|Canal de la Reina|
And I am one of those who ask, "What happened?"
Supposedly, there is a diverse database from which to draw the answer to my question, according to the essay, The Changes Through Time in Quiapo's Esteros by William E. Reynolds and Evelyn J. Caballero (Quiapo: Heart of Manila, edited by Fernando Nakpil Zialcita). This is comprised of historical documents dating from the Spanish period, magazine articles and professional papers, maps from the Spanish period to the present, interviews with Quiapo residents, and data on the pollution of esteros. Whew!
Anyway, esteros are the broadened seaward end or extension of a river. They contain a mixture of fresh water from the river and salt water from the sea, and their water levels rise and fall with the tide. Throughout Manila's history, some thirty-five esteros totalling about twenty-one kilometers have been flowing into or have been associated with the Pasig River.
Produce from the farms of the suburbs accessible via the waterways was brought to Divisoria on boats, such as bancas and cascos that plied the esteros, which are now replaced by pedicabs and kuligligs that compete with other motor vehicles on the city's already congested streets.
In Noli Me Tangere, Jose Rizal wrote that the esteros served as bath, sewer, means of transportation, as well as for laundry and fishing -- "and even drinking water, if the Chinese water carrier found it convenient."
Historical records support Rizal's observations. They indicate that, indeed, during the Spanish era, practically all human refuse, garbage, and manufacturing wastes generated in the area found their way into the esteros. Obviously, the Spanish government was already burdened by this problem.
Spanish doctors, on the other hand, correlated many diseases with the amount of garbage and refuse being dumped into the esteros. Reports of epidemic had taken place, especially during the dry season when the water level was very low, exposing the bottom of the esteros. Medical authorities attributed the raging smallpox epidemic in Manila to the miasmas released by the water and mud in the esteros that were in the state of putrefaction.
The Spanish government developed a public sewer system, though limited in scope, that crisscrossed some of the more densely populated areas. However, liquid easily escaped through the loose slabs of stone that made up the drains. Also, a large number of drains from private houses emptied directly into the esteros. These rendered the esteros a serious health hazard.
Many programs were created by the Spanish government to improve the estero system, but insufficient funding prevented the construction of an underground sewer system. Unfortunately, the esteros were the only way to keep the city of Mania clean. After the Philippine Revolution, the American colonial government did what it could to correct this growing problem.
The esteros are a natural component of Manila. Before the area was heavily populated, the tides and seasonal changes refreshed the natural environment. When Manila became a major city, esteros acquired new uses. They became a means of transportation, communication, and regrettably, waste disposal.
Hence the people of Manila killed the city's estero system.
To date, the problem goes unresolved. As a Manila Times editorial had pointed out last September:
What little remains of canals or esteros will soon fade into memory. Eighty percent of esteros in Metro Manila, all bearing historic names, have drowned in human and commercial waste or taken over by squatters or small businesses.
Residents and transients have transformed our rivers, lakes, bays and canals into their personal toilet or kitchen sink. Squatters living on the riverbanks, coastal walls and lakeshores have no qualms throwing personal and family trash into waterways.
Most factories, plants, industrial and commercial establishments treat our rivers and lakes as an extension of their business activity.
The government, for decades, has talked a lot about rescuing the Pasig River and Manila Bay—to name two bodies of waters—and has rehabilitated them in fits and starts, with negligible results.
Nonetheless, despite the great damage we had created to our canal system, I am also one of those who ask, "Can we still fully rehabilitate our esteros and perhaps, make Manila the Oriental Venice as it once was?"
Manila Bulletin: New Life for Manila Estero
Manila Standard: Clearing of squatters that clog Manila's waterways
Philippine Star: Where do we go from here
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