by Albert Vincent F. Barretto

Water binds people together and helps establish communities where culture flourishes and life is nourished.

It is precisely for this reason that the town of Dapitan was established beside a calm bay at the northernmost tip of the Zamboanga Peninsula.  During the last decade of the 19th century, Dapitan witnessed two pivotal and connected events: the arrival of Jose Rizal and the construction of the town’s public waterworks.

As early as June 1892, The Mission Superior of the Jesuits in the Philippines, Father Pablo Pastells, visited Dapitan to check on their missionary work. He found out that water wells were insufficient in providing potable water for the populace. The parish priest of Dapitan, Father Antonio Obach, recalls in one of his letters:

While on visitation of Dapitan in June 1892, Father Pablo Pastells, Mission Superior, accompanied by Fr. [Joaquin] Sancho, observed that these people were drinking no other water than that of wells. No doubt, this contributed to the precarious health and yellowish complexion noticeable among the inhabitants. This gave birth to the plan for a water system.

The yellowish complexion referred to in the letter indicates jaundice caused by the hepatitis virus in the liver  due to contaminated water. This made the waterworks project an immediate need that Father Pastells felt compelled to provide. The Jesuits’ quest for a source of water brought them to the pristine waters of Linao stream located north of the town proper. Father Obach wrote more about it in his letter:

All of us priests went to examine the waters of a site called Linao, a little more than two kilometers from the town. The waters are very good and well-purified since they come from far, flowing down among steep rocks like waterfalls.

The word “linao” is a Visayan word for “peaceful.” The site might have been given such a name due to its tranquil and serene location. Coincidentally, “linao” means “clear” in Tagalog. The term fits the description of clear, fresh water flowing from the site. Interestingly, a Tagalog man was about to be exiled and would live nearby.

After the Jesuit priests determined the source of water for its waterworks project, they submitted their proposal to government officials and were instantly given clearance on 21 July 1892. Father Obach wrote it in his letter:

The deed was immediately drawn up and approved by the authorities afterwards. [The] approval came on July 21, and we celebrated the news very joyfully to everyone’s satisfaction. The night, the music went with the leading figures around the streets. They were carrying three huge lanterns with these inscriptions: (1) “WATER SYSTEM INITIATED BY FR. JOAQUIN SANCHO, S.J.,” (2) “WATER SYSTEM APPROVED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS, DON EULOGIO DESPUJOL,” (3) “WATER SYSTEM STARTED BY DON RICARDO CARNICERO, POLITICO-MILITARY COMMANDANT OF THIS DISTRICT [OF DAPITAN.” [That] day, there were diana, pealing of the church bells, solemn Mass, and contests to climb a greased pole. In the afternoon, races for children; for the men, sack races, horse races, carabao races, the last the most entertaining for the people.

Dapitanons were indeed grateful for the approval of the waterworks project, which they celebrated with festive activities and games, a good opening salvo for the upcoming feast of the town’s patron saint on 25 July. The water system was deemed a prestigious infrastructure during the late Spanish period. It shared with the Carriedo Waterworks in Manila and the Balingasag Waterworks in Misamis, the distinction of being one of the known places with a waterworks system equipped with aqueducts or pipes.

Jose Rizal arrived in Dapitan on 17 July 1892 as an exile and described his place of exile in the introduction to a novel that he planned to write:

It is located on a beautiful bay which looks towards the West, on a kind of island especially made for it as if to isolate it from the vulgar world, a beautiful river which, to accommodate it, has gladly consented to divide itself into two, its two silvery arms encircling it and bringing it toward the sea as an offering, for being the most beautiful thing that it could find in its tortuous and undulating pilgrimage through mountains and valleys, through woodlands and plains.

The beautiful river that he described was the Liboran River, which splits into two river outlets in the area of Bagting and Polo before emptying into Dapitan Bay. Although Dapitan was surrounded by water, the water from Liboran River was not fit to drink. When Rizal quickly learned about the proposed project of the Linao water system, he immediately commended Don Ricardo Carnicero, the Politico-Military Commandant, who was one of the proponents of the water system. He praised Don Carnicero through a poem that he gave during the commandant’s birthday in August 1892:

The streets of Dapitan that
Before on moonless nights
Had cause a dismal dread,
Now smile with many lights;
Work projects all around
Unceasing work everywhere:
A school here, there a road,
The mind is planning there
To bring the water down
From nearby Linaw clear.

The Linao water system project began when a Jesuit brother named Juan Costa, an expert potter, arrived in Dapitan on 25 April 1893. He was known for building the waterworks in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental. He immediately built a kiln in an area rich in red clay soil, which was situated near the Pitosan River. The kiln was erected for baking bricks, gutters, pipes, and other essential materials for the project. Father Obach wrote more about Brother Costa in his letter:

The Mission Superior promised that the intelligent Bro. Juan Costa would direct the works that had to be done. He is known for having built the water system in Balingasag. But he could not come immediately as we wanted because he could not leave behind the work he was doing. Brother finally arrived on April 25, 1893 and he immediately set about building a big shed. A kiln was erected for baking bricks, gutters, pipes, and everything needed for the project. For their part, the people drew up an act promising volunteer work one day a month.

There was a delay for almost a year in the implementation of the Linao water system project as the Jesuit priests of Dapitan waited for Brother Costa’s arrival. Nevertheless, the Dapitanons promised to do voluntary work under the supervision of Brother Costa. It was easy for Brother Costa to gather the raw materials that he needed for the project as the town of Dapitan was rich in natural resources, such as red clay soil for making bricks, gutters, and pipes; round rocks found in the rivers used for leveling the foundation of the clay pipes; and limestone, a sedimentary rock abundantly found along the coastline of Dapitan, which was processed to make lime powder for making mortar mixture.

Around June 1894, the Linao water system dam was constructed. Father Obach further detailed the development:

At the moment, the dam is now ready, and about 200 meters of the aqueduct. When this reaches the [Liboran] river, it will be necessary to close it up, and this will cost quite a lot because of the huge amount of water flowing in and out with the tides. But it will be of incalculable benefit to the people for irrigating the immense plains that will be cultivated, either for wet-rice planting or for the coconuts and other plants on what are now mangroves, which disappear with the high tide.

Meanwhile, Rizal did his part for the Linao water system as he was known for being a perito agrimensor or expert surveyor, a skill he learned at the Ateneo Municipal. In May 1895, Father Obach wrote about Rizal’s expertise in his letter:

Bro. Costa is bringing the scheme made by Don Jose Rizal for the [Linao] water system. Drawn by such an engineer, it does not lack precision.

In February 1895, while the Linao waterworks was underway, Rizal began making his own water supply system by tapping a stream found inside his private estate in Talisay, a place in Dapitan. It served his household and farm needs. He mentioned it in his letter to his sister Trinidad:

The dam that I am having built is paralyzed for lack of lime, but it is already very high. There are 14 boys at home and there is one more who likes to come.

Rizal and his students resumed his private waterworks project in mid-March 1895 after he obtained sufficient lime to make mortar concrete. Rizal wrote about it to his best friend Ferdinand Blumentritt:

I have undertaken some works on my land. I am constructing a dike in order to have a water depository for the dry season. The water is now more than three meters deep; the wall has a base two meters wide… It is all made of live rock, sand, lime, and cement and constructed by boys of thirteen to fourteen under the direction of one of twenty. They did it as play.

Some of the materials used in building Rizal’s private waterworks, such as clay gutters and pipes, were surplus materials from Linao Waterworks made by Brother Costa. He was further inspired by the waterworks, which led him to construct a brick-making machine. He told Blumentritt in a letter dated 20 November 1895:

I have made a wooden machine for making bricks and I believe that with it I can make at least 6,000 a day; well now, I lack an oven. When I was in Belgium, I saw bricks being made outdoors, without ovens; and at Baden I saw also a pile of bricks in a field. I suppose that in Bohemia they also bake brick outdoors sometimes. If that is so, please tell me how they arrange the bricks so that the heat may not escape too much.

Around 1895, Jose Rizal built a public fountain with a sculpted lion’s head faucet, which was similar to a water fountain that he saw on his trip to Heidelberg, Germany, way back in 1886. The fountain was called Fuente de Nuestra Señora del Carmen and was the only outlet of the Linao water system. It was located on the Liboran River bank in front of the terminal of Calle Marquez de Peña Plata.

From 1895 until the 1950s, the Linao waterworks supplied Dapitanons with fresh drinking water. As modern water systems were introduced in the second half of the 20th century, the Linao waterworks became obsolete. The Fuente de Nuestra Señora del Carmen was demolished to give way for the construction of the Bagting Bridge.

At present, the Linao water system is in ruins and is almost forgotten by today’s generation. Only a handful of people, usually historians and heritage enthusiasts, know of its existence and location. Traces of clay pipes and a dilapidated brick water reservoir can still be seen in the neglected Linao waterworks site. On the other hand, Rizal’s private waterworks in Talisay has become one of the notable landmarks inside the present-day Museo ni Jose Rizal Dapitan.

Waterworks in Dapitan, namely the Linao and Talisay water systems, were not just infrastructure for conveying water but also served as symbols of the skillfulness and aspirations of the Dapitanon people. For Rizal, the water systems in Dapitan became an opportunity to help the community and an instrument to practice and execute his technical knowledge as an expert surveyor, and even his artistic skills. Truly, water brings life to places wherever it flows.


Sketch of Linao waterworks drawn by Jose Rizal


The possible water source for the Linao waterworks was found in the upper part of the Linao stream. A dam made of bricks and boulders was built in this area.

Stream found inside Jose Rizal’s estate in Talisay, Dapitan, where Rizal sourced his own water supply for his private Talisay waterworks

Fine red clay soil found near the Pitosan River in present-day Barangay Maria Cristina. The site used to have a brick kiln that produced clay bricks and pipes, which were vital to the construction and maintenance of the waterworks in Dapitan.


Round rocks extracted from the riverbeds of Dapitan. These were used to make a leveled layer of foundation before clay pipes were installed. These were also mixed with lime to create mortar mixture.

Limestone is a sedimentary rock abundantly found along the coastline of Dapitan. It is processed to make lime powder, which is used in making mortar mixture. Another excellent source of lime is coral rock.

Remaining clay pipes of the Linao waterworks found in their original site. Most of the clay pipes were destroyed either by human activity or vegetation.

Ruins of the Linao waterworks reservoir found on a hill in Matagubtob

Front view of Rizal’s dam, 1960s

Rizal’s Talisay waterworks dam is now a prominent landmark inside the Museo ni Jose
Rizal Dapitan.

The fountain of the Linao waterworks served as the only outlet for the potable water coming from the Linao stream. The fountain was also called Fuente de Nuestra Señora del Carmen and was known to contain the terracotta lion head faucet sculpted by Rizal. The Linao water system was inaugurated in 1895 and served the Dapitanons until the 1950s.

Original drinking fountain from Wilhelmsfeld, Heidelberg, Germany where Jose Rizal often drank during his stay in that said village. This drinking fountain became the inspiration for Jose Rizal’s fountain containing a sculpted lion head faucet in Dapitan. This drinking fountain was later transferred from Germany to the Philippines.



Dapitanon, Noel G. Villaroman, 2018

Jesuit Missionary Letters from Mindanao, Vol. 4, Jose S. Arcilla, S.J., 2000

Jose Rizal: Sculptor, Celestino M. Palma, III, 2020

Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal, Austin Craig, 1913

Lolo José: An Intimate and Illustrated Portrait of José Rizal, Asunción López Bantug, 2008

Rizal: Model Citizen of Dapitan, Juan Claros Orendain, 1966