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RESTORING PASIG RIVER TO ITS OLD GLORY

0 Comments 24 January 2011

RESTORING PASIG RIVER TO ITS OLD GLORY

By Pepper Marcelo

Once a vital transport route and a vital ecosystem linking Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay, the 25-kilometer Pasig River has been continually neglected and polluted for decades. As a result, it has been deemed “biologically dead” by some experts. Garbage coming from informal settlers residing along its banks, as well as the wastes dumped by factories operating near the river have all contributed to its continual decline.

Rehabilitation efforts , however, started only in 1989 with the establishment of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Program. But it wasn’t until then-President Joseph Estrada signed Executive Order No. 54, launching the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) 10 years later, have there been concerted efforts to rehabilitate the river to its pristine glory.

In conjunction with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), PRRC’s work has seen noticeable improvements through the years. A widespread crackdown on illegal dumping of garbage along the river as well as tributaries, esteros, and creeks leading to it, has been implemented without letup. The water is also being treated with catchments, filtration systems and various helpful micro-organisms and fungi to bring life to fish, plants and other organisms.

The “centerpiece component” of the PRRC is the Dredging Project, which consists of removing contaminated materials from the whole stretch of the river. The project is being undertaken with the expert assistance of Baggerwerken Decloedt & Zoon (BDZ), a Belgian firm with experience in land reclamation and environmental dredging.

Two months ahead of its December 2010 deadline, the firm announced that it had completed the dredging of at least 2.5 million cubic meters of silt from the river, deepening the waterway to allow bigger boats and barges to navigate through.

“The 17-kilometer stretch of the Pasig River now has a draft of -6 meters at low water level, allowing improved navigation and flood control. The removal of the contaminated silt improved the water quality,” the BDZ said in a statement.

“To allow for its overall rehabilitation, further work will be required on the revetment works along the Pasig River, the sewage systems leading into the Pasig River, and the rules and regulations on dumping of waste and emissions,” it added.

In February 2010, a massive clean-up and rehabilitation campaign was launched under the banner “Kapit Bisig sa Ilog Pasig” (KBSIP). The project is led by the ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. (AFI) in partnership with the PRRC, with the goal of “zero toxic input into the Pasig River,” specifically the tributaries, esteros, and creeks.

ABS-CBN Foundation Managing Director and PRRC Chairperson Gina Lopez called the initiative a “genuine display of bayanihan,” with both the public and private sectors joining forces to bring life back to a river “intimately connected to our history, culture and origin as a people.”

KBSIP aims to raise Php700 million for technology and operational expenses to clean up the river within a seven-year period. It has implemented various strategies, including Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), information, education, and communication (IEC) campaigns, relocation, as well as area redevelopment.

One of its recent major activities to raise awareness and funding was a “fun run”, dubbed the “10.10.10 A Run for the Pasig River.” It attracted a record 160,000 runners, with 116,086 finishing the race.

“We broke the world record. It was peaceful. It was joyful. It was a sea of humanity advocating for change,” Lopez tells Planet Philippines in an interview. “I could feel how the run was going to result in a significant shift in consciousness.”

The fun run generated some Php12 million in contributions, to be used to start cleaning operations in the polluted sections of the river near Malacañang Palace. “The plan is to finish [cleaning] Estero de Paco and to start and even hopefully finish the network of esteros behind Malacañang. The massive show of support will help greatly in facilitating these objectives,” Lopez adds.

Other forthcoming activities by the KBSIP include a nationwide songwriting competition, as well as the first-ever “Agos Awards,” honoring individuals, schools, organizations, government offices, and private corporations for their donations.

KBSIP has also instituted a program to relocate informal settlers to different sites. Almost 8,000 informal settlers reside along the banks of Pasig River, accounting for 60 percent of the garbage dumped on the river.

Since June 2009, a total of 221 families living along Estero de Paco have been moved to a 107-hectare site in Calauan, Laguna, and an additional 181 families to the PRRC site in Montalban, Rizal. These resettlement areas include “a full range of community amenities,” such as schools, day care facilities and livelihood opportunities for its residents.

The project also plans to relocate an additional 4,040 informal settlers from Quezon City, Mandaluyong, Tondo, Manila, Makati-Guadalupe, Pasig, and Taguig.

After the relocation of informal settlers comes the development of the river banks into linear parks, river walks and promenades that also serve as “buffer zone” and protection between the river and adjacent communities. A total of 24.6 kilometers of linear parks have been completed in the cities of Manila, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig and Taguig.

The PRRC has also set up Environmental Preservation Areas (EPAs) in the form of linear parks, walkways and greenbelts on both sides of the Pasig River. Thus far, a total of 24.64 linear meters of parks have been completed extending from the Manila to Taguig City.

“My game plan is to show significant improvements in three indicators: the economy, peace and order and health,” says Lopez. “Once this done my projection is that there will be a snowball effect. We will have established a template.”

The BDZ urges Metro Manila residents and those living in the Marikina watershed to take good care of the Pasig River to reduce siltation and revive the waterway. “As long as it is considered an open sewer rather than as part of the natural environment of Metro Manila, the ongoing ‘abuse’ of the Pasig River will continue,” explains Lopez. “All will come to nothing if people do not put the Pasig River back into their hearts.”

She continues: “If you look at all the great metropolitan cities in the world, you will see that they are built beside rivers, and if we want Manila to be great again, then we should start by restoring Pasig River to its old glory.” (SEE RELATED STORY)

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