Within the Novaliches district of Quezon City, one of the best places to get away from the hub of the city is the La Mesa Eco-park. Opened to the public in 2004, the park is part of the La Mesa Dam and Watershed Reservation; which is a 2,700 hectare (27 square kilometers) area that was built in 1929, to supply the water for most of Metro Manila. The watershed is the last remaining rain forest in the Metro Manila area, making it a tranquil place to commune with nature, or a have an adventure with the many water and sports facilities in the vicinity.
The La Mesa Dam and Reservoir can hold up to 50.5 million cubic meters of water, and it was first constructed by Pedro Siochi and Company, as part of the part of the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa water system. The water collected is treated at the nearby Balara Treatment Plant, which are both managed by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).
Eng. Pedro Siochi y Angeles (1886-1951) is a civil engineer, whose family hails from the town of Malabon, of then the Rizal Province. Siochi graduated from the University of Ghent, Belgium, and would later work with the Bureau of Public Works, upon his return to the Philippines. Among the major works of Siochi are the Talavera River Irrigation System in Bulacan Province (1923), the Culasi Port in Roxas City (1926) the Manila Central Post Office (1926) with Arch. Juan M. Arellano and Arch. Tomás Mapúa, the Legislative Building (1926) with Arch. Ralph Harrington Doane, Arch. Antonio Toledo, And Arch. Juan M. Arellano, the Manila Metropolitan Theater (1931) also with Arch. Juan M. Arellano, the St. Cecilia’s Hall of St. Scholastica’s College (1932) with Arch. Andres Luna San Pedro, the Taal Vista Lodge in Laguna (1937-39) also with Andres Luna de San Pedro, the Cebu Provincial Capitol (1938) again with Juan M. Arellano, the Caliraya Dam in Laguna Province(1939), and the Santa Catalina College (1939).
Presently the La Mesa Dam and Watershed Reservation is operated by MWSS and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), as the it is a protected area that hosts a thriving biodiversity with myriad of local flora and fauna. The most common trees found in the reservation are Malay beechwood (Gmelina arborea), earleaf acacia (Acacia auriculiformis), acacia mangium, narra (Pterocarpus indicus), mahogany (Toona calantas), teak (Tectona grandis), ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala), alibangbang (Piliostigma thonningii) and bangkal (Nauclea orientalis).
As for the animal life, there are many small rodents, reptiles, and insects; as well endemic and migratory brids. For bird watchers, the most common species found in the park are the Philippine bulbul (Hypsipetes philippinus), the plain bush-hen (Amaurornis olivacea), the Eurasian coot (Fulica atra), the Philippine coucal (Centropus viridis),the pied fantail (Rhipidura nigritorquis),the grey-streaked flycatcher (Muscicapa griseisticta), the striated heron (Butorides striata), the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), the spotted wood kingfisher (Actenoides lindsayi), the common kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), the white-collared kingfisher (odiramphus chloris), the ashy minivet (Pericrocotus divaricatus), the common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), the Philippine nightjar (Caprimulgus manillensis), the osprey (Pandion haliaetus),the black-naped oriole (Oriolus chinensis),the Oriental magpie robin (Copsychus saularis),the brown shrike (Lanius cristatus), the Japanese sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis), the olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis),the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), the island swiftlet (Aerodramus inquietus), pied triller (Lalage nigra),the grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), Arctic warbler (Phylloscopus borealis), the yellow-bellied whistler (Pachycephala philippinensis), the lowland white-eye (Zosterops meyeni), and the Philippine pygmy woodpecker (Dendrocopos maculates).
Getting to the La Mesa Eco-Park isn’t that easy, as visitors have to spot the sign along the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Winston St. in East Fairview Subdivision. To some travelers, this isn’t as simple as it seems, because the area has been consumed by some many signs from nearby business establishments. After following the signs through the twists and turns of the subdivision road, one finally arrives at the entrance to the park, at the very edge of the water reserve.
From there, visitors drive along a winding road, under a canopy of trees. This puts the visitors’ minds at ease, preparing them for a day in commune with nature. The Eco-Park is 33 hectares (82-acre) large, so there is much to explore, and many places to find a quiet spot to relax.
The trip through the access road is short, and one arrives at the Eco-Park Administrative Building and parking lot. The Administration Building and other structures were designed by Arch. Jun Palafox in 2004; as a joint project of the MWSS, government of Quezon City and the environmental organization Bantay Kalikasan.
Arch. Felino “Jun” Albano Palafox, Jr. (born 1950) is an architect, urban planner and environmentalist; who studied in both the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and University of the Philippines (UP), and took up an Advanced Management Development Program for Real Estate at Harvard University. In 1977, Palafox moved to Dubai as the Senior Architect and Planner for the government. He returned to the Philippines in 1981, to establish his firm, Palafox Associates, and quickly established a reputation for himself. In the years to come, Palafox’ company would build designs in 38 countries, and be listed as first Filipino architectural firm included in the Top 500 Architectural Firms in the World of the London-based World Architecture Magazine in 1999. For his work on environmental and sustainability issues, Palafox was also cited by Forbes Asia Magazine as one of the 48 Heroes of Philanthropy in Asia. Palafox’ work has extended to the many organizations that he has led and been a part of, among these are as a fellow of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (Chicago, IL, U.S.A.), an international associate of the American Institute of Architects (San Francisco, CA, U.S.A.), a member of the US Green Building Council (U.S.A), a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers (New York, U.S.A.), a member of the Urban Land Institute (Washington, D.C., U.S.A.), a member of the Congress for New Urbanism (San Francisco, U.S.A.), a member of the American Planning Association (Chicago, IL, U.S.A.), a member of the Urban Affairs Association (Delaware, U.S.A.), a fellow and executive director for Government and External Affairs of the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP), the president of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP), the chairman of the Environment Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce, Philippines (AmCham Philippines), the director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (CanCham Philippines), the governor of the Global Peace Association-Philippines, president of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), the president of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP), and a trustee of Philippine Business for the Environment (PBE).
Around the administrative area, there are more buildings that were constructed after the initial launch of the La Mesa Eco-Park. Among the latest structures are the Eco-Museum (built 2006) and the Eco-Academy Mulitipurpose Hall (built 2008), which were designed by Arch. Bobby Mañosa. Mañosa and his brother Manuel Jr. (1927-2016) also designed the first structures in the Eco Park, when it was first conceived in 1989. The two brothers are also the sons of Engineer Manuel Mañosa Sr., who was one of the directors of the National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) after World War II.
Arch. Francisco “Bobby” Tronqued Mañosa (1931-2019) completed his studies in architecture at the University of Santo Tomas, and also took further studies in landscaping at Tokyo University in Japan. After obtaining his architectural license, Bobby partnered with his brothers, Manuel and Jose, to form Mañosa Brothers and Associates, but he would eventually break out on his own, and form his own company. Inspired by traditional architecture, Mañosa began experimenting with natural material in his designs, and gained recognition throughout the country and abroad. His collaboration with the sculptor Junyee, lead to his creation of the Coconut Palace in 1978, which helped launch the coconut lumber industry in the Philippines. Mañosa was given the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award by the City of Manila in 1982, and the Gold Medal of Merit by the United Architects of the Philippines in 1989. In 2009, Mañosa was proclaimed as a National Artist, but was later revoked, due to the questionable process of his nomination. Although he did clearly deserve the honor, his selection was question by how his name was added without due process, along with two undeserving honorees. Despite this, Mañosa continues with his work, promoting modernist organic approach to architecture, and was finally honored a National Artist in 2019.
The administrative area is not the activity center of the La Mesa Eco-Park, which is still a few hundred meters away. However, there are already some activity quarters nearby, such as a paint-ball course and boating pavilion and mini-lake. Sadly, the boating pavilion and mini-lake are not in use, as are other facilities in the vicinity; when the whole area was flooded and covered with debris during the onslaught of Tropical Storm Ondoy (international name, Typhoon Ketsana) on September 26-27, 2009. Although a Category 2 storm, Ondoy dumped a maximum recorded 454.9 mm precipitation, creating massive flooding. Due to the large volume of water, several dams released its contents, causing a great flash flood that washed away many homes. According to some the reports, the rivers rose more than 6 meters (20 ft). The officially recorded death toll through the country was at 671, but there were many cases of missing people that were never added to the official tally.
Getting to the center of the La Mesa Eco-Park is a quite walk through several hundred meters down. Ambling about the winding road and shaded by the canopy of trees, visitors perk their ears to listen to the light warbling of the birds. Although this is an easy stroll, many visitors forget that they will have to hike this very road uphill, to get back to their vehicles. Along the way down is a butterfly park, where visitors can interact with local species of butterflies.
At the end of the road, visitors are greeted by the first set of swimming pools and picnic grounds. Nearby are some food concession stands and souvenir shops.
Moving further into the La Mesa Eco Park, there is the Water Bike Pond, with a monument of the Roman god Neptune and Venus (Poseidon and Aphrodite to the Greeks) riding on top of a giant turtle, symbolizing fertility. This piece was created by the Fermin Gomez in 1952, when the NAWASA (forerunner of the MWSS) Director Manuel Mañosa Sr. envisioned the Balara Filtration Complex to be a tourist destination. The Balara Filters Park would be a must go to place, with its many swimming pools and other amenities, until its closure in the 1970s.
Fermin Yadao Gomez (1918-1984) is a classical sculptor, from Tarlac. Gomez graduated from the University of the Philippines (U.P.) School of Fine Arts, under the tutelage of Guillermo Tolentino. At the outbreak of World War II, Gomez returned to Tarlac, where he put up a bakya (wooden sandal) shop, where he carved the soles into intricate designs. In the town of Camiling, he created a 10 ft tall image of San Miguel de Arcangel for the 100 year old parish of the same name. This caught the attention of Enginer Manuel Mañosa of the National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA), who commissioned Gomez to create a piece that would embody the company’s service to the public. What Gomez created was a monument of the god Neptune with the goddess Venus astride on top of a giant turtle. This impressed Mañosa, who hired Fermin to create more sculptures for the company. With that, Gomez moved to the Balara area, in Quezon City. Shortly after his move, Guillermo Tolentino invites Gomez to teach at the UP School of Fine Arts, which was now at the Diliman campus, in Quezon City. After his retirement in 1973, Gomez and his family moved to Parang, Marikina; where he continued to create small scaled sculptures, until his death.
For more water activities, there is the larger swimming pool area and a fishing pond.
For a bit of adventure, there are horseback riding stables, a zip-line, and a wall-climbing and rappelling structure.
For those who want to hold their events or just practice some school dance under the trees, there are the Ipi-ipill and Narra Grove Pavilions (named after indigenous trees). There is also the Petron Amphitheater (built 2005), which sometimes serves as a camping ground.
For a little peace and quiet, there are many places to sit down and rest. This included Orchidarium, which was built in 2005.
With some much to do or nothing at all, the La Mesa Eco Park is a haven for city folk to get in touch with nature and energize their spirits from the daily rat race. Beyond the tourist activities, the La Mesa Eco Park is also a reminder of our connection to the natural environment and our responsibility to protect it, as a key to our own survival.