Monday , June 25, 2018

Estremera: Citizenship in action

THEY take their responsibilities with pride, you can almost see the puffed up chests as they gather for a very important meeting where they will be announcing mga bag-ong polisiya (new policies).

But like any Pinoy, they trickle in minutes after the agreed time. Still, they are there. Everyone looking busy, even the nine-year-old daughter of the secretary was busy -- taking attendance.

There is pride there, in being responsible for the community's water system.

This is the scene I walked into as I attended the meeting of the community-based water system in sitio Upian, Marilog village in the hinterlands of Davao City, two weeks ago.

The group leader, Ernesto Borromeo, a Matigsalug, was presiding and his auditor was proud to show off the map they made of the existing water connections to their reservoir that impounds the water from the intake sourced from two springs in a fenced area upstream.

Betty Cabazares, executive director of Kinaiyahan Foundation Inc. (KFI) who endeavored to partner with government agencies to set up the water system in May 2012, admitted that it was difficult at first to charge for water, never mind if it's just P20 per month. After all, water was free before.

Anyone who can afford a hose can just plug into the spring and have the water delivered to their houses non-stop. Those who cannot, can fetch water anytime. But water is a finite resource and allowing each family to waste such precious resource cannot be allowed forever. Then there is the need to impound as much so that these do not flow on forever, wasted. Plus the need to ensure that the impounded water is clean. Ergo, fees.

But of course, when one is coming in from the cold into a system that has been how it was before, there will always be a period of resistance. Thus, the need for the carrot.

The Department of Science and Technology Davao Region, which is a partner of the KFI along with the Davao City Water District (DCWD) in this project, saw an opportunity in what was supposed to be just a "Christmas pahalipay" (gift-giving) for the community -- the food packs.

Seeing that the residents were more interested in the food packs, the condition was set: pay your dues and you will get Christmas food packs. Collection has increased hence, and more residents want to have a water connection installed.

As people are enticed to attend meetings as well, and share in that satisfaction of participating in a community endeavor, reaching out to them with regards the environment and finite resources has become easier, understanding has been enhanced.

This, along with other programs and projects in their village and among the Matigsalug stressing their important role in protecting the city's watersheds, the people are also now seeing the importance of water and protecting its source. It is no longer just having water in unlimited scale that flows out 24/7, it has become an appreciation of having the coveted mountain spring mineral water as their drinking water.

It's never easy when people warn of what can happen especially when resources are still abundant. But seeing how fast resources are depleted these days, what with climate change making the summer months turn to drought, it is the role of everyone to drum up more than just the concern, but the participation in ensuring that the resources are available upto the coming generations.

For many of us, it is the ineptitude of the DCWD to supply each and every home with clean potable water, and so we rant and castigate the water district. The reality is, water is a finite resource and we have been abusing it. And no, water will not spring out from our mountains by planting just one tree, not even if you plant once a year. It is a whole biota that includes all our concerted and sustained efforts to bring out understanding and participation.

The people in the uplands, poor as they are, already have a grasp of the situation. They who grew up hearing stories of the forested lands that were once there, but are no more, can understand the situation better than we who grew up opening a faucet and expecting water to come out even when there is nothing but cemented streets and an occasional malunggay tree outside our house. But, we're all in this together as we share the same water source. Be like them. Wear that responsibility with pride.