Decades ago, government officials promised that privatization of the entire water system was going to solve all our woes. They promised us that pipes would be replaced, the sewage system would be modernized, and clean water would be enjoyed by all.
Succeeding administrations built humungous dams, while the privatized water companies dug up our streets with the single minded determination of a Yamashita Treasure hunter in the subterranean dungeons of Fort Santiago. We all patiently waited.
Today, we find ourselves with the same headlines that gave us headaches a generation ago: WATER RATIONING STARTS, PUBLIC ADVISED ON WATER WASTAGE. It is like being in a time warp.
When water was free
I grew up taking water for granted, and even enjoyed the many aspects of acquiring water.
Indoor plumbing reached our sleepy barrio only after I left college in the early '60s. Before that, we all relied on rain water, artesian wells, and “balon” or deep wells. We had to either collect and save rain water or walk half a kilometer with our own containers to pump water from artesian wells.
Today’s urbanite would call our system primitive, difficult, and punishing. Ignorance is bliss. We did not know we were supposed to be suffering. We were having too much fun to care.
My grandpa had huge metal drums that collected rain water for cleaning the house and washing clothes. The drums were tightly covered to keep out mosquitoes, falling leaves, and dust. The covers were lifted only to receive water from roof drain spouts.
This, of course, was in the days when rain water was considered so pure that the first drops of the first shower of the month of May were considered medicinal. Rain water these days is almost toxic in some areas, having absorbed all the pollution in the atmosphere.
Sosyalan sa poso
There were two “poso” or artesian wells in our barrio; one was 500 meters south of our house, the other 500 meters north. They were installed during the time of President Magsaysay to augment supply from the barrio’s deep wells. They were both located near the winding arteries of the Zapote River.
The task of fetching water from the artesian well was left to the younger members of the family, who welcomed the chore as the “poso” were the barrio’s social centers. It’s where everyone went to chat, trade rumors and recipes, borrow money, pay debts, pass on love letters, flirt, meet secret lovers. It was the 1950s version of going to the mall.
Each household had a “kariton” (wooden cart) on which was centered a big drum flanked by two “balde” (metal 5-gallon cooking oil or paint containers). The cart was pushed to the artesian well, where the “balde” were placed at the tail end of the queue that started at the artesian well. Sometimes there could be as many as 50 containers lined up.
When one’s turn came, the “balde” were placed below the spout of the well and the kids took turns pumping water by pulling down the long, heavy wooden handle. When the “balde” filled up, these were hauled back to the cart and emptied into the drum. Then it’s back to the queue at the well. On and on until the drum was full; then it’s push-push-push the cart home.
Around the “poso”, women washed clothes using flat metal basins called “batya” which were shaped like giant scalloped muffin pans. When the weather was good, clotheslines, bushes, and trees were covered with freshly washed clothes flapping in the wind.
The “poso” was also a public bath, which made a lot of sense: bathe where the water is. This meant, however that everyone bathed with their clothes on, or at the very least with a “tapis” or sarong tied firmly above the breasts. Once in a while, intentionally or not, a "tapis" would get untied and slide down to the waist, providing enough good-natured banter for months.
In barrio Pulanglupa, one in every ten homes had a “balon” (deep well) shared generously with everyone. The wells never dried up; nor did they turn salty or murky all the time we were dependent on them. They were as reliable as night and day. Fish, algae, moss, and snails kept the water clean. Each well had a “mouth” or surface opening made of concrete, with a thick wall that rose two feet above the ground to keep out flood waters, animals, and children. Covers made of tin and wood kept out dust and other foreign objects.
The wells also provided food. Every month or so, the men of the barrio would depopulate the “balon” and, with a net, gather the biggest fish: the usual dark green bewhiskered martiniko, gurami, dalag, hito. Huge black kuhol (snails) crawled all over the well walls. Crunchy kangkong (water spinach) floated on the water.
It was a balanced ecosystem where plants and fish kept the water fresh and clean.
When the NAWASA water pipes reached our barrio, well owners kept the wells covered, using them during emergencies when the pipes ran dry. Some families continue to use the wells; they sank pipes into the water level and attached handpumps or electric pumps to bring the water up. Salt has seeped into the wells, though, and the water from these old wells is only good for cleaning cars and to flush toilets.
Revive water sources
There are suggestions in many localities to bring back or revive the old reliable water sources. Residents are willing to bear with the inconvenience of fetching water from artesian wells, which is better than staying up all night for the home faucets to start dripping. Community deliveries by water trucks are also erratic at most.
This is something our leaders should seriously look into.