Silvestre, then head of UP Urban Design Laboratory said there are ways of stabilizing San Fernando’s “ leaning tower”. Assuming that the cause of instability has something to do with the soil, the base can be injected with concrete slurry that has a solidifying effect. The technology is sophisticated and expensive, but available here in the Philippines.

Mr. Manny Gaerlan, a frequent contributor of our Heritage Yahoo groups wrote that a water tower in Cagayan de Oro City is also in danger of total extinction, thanks to local government officials who are inclined to sell even the city hall.

We should preserve vestiges of engineering feats that made life safer and healthier for our forebears. Far from being obstacles to progress and modernization, heritage structures like aqueducts and water towers, including the irrigation of the Ifugao rice terraces, are like history lessons that remind us to harness natural resources for the common good.