MANILA, Philippines - Edgardo Sacramento, 45, still remembers how Estero de Paco looked and smelled like back in the 70s. "Nakakaligo pa kami dun. May isda pa tulad ng tilapia," he said.
In the 80s, as illegal settlers moved in by the bank of the estero, the waterway leading to Pasig River began to be filthy. "Naging madumi. Dumami ang squatters. Pati ilog nasakop na," said Edgardo, a sari-sari store owner and team leader of barangay tanods in Paco, Manila.
And the filth and stink just kept on building up.
Wanting to do what he can to keep the river clean, Edgardo volunteered to be a River Warrior last April and underwent training, which he topped.
Now he wants his family to be part of the effort, thus he led his children Melgar, 25, and Ezramae, 10, to join last month's River Warrior training program.
River Warriors program
"This is how we are going to clean the river," explained Gina Lopez, managing director of ABS-CBN Foundation. She said the people living along the esteros have to be taught to take care of the waterways. "It's transformation, a grassroots movement of values--that's how it's going to happen. We're telling them, 'this is also your river. You're doing this for your future.'"
|More than 200 'river warriors' were knighted as they committed to help keep Pasig River clean. Credit: ABS-CBN Foundation
Lopez led the knighting ceremony Friday afternoon of some 200 new River Warriors, all community volunteers living near the esteros leading to Pasig River. The event capped a three-day training module at the La Mesa Ecopark in Fairview, Quezon City organized by ABS-CBN Foundation’s Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig (KBPIP) and in cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), Bantay Bata 163, Sagip Kapamilya and the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC).
The new River Warriors, the second batch, are made up of 51 kids, 53 teenagers, and 100 adults. Their ages range from 5 to 67, and mostly come from the community around Estero de Paco. Others come from Baseco, Sta. Mesa, Sta. Ana, Mandaluyong, and Quezon City.
|The second batch of 'river warriors' took their oath in May 2010. Credit: ABS-CBN Foundation
They underwent training on law enforcement, leadership, discipline, personality development and self-defense. As River Warriors, they have taken an oath to safeguard the Pasig River and the waterways leading to it through community mobilization and clean-ups. This will ensure the sustainability of rehabilitation and consciousness-changing efforts on the Pasig River and nearby communities.
The first batch of River Warriors, which included Edgardo, numbered 25.
Col. Rafael Valencia, NCR Command Joint Task Force Land head, said 55 soldiers acted as trainors to this second batch of River Warriors. They taught the volunteers military drills, calisthenics, basic self-defense including taekwondo, arnis, and karate, swimming, and leadership. "One of the concerns is how to guard the estero from those throwing unnecessary garbage. They were also taught what to do pag may encounter o trouble," he said.
PNP training service director Gen. Charles Calima, Jr. said 14 policemen trained this second batch of River Warriors. "We taught them what laws are applicable, what violations are made against prevailing laws, and how to make citizen's arrest," he said.
“The purpose of the training is to produce responsible, committed and disciplined individuals,” explained Lt. Col. Diosdado Peji, logistics officer of the Joint Task Force Land-NCR. “Leadership is the most important thing. A lot of people actually want to clean the river, but there should be someone to lead, to initiate. The others will automatically follow.”
Aside from Lopez, Valencia, and Calima, PRRC deputy director Engr. Alan Gatpolintan was also at the knighting ceremony.
|'River warriors' are confident the Pasig River can become clean again. Credit: ABS-CBN Foundation
Paco resident Wenley Relente, 12, an incoming high school freshman, said her aunt, who was part of the first batch of River Warriors, encouraged her to join the second batch. She said she also joined "para makatulong sa paglilinis ng ilog, para makaligo na po yung ibang gustong maligo dito." Wenley has heard stories of how the river was clean before. Now that she is a River Warrior and knows there is a law against the throwing of garbage in the waterways, she said she will tell her friends not to throw garbage in the river.
As a River Warrior, Edgardo has been monitoring the Estero de Paco from Pedro Gil to Quirino Avenue. "Nililinis namin ang pampang," he said. "May nakita talaga akong pagbabago. Sa tingin ko, puwede pang maibalik ang mga isda," he said.
“The community should be one hundred percent committed and take ownership of the river. After all, we are all Taga-Ilogs,” said Gina Lopez. “The River Warriors are key in making this vision a reality.”