An expressway that entombs the Pasig River
The plan to build an expressway on virtually the whole stretch of the Pasig River rests on two postulates. First, the river is almost dead, we might as well kill it. Second, Metro Manila is ugly, we might as well make it uglier.
I had the chance to talk last week to some of the well-meaning citizens who are fighting to save the Pasig River from the project called the Pasig River Expressway (PAREx). The PAREx is a proposed 19-kilometer, six-lane elevated expressway project to be built, wholly or partially, on top of the most historic river of our country. The project is led by San Miguel Holdings Corp. (SMHC) for an estimated cost of P95.4 billion. It’s being marketed as a solution to decongest traffic in the metropolis.
On so many fronts, the PAREx is a disaster in the making. It’s a disaster for traffic, to the environment, and to our cultural heritage.
The Pasig River is now the only remaining natural feature of Metro Manila that links its past to its present. Build a humongous expressway over it, and the absolute uglification of the metropolis is complete. The National Capital Region will be entirely unrecognizable from its past, totally covered by a jungle of cement. The Pasig River is like a bloodline that runs through the metropolis. Build an expressway over it, and the river will look like a hideous scar that cuts across the face of the metropolis.
The Pasig River holds so much promise in giving character to the heart of our nation. It can be a continuous stretch of 26 km of tree-lined promenades on both its banks, where people can stroll, jog, bike, picnic, gather to talk or play, or simply while away time. Iloilo City has already shown the way, with its beautiful 9-km River Esplanade. The proponents of PAREx should be made to go to Iloilo City, required to meditate on the full stretch of the River Esplanade, so they will realize that—in comparison—they will be venturers, architects, and builders of a repugnant project that will entomb the Pasig River in cement. Instead of an expressway, the government should muster political will to close down polluters, clean the river, and restore it to its old glory.
The idea to utilize the Pasig River for mobility is correct, but it should be for mobilizing people and not vehicles. Expressways are for cars and not people. Just compare the enormous total space occupied by private vehicles which ply our expressways, versus the miniscule number of people who ride in them.
There are four suitable ways to use the Pasig River for people’s mobility. First, build promenades along its banks and line them with trees in order to enable people to walk with convenience. Second, provide bicycle lanes along its banks in order to encourage commuters to bike to work or for leisure. Third, revive the train route that used to ply a big stretch of the Pasig River, running from Makati all the way to Antipolo. Try using Waze, and it will show the train tracks that used to run alongside or near the Pasig River. This train route will serve as public transport for the masses, instead of a freeway that caters exclusively to the rich who can afford private vehicles. Fourth, improve the ferry system that plies the Pasig River. In fact, an expansive ferry system should be set up connecting destinations along the Pasig River and Manila Bay coastal communities.
Building another expressway will not decongest traffic. It will instead cause even more traffic congestion, as other foreign cities have learned too late. Expressways will encourage people to buy private cars, and the expressways will become inadequate in no time. In fact, even our existing expressways are generators of humongous traffic. They create bottlenecks in their entrances and exits. The way to solve traffic is to reduce people’s dependence on private cars. This can be done by expanding alternatives such as trains, bus rapid transit, reliable bike lanes, and pleasurable walkways.
The Pasig River is the setting of memorable passages in “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.” In addition to their having been written by our national hero, Jose Rizal, these novels played pivotal roles in arming our people with a vision to form a nation. The river provided the scenery depicted in many of the paintings of our first national artist, Fernando Amorsolo. Scholars point to prominent kingdoms of early Philippine history that emerged and prospered along the Pasig riverbanks. The Pasig River is an integral part of our priceless cultural treasures.
There’s a law prohibiting the demolition of 50-year old houses and buildings because they’re deemed as “important cultural property.” If mere man-built structures are given such importance and protection, shouldn’t we safeguard more, a storied river that has predated our civilization, made our cultural traditions flourish, and played a major role in forming our nation?
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