Pasig River’s resurrection
Editorial

Pasig River’s resurrection

/ 05:03 AM March 31, 2024

Easter symbolizes the renewal of life when Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. But renewal of life need not be limited to the biblical or spiritual context and can be a national or global concept—including how mankind, as stewards of the planet, takes care of Earth’s resources and ensures a sustainable future for generations to come.

The recent announcement of San Miguel Corp. (SMC) that it was dropping its plan to build a six-lane expressway over the Pasig River due to concerns that it would be harmful to the environment can be viewed in this manner. That the conglomerate has acknowledged the strong opposition against the proposed P81.53-billion Pasig River Expressway (PAREx) not only proves that public sentiment still has weight but also gives hope for the river’s long-touted resurrection.

Esplanade similar to Iloilo’s

SMC had planned to build the expressway connecting the cities of Manila, Mandaluyong, Makati, Pasig, Taguig, and the municipality of Taytay to help ease Metro Manila’s traffic problem. A groundbreaking was held in September 2021 despite criticisms from urban planning advocates, concerned citizens, and pro-sustainability architects including Paulo Alcazaren who laid out alternatives on social media.

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Alcazaren’s proposals included developing both sides of the 25-kilometer-long river into an esplanade similar to Iloilo’s that would cost only P1.5 billion. He also proposed constructing 12 pedestrian/bicycle bridges along the Pasig.

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One of the most compelling counter-arguments against the project came from the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People or Agham which said that PAREx, instead of addressing the traffic problem, will only increase the volume of vehicles on the roads and create a concentration of air, noise, and light pollution that will induce more heat in Metro Manila, already an inferno on any given day.

Public clamor

Advocates said it would also kill the river’s surviving ecosystem. Why not, as Agham suggested, develop the areas near the river into green spaces instead?

It may have taken the conglomerate almost three years to finally heed public clamor to drop PAREx but with SMC’s announcement, the only logical next step moving forward is to go full throttle on the river’s rehabilitation.

The public already had a glimpse of what it would be like if it was fully restored with lighted walkways, fountains, and recreation areas during the launch of the Pasig Bigyang Buhay Muli (PBBM) project last January. Indeed, this is only the latest effort to rehabilitate the Pasig, which served as a major trade and commerce route during the Spanish colonial period.

Executive Order No. 35, which President Marcos signed last year creating the Inter-Agency Council for the Pasig River Urban Development, said as much: “[T]he Pasig River holds immense historical and cultural significance, as a vital waterway which facilitates trade, transportation, and communication, and serves as a prominent landmark and tourist attraction.”

Thriving and sustainable hub

The river’s rehabilitation—or resurrection from its dead state if you may—began in 1999 and had been hobbled by shifting priorities every time there was a change in leadership. Progress—glacial as it may seem—has been made with the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission winning the first Asia Riverprize in 2018 for its efforts in bringing aquatic life back to the river.

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Countries like Singapore, Thailand, and Japan can serve as inspiration on how to fully transform the riverside into a thriving and sustainable hub that will attract businesses and tourists. We don’t even have to look that far—Iloilo’s River Esplanade is a testament that it can be done.

“The transformation we would like to see in Pasig River is not cosmetic in nature, we will not paper over the river’s fundamental problems, nor whitewash its drive while leaving the old and rotten still there,” Mr. Marcos said at the launch of PBBM.

Renewal of life

While the P18-billion PBBM project is privately funded, the rest of the rehabilitation efforts, mainly the relocation of up to 10,000 informal settler families, will cost taxpayers P10 billion. Now this is the most difficult and tricky part and certainly not the first time that riverside communities will be offered relocation. The government must ensure that the settlers will receive adequate assistance including the assurance of livelihood opportunities in their new settlements, and that, once this has been done, no new communities will be allowed to sprout along the banks.

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The collective voice raised against PAREx is already a good indication that Filipinos can work together to sustain and nurture the country’s environment and natural resources. The revival of Pasig River might as well be symbolic of what today, Easter Sunday, represents: the renewal of life to, in Mr. Marcos’ own words, “serve the present, while preserving it for the future.”

TAGS: Easter Sunday, opinion, Pasig River, San Miguel Corp

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