San Juan

Museo El Deposito and the Origins of the Manila’s Waterworks System

As Manila is still sweltering under rising temperatures, (despite it’s supposed to be the rainy season now according to the national weather agency) the water supply that is serving the metropolis continues to drop, leading to some scheduled intermittent water interruptions.

But to keep things positive, the Urban Roamer will not be delving on such problems at the moment. Instead, let this serve as an opportunity to talk about how Manila’s waterworks system began. And for that, we go to a newly-opened museum to learn just that.

Opened just last February, the Museo El Deposito is a new museum administered by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines which documents the history of the Manila waterworks system during the Spanish colonial period and of the old San Juan del Monte reservoir, known popularly as El Deposito as a waterworks facility and a strategic site that was fought upon over the years.

Bottles and other items excavated in the El Deposito tunnels during the (ongoing) renovation

The museum itself is not as expansive as the other museums, but it adequately tells the story of how Manila’s waterworks evolved. Originally, water was sourced from the rivers and creeks surrounding the city. And for those living far from those waterways, they had to do with the “aguadores” or those delivering water to the households by the jar. Unfortunately, due to the lack of treatment at that time, water from those natural sources was beginning to be seen as unsafe as the need arose for a waterworks system that will serve the growing needs of the city and its suburbs.

By the late 19th century, the waterworks system was finally being constructed, with the construction of an underground canal from Marikina River in the area of what is now Libis, up to the San Juan Reservoir where the water is collected and treated. From there, the water is conducted through various pipes to key distribution lines in Manila, which were allocated to various businesses and households, as well as to public fountains and fire hydrants. Originally, the water was supposed to be sourced from a dam in Montalban, but the plan was scrapped because of the cost it would entail.

The original hydrant on the right and a reconstruction on the left

The construction and eventual completion of the Manila waterworks in 1882 was courtesy of a donation from a Spanish official named Francisco Carriedo in 1733, though the actual work would not be completed until almost 150 years later. If this story sounds familiar to those who have been following the Urban Roamer, that is because this story has been touched upon in this site before. In fact, it is one of the first stories to be written in this site. Why it took so long for the Carriedo grant to be utilized for the waterworks construction is unknown. But as they say, better late than never.

The El Deposito reservoir became an important facility in which Manila depended on. It was this strategic importance that was the reason why Andres Bonifacio and his Katipunan forces chose to attack this facility in the fight against the Spanish colonial government. The area around El Deposito would become the site of the first battle of the Philippine Revolution and the area around the reservoir would eventually become known as Pinaglabanan.

The old reservoir of El Deposito would eventually fall into disuse as Manila’s waterworks system evolved, eventually encompassing a metropolis and nearby areas as well. As a result, the underground tunnels of El Deposito were abandoned as informal settlers converged on the old reservoir. By the turn of the 21st century though, the combined efforts of the San Juan city government and the NHCP cleaned up the Pinaglabanan area. Eventually, the area became the new home of the San Juan City government while the NHCP not only spruced up the Pinaglabanan National Shrine but also constructed the Museo ng Katipunan.

Museo El Deposito marks the next phase of the NHCP’s development of this historic area and work is still ongoing at this time of writing. At the moment, the NHCP is busy doing restoration work to one of the tunnels that, when completed, will take visitors underground towards the Pinaglabanan Shrine.

The tunnel under renovation is underneath this particular area

At this critical juncture of the metropolis’ water supply, a trip to Museo El Deposito is something worth putting in your city itinerary, if only to better understand and appreciate how our waterworks system has evolved. Hopefully, the lessons of history would not be lost as well for those who are in charge of our current waterworks systems on the importance of addressing the needs of a growing and evolving metropolis.

Acknowledgements as well to Museo El Deposito and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the Philippine Information Agency

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