One of the key points raised against the construction of the 19.37-kilometer Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) is its supposed adverse impact on the environment and the existing heritage structures along the river.
Ira Cruz of Alt Mobility PH, one of the concerned groups strongly opposed to the project, told ANC’s “Rundown” that San Miguel Corporation (SMC) and DOTr are “signing the death sentence of Pasig River” with the proposed expressway. He said the PAREX will probably decongest traffic early on but will in no time encourage people to buy more cars—which will only bring Manila roads back to its traffic problems.
Consequently, more cars on the roads will have its own environmental repercussions. “Transportation actually accounts for huge chunk of greenhouse gas emissions,” Cruz said. “So inducing demand further by encouraging more people to drive will bring, you know, noise pollution, air pollution to all of these communities and obviously, the more people use cars, the larger the contribution of transportation will be to air pollution.”
Cruz added that building PAREX is literally throwing out the initiatives and efforts that has been done for the river, but he did not make it clear if this includes the SMC initiative reported in May this year.
In a press conference last week, Renacimiento Manila, a heritage advocacy group, said that more than 40 existing heritage structures will likely be affected by the construction of the expressway. Meanwhile, former Tourism Secretary Bertie Lim, in the same conference, said PAREX will have a negative impact on the tourism potentials of the areas along Pasig River.
One of the more significant voices in the anti-PAREX protests is that of respected urban planner and landscape architect Paulo Alcazaren who has a proposed alternative to the PAREX. His suggestion: build a PARES instead.
PARES, which according to Alcazaren was coined by someone else on Facebook, stands for Pasig River Esplanade. It’s essentially a linear park that will make use of the prescribed 10-meter easement set by the Metro Manila Development Council in 2015.
The idea isn’t exactly new. The concept to build an open space system has been in the master plan for the Pasig River since the start of the PRRC (Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission) interventions in the late 1990s, Alcazaren tells ANCX. “I and my office were the landscape architects working with Palafox Associates then. They were the principal planners and consultants for the PRRC for this and other aspects of the master plan.”
An esplanade on both sides of the 25-kilometer river, according to the urban planner, would ensure the river’s protection and will also provide Manilans with a linear park, which will roughly be as big as the Luneta Park.
How will PARES protect the banks and the river? Alcazaren says suggestions were made years ago by sanitary and environmental engineers to put modular treatment facilities for storm and waste water treatment underneath wider sections of the easements. This will help ensure the river's health. “The easements would also allow for access to the river for maintenance (now currently a challenge because of formal and informal settlers and encroachment),” the architect explains.
Effects on heritage sites
In a Facebook post, Alcazaren shows comparative illustrations of how the PAREX and PARES would look like when built from Del Pan to Malacañang Palace, one of the most historic areas in Manila with several heritage sites.
His drawings show the view from the old Muelle de Magallanes (now the Muelle de Mexico) looking across to Muelle de Industria and the Binondo skyline, which includes the landmark El Hogar and Juan Luna Bldgs. “If conserved, these sections of Pasig will be as visited by tourists and loved by locals as the Yarra in Melbourne, Boat Quay and Clark Quays in Singapore, and The Bund in Shanghai.”
Alcazaren says regardless which side of the river the alignment is, the construction of the PAREX would impact several important historical structures and sites in Intramuros—Fort Santiago, Maestranza Walls, Juan Arellano's 1939 Chamber of Commerce, Angel Nakpil's National Press Club, Arellano's Jones Bridge and the National Post Office. On the other side, it would be the El Hogar and Juan Luna Buildings and several other structures on the Ermita stretch. In Makati, Pasig, and Taguig, there’s the Manila Boat Club, La Campana Fabrica de Tabacos, Casa Hacienda, Poblacion Park, etc. “PAREX may compromise these structures and sites that are protected by RA No. 10066,” says Alcazaren.
What PARES won’t do
PARES is not meant to decongest traffic, acknowledges the architect. “Traffic is just the symptom of the real and larger problem of the lack of a comprehensive transport system that focuses on moving people and not cars,” he points out.
What PARES will provide are opportunities for non-motorized transport (NMT)—walking and bike lanes, pedestrian bridges—which were also in the proposed master plan of Palafox way back in 2012.
“These will help address connectivity—the real issue that can impact mobility for all (not just the 15-20% who own a car),” Alcazaren adds.
It will be remembered that Alcazaren and his firm worked on the laudable Iloilo Esplanade, which redeveloped and reinvigorated the neglected riverbank in Iloilo City.
“The nine phases of the Iloilo Esplanade have the same concept as PARES,” says the landscape architect. PGAA Creative Design, Alcazaren’s firm, was a consultant for the first few phases and was also tapped to oversee the rest of the work. The Iloilo Esplanade is over 8 kilometers long and is about 10-15 meters wide.
“Mobility via bikes and walking has provided a much-used alternative for Iloilo in this pandemic,” he points out. “An additional six kilometers of linear park and bike lanes are also embedded in Aquino Boulevard in Iloilo (connected to the Esplanade) and additional bike routes are being laid out in the city by Mayor Jerry Treñas with the collaboration of bike groups of Iloilo (real citizen participation).”
Alcazaren says the Ioilo Esplanade has led to a significant increase in land values along the Ioilo River, and also boosted businesses.