River redux


The Pasig is “a river with much history,” according to historian Ambeth Ocampo. “It is what the Thames is to London, what the Seine is to Paris, what the Tiber is to Rome… The Pasig is older than Manila or May-nila… [It] is older than all the other cities that have grown along its banks.”

Stretching 25 kilometers, the Pasig used to spur commerce and culture. But decades of neglect and the wanton disposal of human and industrial wastes in its waters have all but killed the once proud river, making of it a murky, stinking waterway. Both the government and the private sector have taken notice of the problem, with mixed results. Indeed, the cleanup of the Pasig has been an on-and-off operation spanning administrations—which is a real shame given the river’s commanding place in history and its continuing role, as in other countries, as indicator of progress (or lack of it).

Yet there are examples to prove that a huge undertaking such as the rehabilitation of the Pasig is not just a pipe dream. The Iloilo River in the Visayas shows that it can be done. The 15-kilometer river had also deteriorated because of pollution and uncontrolled urban expansion. In 2011, the Iloilo City government embarked on a serious rehabilitation program. Today, the Iloilo River has been cleaned up, and a spacious esplanade on which people gather and stroll in the evenings runs along it. More significantly, the river is a finalist for the 2013 Thiess International Riverprize award, a prestigious environmental award solely for river management.

That “a once-dead river” has been named a finalist for an international environmental award “sends a clear message,” pointed out Sen. Franklin Drilon, a native of Iloilo and an ardent supporter of the rehabilitation program. “The redevelopment of rivers in the country is bound to be a success with strong political will and cooperation among the people,” he said.

Other inspiring examples may be seen in the esteros in Manila that have been cleared of garbage and illegal structures and rehabilitated. In this, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission has been most effective, having cleaned up four such waterways including the once-notorious Estero de Paco (now a veritable tourist destination). The PRRC is working on more esteros this year; its work is envisioned to culminate in a grand plan to clean up the Pasig by the time President Aquino leaves office in 2016.

By its very name, the PRRC chaired by Gina Lopez has undertaken a daunting, swimming-upstream project. Established in 1999 through Executive Order No. 54, it has had a hit-and-miss relationship with the river that it has been trying to revive as well as with the squatter colonies on the riverbanks that it has been trying to relocate. It has produced noteworthy results but it has also had setbacks, including, per a recent report by the Commission on Audit, managing to put up only one of 10 materials recovery facilities over the last four years and in the process rendering millions of pesos worth of recycling equipment useless.

There have been other plans floated by various agencies, such as the planting by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of mangroves on the riverbanks as a means to fast-track the Pasig’s revival. There have been fun runs and sponsorship programs for big companies to gather funds for the rehab program. The relocation of families living on and by the esteros is a continuing effort. (During his term, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim said cleaning up the esteros was the job, not of the city government, but of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.)

And no one is giving up on this massive Pasig cleanup. The Aquino administration has pledged P10 billion a year for it. “The river is a very important component of a city’s growth. There is no way of accurately measuring the total value of bringing it back to life,” Lopez has said. The bottom line is that even a near-dead waterway can be revived if political will and sufficient funds are brought to bear on it. Here’s an ideal project for the administration’s public-private partnership program: averting the Pasig River’s end and making possible its reinvigoration.

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  • mekeni62

    “The plank in Gina Lopez’s eyes”…..Manila Standard.

    Lopez might wish to take time to respond to the report of the Commission on Audit that her much publicized pet project to rehabilitate the Pasig river has been bungled and P17.7M of taxpayers’ money has been lost.

    The COA 2012 report said PRCC wasted millions worth of recycling equipments because the commission decided to buy the equipments in advance before the facilities were ready. It turns out that it was able to build only one functioning materials recovery facility when it committed to build 10 in four years…..

    Read and Gina Lopez seems to have a lot of explaining to do. Dagdag budget pa?

    • Leila Puentebella

      Obviously this editorial is a PR hack’s job paid by Gina Lopez of course and it is her way of answering these charges by the COA you speak of. halatang halata.

  • Descarte5E

    Nakatutuwa rin magbasa ng comments, people trying to fault evryone else except themselves or us. Poor squatter people, forevery misery in Metro Manila they always take the blame. What about us especially those who live in Metro Manila? Almost all of the storm drainage that we use end up in the Pasig river. Where do we dump those used cooking oil? Did we ever bother ask our kasambahays how they disposed of thoseoil? Where do we have our cars washed? Did we ever bother ask those shop where the water contaminated with grease and oil end up? A thin film of oil is detrimental to the river ecosysem. That is just the unsuspecting oil. Then we can check our laundry activities. Do we make sure that the laundry wastwater go to the sewer and not to storm drain? Did we ever ask MWSS, Maynilad or Manila water if the sewer system is in order? Yes, we dont have the systems and facilitiea that would prevent us from contributing to the pollution of the Pasig river but at the end of the day, it is our waste that go the river and we are all partly to blame. Don’t ask me Im also clueless about how to solve the problem. One thing for sure, give me an unlimited budget and I will build the most sophisticated wastewater treatment facility in the world.

    • Mamang Pulis

      what sewer system? storm and sewer drain is one.

      your average ‘mantika/sebo/tirang ulam a.k.a. kanin baboy’ goes to our majestic canals…I remember reading a fastfood chain being penalized for not setting up a proper grease trap in their establshment…ok..they did set up one but does it solve the problem? …sinabi mo na ang lahat….

      • Descarte5E

        Yon pong mga modern cities na nabanggit sa taas tulad ng London, Paris at Rome, nakahiwalay po ang linya ng sewer at ng storm water. Yong sewer waste po ay properly treated bago itapon sa ilog o kung saan mang water bodies. Marami po kompanya sa Pilipinas hindi sumusunod sa Clean Water Act at yon naman pong household or domestic waste hanggang ngayon ay wala pang solusyun ang pamahalaan. Ang pagkakaintindi ko po sa kontrata ng Maynilad at Manila water ay kasama ang rehabilitation ng sewer lines kaya ganon na lang kamahal ang singil sa tubig. Mahirap po solusyunan ang problema dahil wala pong political will.

      • Mamang Pulis

        yes po..aware ako kahit paano, nahahalo si MP sa inspection ng mg WWTP…

  • Leila Puentebella

    BOOO. How low can the inquirer go. This is an obvious PR job by Gina Lopez whose hypocrisy includes cutting down trees in palawan ancestral IP lands for her “glam-ping” “glamour camping” site cottages being rented out at P25,000 per night. I am surprised this piece makes for an editorial and in this paper! She should answer COA audit findings of anomaly in Pasig River and La mesa Dam instead.

  • Roy Villarama

    I’ll admit cleaning up the Pasig River is daunting. But what really irritates me about Gina Lopez’s actions is her holier-than-thou attitude and her apparent detachment from reality. She condemns big companies for poisoning the environment but has done nothing to correct the dangerous clean up of the contamination from that fuel leak of West Tower area in Makati City’s most densely- populated area of Bangkal. Is it because West Tower belongs to the Lopezes? The method being employed at Bangkal is meant only for unpopulated areas only because the process releases toxins into the environment. She condemns others of land encroachment but moves in on Indigenous People’s ancestral lands for some ditzy glamor camping project. She is strident in promoting her projects but suddenly activates her cloaking device when her family’s companies are involved. (I just remembered the EDC landslides with the 15+ deaths.) And getting back to the Pasig River project, let’s not forget the reason the COA was interested in it to begin with: Mismanagement of public funds. They’re also in her looking into her foundations’ alleged profit-grabbing at the La Mesa Ecopark.

    Sad to say, Miss Lopez’s batting average isn’t exactly sterling. But the failure would be more tolerable if her double standard wasn’t so blatant.

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