INTO THE WOODS OF QUEZON CITY. Finding an alternative route in order to avoid the terrible traffic situation in Metro Manila led us into discovering a place, deep within the forested area at the edge of Quezon City hills.
While passing along the winding road of Old Balara, we noticed amidst the overgrowth and towering trees are fountains with sculpture of cherubs and nymphs and post-war houses of wood in different stages of deterioration. This place is called Balara Filters Park.
BALARA FILTERS PARK. The Balara Filters Park is an old recreational area in Quezon City. It became a popular day-trip destination in the 1950s for its swimming pools, shaded picnic areas, and outdoor performances. Within the 150-acre park is the Balara Filtration Plant that filters and treats waters from the Angat, Ipo, and La Mesa dams in order to supply clean tap water to Metro Manila residents.
The park was closed to the public during the Marcos years. It was neglected for decades. It was rehabilitated by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and was reopened to the public by the Quezon City government in 2003.
CARRIEDO HILL. On a cloudy and drizzly Sunday afternoon, we explored the Balara Filters Park on foot, beginning at what looks like an ancient water tower with a sign that says Cerro de Carriedo. We entered the park behind it through an ornate wrought iron gate.
The park had the feel of a ghost town with structures that visitors sans a tour guide can only guess what they are for and the inspiration behind them.
WINDMILL PARK. Within the park is an allegorical statue of La Intrepida personified by a local heroine riding a karitela as her chariot being pulled by two carabaos. Past the La Intrepida is the original water tank built by the Metropolitan Water District for the Balara community. After the War, a bigger water tank was constructed. The original tank was dressed as windmill.
At the edge of the Windmill Park is a bust of philanthropist
Don Francisco Carriedo y Peredo overlooking the modern filtration facility below the hill.
THE CARRIEDO LEGACY. Before the Americans started building dams and filtration plants, the rivers continued to be the chief source of water for the city. For drinking, river water was crudely filtered through cloth in a tapayan and then clarified with tawas. Manila didn’t get running water until 1878, when the municipal waterworks was established by Governor-General Domingo Moriones with money from a fund that by then known as the Carriedo Legacy.
One of the obras pias of Don Francisco Carriedo y Peredo that he left in his will was for the building of a potable water system for the city of Manila. Don Francisco did not live long enough to see his legacy since he died in 1743. The Fuente de Carriedo in Plaza Sta. Cruz was built in honor of his pious work. A replica of the fountain by National Artist Napoleon Abueva is installed in front of the MWSS head office in Katipunan Avenue.
FOR WATERWORKS EMPLOYEES ONLY. We left Windmill Park when a security guard accosted us from taking pictures. He informed me that only MWSS employees are allowed at the Windmill Park on weekends. Only then I realized that we sneaked into an exclusive public park. So off we went to whatever we can see from the main road.
Past the post-war chalets that served as rest house and residences for waterworks employees during the 1940s. Most of them are in the stage of neglect. As we walked deep into the park, we heard the non-stop chirping of birds and crickets, occasionally broken by revving up engines from motorists. But when everything fell quiet, the experience in the park is like being transported back to a time when Quezon City was still wilderness.
WORKER’S MONUMENT. The Balara Filters has a grim history. Many lives where lost when it was being built. In an open field is the Worker’s Monument. It is as a memorial dedicated to the employees who died during the construction of the filters.
Some residents living near the area claim to witness ghostly apparitions and hear voices from the woods calling out for help. There are other stories that are best told on Halloween.
ANONAS AMPHITHEATER. Near the viewing deck of the Worker’s Monument are the entrances to the ancient Anonas Amphitheater. Named after Gregorio Anonas, the first Filipino director of the waterworks, this venue serves as a mute witness to live performances of National Artist for theater and music, Honorata “Atang” de la Rama.
We can only imagine from the iron gates with whimsical Art Deco design the Queen of Philippine Zarzuela, Atang de la Rama performing, Nabasag ang Banga from the popular zarzuela Dalagang Bukid. Just like the Metropolitan Theater, the Anonas Amphitheater must be restored as a sacred ground for the performing arts.
LION’S HEAD. The Balara Filter’s Park is not the usual public park to visit on a weekend because of the paranoid security personnel who kept accosting us to stop from taking photos. Their reason was it is a Sunday and picture taking is only allowed from Monday to Friday.
At the time of Mayor Sonny Belmonte, 21 million pesos was spent to rehabilitate QC public parks. Public funds was spent for the rehabilitation of the Balara Filters Park. There is interesting history to see here. Sayang that people are discouraged from exploring it on a weekend. It’s my lion’s head that prevailed to take pictures of what we can anyway.
EPILOGUE. And as we walk our way out of the woods at the edge of Quezon City, we sing these lines from a famous Broadway musical:
The way is clear. The light is good.
I have no fear, nor no one should.
The woods are just trees, the trees as just woods.
No need be afraid there…
Into the woods without delay, but be careful not to lose the way.
Into the wood who knows what may be lurking on the journey?
Into the woods to get the thing that makes it worth the journeying.
Into the woods! Into the woods! Into the woods!
Then out of the woods and home before dark!
*An excerpt from the Prologue of Into the Woods
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim