There’s such a thing as a Rainwater Collection Law

A number of households in the country now have a similar polyethylene (plastic)-based rain-collecting system that companies like Weida Philippines sell to the market.

Ever wonder what happened to Executive Order No. 26, which then President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law on May 16, 2017? It was practically a nationwide ban on smoking, with strict guidelines similar to what were imposed in Davao City when Duterte was its mayor.

What about Republic Act No. 10913, or the Anti-Distracted Driving Act of 2017, that prohibits the driver—even when temporarily stopped at a traffic light or an intersection—from holding and using a mobile phone? That law covers even those operating agricultural machinery, bicycle riders, and those pushing carts.

Unfortunately, like RA 10054 of 2010, which mandates motorcycle riders and back riders to wear the right type of helmet the moment the ignition is turned on,  these laws were strictly enforced only in the first few months of implementation.

And the ban on smoking? Let’s just say it’s like no-smoking zones are nonexistent.

Enacted 34 years ago

But Makati Rep. Luis Jose Campos Jr. is bent on calling attention to another law that took effect 34 years ago.

Under House Resolution No. 906, Campos has urged the committees on public works and highways chaired by Surigao del Sur Rep. Romeo Momo Sr. and on ecology chaired by Biñan City Rep. Marlyn Alonte to conduct a joint inquiry on why RA 6716, or the Rainwater Collection and Springs Development Law of 1989, was never implemented.

“We want Congress to get to the bottom of the problem so that we can take remedial action, considering that stockpiling rainwater offers a practical way for communities to augment [water] supplies during the dry season, while mitigating potential flooding during the wet season,” Campos said in a recent press statement.

He said that by this time, rainwater harvesting should have formed “part of the national water security roadmap, since we have a lot of rainfall when we are not going through a drought or a dry spell.” 

Had RA 6716 been properly funded and implemented, the Philippines would now have at least 100,000 water wells, rainwater collectors, and springs built and  working in a number of barangays as early as June 1991.

Unfortunately, the funding, which should have been provided under the Department of Public Works and Highways’ budget (and later by local government units under the Local Government Code), never came, and the construction of such rainwater collectors became a private initiative of forward-thinking individuals and organizations who saw their dynamic potential.

Such as journalist Juan V. Sarmiento Jr., who recalls that when he and his family renovated their ancestral house in Putatan, Muntinlupa City, in 2010, they decided to add a piping in the downspout and connect it to a plastic drum in which about 200 liters of rainwater could be deposited.

Related: ‘Water crisis’: Gov’t has no integrated water infrastructure program

Extra water

The water is used for watering plants and other needs, “which means the household spends only for the water that is meant for drinking,” Sarmiento says. He describes his family’s setup as “just a simple one, compared to other designs that involve placing layers of sand, charcoal and pebbles in the drum to filter the water so it becomes potable.”

“But imagine having extra water during rotational water service interruptions, and the fact that the country is expecting El Niño in the coming months,” Sarmiento says.

According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa), there is an increased likelihood for the country to transition to El Niño between July and September, and that the phenomenon may last until next year. 

The weather bureau warned that El Niño, caused by the warming of sea surface temperature in the Pacific, increases the likelihood of below-normal rainfall conditions, which could bring dry spells and droughts in some areas of the country. 

“Rainwater collection devices would have been helpful for 

barangays with water supply problems,” Sarmiento says.

During El Niño in 2019, vast parts of the country, including Metro Manila, reeled from a drought that caused widespread water shortages and farm damage. Dams and lakes that supply potable and irrigation water experienced a massive decline because of lack of rainfall.

‘Pocket gardens’

In 2012, then Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino informed the House committee on ecology that while having a community-wide rain catchment facility was essential, only 18% of the metropolis’ total land area of 636 square kilometers remained open to accommodate projects like a natural rain catchment system or pits and canals.

Instead, Tolentino, now a senator, proposed a Metropolitan Open Space Rainwater Collection System, under which 500- to 1,000-square-meter “pocket gardens” would be developed in strategic locations on government land. He said the gardens would double as underground environmental sinks or temporary storage tanks for rainwater.

One example he cited is located underneath Burgos Circle at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. Floodwater is impounded in an underground tank that can hold 22,000 liters of water, or more than enough to fill a residential swimming pool, which is later released into Manila Bay.

In 2022, a similar project was undertaken by experts from Baguio and Cordillera universities in the town of La Trinidad in Benguet. Catchment basins were installed on the roof of the Benguet Agri Pinoy Trading Center located beside the strawberry farm.

The basins are used to collect rainwater that is then directed to special containment chambers and pumped 100 meters down the rock bed. The reason for this setup is to recharge the aquifer located underneath this former swamp area.

Under this design, surface run-off water during storms is minimized, thus reducing floods. The stored water helps farmers in the area during the dry season, or when rainfall is few and far between.

Overseeing the project is the Watershed and Water Resources Research Development and Extension Center, which is run by the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

A similar system is being planned in Burnham Park in Baguio in partnership with the Baguio Water District.

Mall efforts

Understanding the value of water, SM, the largest mall operator in the country, has built rainwater catchment systems in 20 of its malls in flood-prone areas. The systems installed can draw and store a total of 79.2 million liters of rainwater, equivalent to almost 32 Olympic-size swimming pools.

A diagram of a simple sand-charcoal filter system that is inexpensive yet effective in filtering rainwater. —ILLUSTRATION BY CHARLES E. BUBAN

One example is SM Masinag in Antipolo City, in which a rainwater catchment facility was included in the design when it was built in 2009. Today the facility prevents floodwater from inundating the two residential subdivisions nearby, Vermont Park and Vermont Royale. Three 30-horsepower submersible pumps are used to direct accumulated rainwater into a tank that can hold 17.68 million liters, like an average-size residential pool.

During the initial phases of constructing SM CDO Downtown Premier in Cagayan de Oro City in 2015, its developer paid attention to the location which has seen its fair share of heavy flooding. A catchment basin that can hold 13.6 million liters of rainwater, equivalent to about five Olympic-size swimming pools, was built.

Speaking at a global forum organized by the United Nations in May 2013 in Geneva, SM Prime Holdings Inc. president Hans Sy said: “It is evident that the global private sector is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of disaster resilience. My experience has proven that investing in the resilience of company assets simply makes good business sense. We are all aware that disaster resilience is not just the private sector’s business. It is everybody’s business.”

It appears that more and more private individuals and organizations are taking steps to make their neighborhoods more livable. They realize the importance of helping themselves rather than simply waiting for the authorities to overcome funding problems, get their priorities right, or simply wrest free of the grip of inaction.

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