By Severino C. Samonte

The La Mesa Dam of yore in my memories

Whenever the dry season months of March, April and May is around, I am thinking about a part of my life over 50 years ago when I was still an assistant correspondent of the former Philippine News Service (PNS) covering the two parts of Novaliches belonging to Quezon City and Caloocan City.

During that time, the La Mesa Dam and Reservoir in Novaliches, like the Ipo and Angat Dams in Norzagaray town of nearby Bulacan province, was often in the national newspapers and broadcast news because of its perennially receding water level due to the almost lack of rains during the so-called summer season.

PNS, by the way, was the predecessor of the present government-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) which was organized on March 1, 1973 and celebrated its golden anniversary this year.

Also at that time, Novaliches, despite being the site of the La Mesa Dam that stores and supplies water to the people of the then Greater Manila Area, was not being served by the National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority (NWSA), precursor of the present-day Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System or MWSS.

As early as that time, whenever the dam’s water level dipped to as low as 65 meters, way below the normal level of 80 meters, the national government would order officials of the former Weather Bureau, Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Air Force to conduct cloud-seeding operations over the Novaliches watershed to produce rains that would boost the water level of La Mesa Dam.

Whenever it rained for at least 30 minutes over Novaliches, I would be rushing to La Mesa Dam, about eight kilometers from my residence, to check on whether there was any change or improvement in the dam’s water level.

Oftentimes, I would be dismayed by the information from the dam’s water level meter reader that there was no change in the inland lake’s water level. This was because there was no assurance that the rains produced by the rainmaking team would fall on the lake itself.

Sometimes, the rains would instead drench the communities surrounding the vast La Mesa watershed, including the former Novaliches town proper.

Nevertheless, I would have to write and submit a story about such development to the PNS editorial offices at the National Press Club (NPC) Bldg. in Intramuros, Manila, either personally or through telephone.

I was then under strict instruction that rainmaking operations done before sunset must be reported before 10 p.m. to be used by the morning papers and radio and television broadcasters the following day.

This instruction came not only from my editors then, but also from the two regular PNS correspondents for Quezon City and Caloocan City to whom I was attached as understudy for six months.

Conversely, a story on rainmaking operations conducted between midnight and dawn must be submitted not later than 10 a.m. of the same day for use by the afternoon papers, like the Daily Mirror of the old Manila Times, Evening News and the then Bagong Buhay and Taliba.

Fortunately, with dedication and hard work, I managed to do the tasks assigned to me. In less than six months, I was made a regular staff member and later assigned as deskman at the editorial desk, where I stayed until the PNS was forced to cease operations due to the imposition of martial law nationwide by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. on Sept. 21, 1972.

After being jobless for three months, I was called by a group of former Manila newspaper editors for a series of meetings in January 1973 to discuss the possible formation of a new newswire outfit to replace PNS. Such meetings culminated in the negotiations for the acquisition of the idled PNS equipment to be used by the planned PNA.

The negotiations became successful and after approval by then Department of Public Information (DPI) Secretary Francisco S. Tatad, PNA finally began operating with an initial staff of 11, including this writer as national and provincial editor. I was chosen as such because of my experience as a former wire service agency staff member.

Back to the La Mesa Dam, the people of Novaliches started enjoying the benefits of potable water service by the MWSS only in 1982, after they complained to President Marcos about the unreliable water supply system called deep wells in their community.

They made their complaint during a visit of Marcos to Novaliches in connection with the campaign for his Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) candidates in Metro Manila in the April 1978 Interim Batasang Pambansa (IBP) elections.

Meanwhile, the MWSS website said that the La Mesa Dam is an earth dam whose reservoir can hold up to 50.5 million cubic meters of water and occupies an area of 27 square kilometers in the northeastern section of Quezon City. It was built in 1929 under the supervision of the construction firm Pedro Siochi and Company.

It is part of the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa water system, which provides most of the water supplies of Metro Manila and nearby provinces like Rizal and Cavite and a part of Bulacan.


About the Columnist

Image of 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.