By Severino C. Samonte

He began his journalistic career by contributing to the Liwayway and Bulaklak magazines in the 1960’s. He was the night editor of the Philippine News Service when Martial Law was declared in September 1972. When the Philippine News Agency was organized in March 1973, he was named national news editor because of his news wire service experience.
He retired as executive news editor in 2003. He also served as executive editor of the Malacanang-based Presidential News Desk from 1993 to 1996 and from 2005 to 2008.

This is the story of how Quezon City, the country’s former national capital from 1948 to 1976, nearly lost its territorial jurisdiction over the vast La Mesa Dam, Reservoir, Watershed Reservation and Nature Reserve in the northernmost portion of Metropolitan Manila or the National Capital Region (NCR) to the neighboring town of Rodriguez, Rizal in the last half of the 1990s.

Yes, the former Rizal town of Montalban, renamed after the late former Senate President Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Sr. in 1982, almost became the fortunate owner of the 27-square kilometer or 2,659-hectare watershed reservation, the only one remaining in the NCR today, without actually asking for it.

It almost happened as an offshoot of the final deliberations in the then 10th Congress (1995-1998) on the proposed cityhood bill for a portion of the former town of Novaliches authored by then QC 2nd District Congressman Dante V. Liban.

In an effort to thwart the final enactment of the bill that would slice a part of Novaliches from Quezon City, then Mayor Ismael A. Mathay Jr. came to the public hearing by the Senate to lobby strongly for the removal of the La Mesa dam or the Novaliches watershed/reservation from the territory of the proposed Novaliches City.

He also asked the then 24 senators to make the plebiscite on the proposed new local government unit (LGU) city-wide, meaning allowing all registered voters of QC to participate in the voting instead of just the separating barangays as approved by more than 200 members of the House of Representatives.

The Novaliches cityhood bill originally provided that the La Mesa watershed would be part of the new city and that the plebiscite would just require the participation of the voters of the separating 15 barangays.

The amendments sought by Mathay were: That the La Mesa watershed be taken from the jurisdiction of Novaliches City; and the plebiscite on the creation of the new city be held in all 142 barangays of Quezon City.

At that time, Mathay, a former Metro Manila Commission head, forerunner of the present Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), was still very influential and popular with other government officials that he convinced the majority of the senators to adopt his two proposals.

He told the senators that the La Mesa dam watershed belongs to Montalban town of Rizal and not to Novaliches, and that the plebiscite must be held citywide since the whole of QC is affected.

That was the reason why the territorial jurisdiction of what would become the City of Novaliches under Republic Act No. 8535 signed by then President Fidel V. Ramos in Malacañang on Feb. 23, 1998 read this way:

“The City of Novaliches shall comprise the following barangays: Talipapa, Sauyo, Bagbag, San Bartolome, Nagkaisang Nayon, Gulod, Novaliches Proper, San Agustin, Kaligayahan, Sta. Monica, Capri, Sta. Lucia, Pasong Putik Proper, Greater Lagro, and North Fairview, EXCLUDING THE LA MESA DAM WATERSHED.”

The provision on the plebiscite held on Oct. 23, 1999 was also reworded to make the voting participated by all QC voters in 142 barangays.

Thus, the Novaliches cityhood was aborted by the moves of former Mayor Mathay, who earlier signed a covenant with the Novaliches civic and religious leaders not to interfere in the Novaliches cityhood issue.

With the 47,000 “Yes” votes against 101,000 “No” in the plebiscite, the QC territory remains unchanged.

According to the book “Ang Kasaysayan ng Novaliches” (History of Novaliches) published in 1997, La Mesa Dam, located about 20 kilometers northeast of Manila, was constructed between 1926 and 1929, or during the American occupation of the Philippines.

The book, written by now National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) chairman Dr. Emmanuel Franco Calairo and his mother, former University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) professor Rosalina Morales Franco-Calairo, narrated that the former Metropolitan Water District (MWD) decided to build a new dam at that time to replace the old Wawa Dam in the town of Montalban.

The MWD was the predecessor of the former National Waterworks and Sewerage Administration (NWSA), now the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System or MWSS.

During the American regime, the Wawa Dam was the first source of water supply for the people of Manila and environs, which used to be a province itself prior to the creation of the present Rizal province in 1901. Owing to Manila’s fast-growing population, this source of water supply became obsolete and needed to be replaced.

The former town of Novaliches, then still under the full jurisdiction of Caloocan municipality, was chosen by the government as the site of the new dam because of the sloping topography of the Novaliches watershed from the neighboring Bulacan province, notably the towns of Norzagaray and San Jose del Monte, now a city.

At present, the La Mesa reservoir, which has a capacity of up to 50.5 million cubic meters, attains full capacity during the rainy and typhoon seasons. It is a component of the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa Dam water system that provides the potable water needs of the residents of Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

Meanwhile, the National Museum of the Philippines has honored the Father of Philippine Anthropology, Dr. Henry Otley Beyer, in connection with his work on the Novaliches Dam Project in Rizal Province (now La Mesa Dam in Novaliches, Quezon City).

In its website, the National Museum said Beyer’s career began in 1905 when the American civil government in the Philippines contracted him to do ethnological surveys of northern Luzon. He was later absorbed into the Ethnology Division of the Philippine Bureau of Science, the precursor of the National Museum of the Philippines.

In 1914, Beyer became a professor at the University of the Philippines, where he founded, chaired, and taught in the Department of Anthropology until his retirement.

His interest in archaeology started during the construction of the Novaliches Dam in 1926, where people reported the discovery of artifacts at the site.

From 1926 to 1930, the Novaliches Dam Project became his pioneering archaeological work, making it the first systematic archaeological excavation in the Philippines.

Beyer retrieved at least 18,000 specimens from the site, including stone and metal artifacts, glass and stone ornaments, mammalian fossils, and pottery sherds. Most of these artifacts, however, were lost to World War II.

To honor Dr. Beyer’s life, works, and contribution to Philippine anthropology and archaeology, the National Museum named one of its National Archaeological Collection Repositories after him. The Repository houses special archaeological collections, including those acquired by Beyer himself.