Almost parallel to Colon St., we have the Estero Parian which is now heavily silted. A hundred years ago, this Estero was in fact navigable and contributed to the wealth of the Parian District as well as to Colon St., itself where stores and warehouses, then and now, are located.
Let us take a look at downtown Cebu City through historical maps, and let us see how Estero Parian almost completely disappeared.
This is a map of Ciudad de Zebu in 1643. Note that the city is surrounded by a waterway, some have speculated that this is a moat, but in fact it is not. It is actually the Estero Parian with its Northern and southern inlets. Towards the middle of the waterway, is a a depression, a tidal basin where seawater would pool in during high tide. In the early part of the Spanish Occupation, downtown Cebu was pretty much still swamp land, in fact, most of the coastal areas of Cebu City today is still marshy swamp land.
In 1699 when this Site Plan drafted, one can still see the southern and northern inlets of the tidal basin as can be seen on the bottom right side of this photo. (the map is not oriented north).
In the 1700s, a more accurate topographical map was commissioned by the Spaniards. This map would reveal that downtown Cebu City was actually like an island, similar to Cordova today, with tidal basin in what is now Manalili St.,
Eventually in the early 1800s, the land to the east of the Parian district was filled in. What used to be seashore eventually became the pier area. The Northern part of the Estero Parian greatly contributed to the wealth of those living in Parian and in Colon since cascos would take on cargo from the boats docked near or outside the pier, passing through the inlet in the area now occupied by the Tabacalera Bridge, on its way to the warehouses and stores along Colon St.
By the middle towards the late 1800s, the tidal basin disappeared, and the southern inlet changed course which eventually disappeared. But because the tidal basin is in fact a depression in the land, water would still pour into the area during a heavy downpour.
Let us remember that just a century ago, during the American period, the Estero Parian, or the northern end of it, was still navigable. It was wide enough for small boats to carry its cargoes from the erstwhile dock area before it was moved closer to Fort San Pedro. This photo from the 1940s during the bombing raids conducted by the Americans would show how the Estero Parian looked like. (Photo not oriented to north)
With the passage of time, establishments encroached on the waterway easements and structures were built over the waterway and the Estero became heavily silted. With less than responsible residents, drains became clogged with garbage and soil which also contributed to the flooding of downtown Cebu, especially in the Colon area.
The flooding issue in downtown Cebu City is not as simple as just putting in new drains, expanding the existing ones, and teaching residents not to throw their trash anywhere. An understanding of the geography of the area will also benefit the City.
In summary, downtown Cebu City (geographically speaking) is:
1. swampy marshland;
2. approximately 0.5-5meters above sea level;
3. old waterways/esteros are heavily silted;
4. old waterways/esteros are encased in culverts underneath buildings;
5. has a depression near the Manalili area (V. Gullas)
How do we treat this problem? It should not take a lifetime if we want a livable Cebu.
Atty. Mark Gregory Avila has kindly granted me permission to post this photo of the Estero Parian as viewed from Colonade Mall.