More Metro Manila meanderings

By Buddy Gomez

Posted at Apr 30 2015 12:12 AM | Updated as of Apr 30 2015 08:12 AM

Is the river Pasig a desecration of the Filipino? Does it epitomize everything that is wrong with our beloved Filipinas? Is the Pasig River an indictment of the Filipino soul? And, because of what the Pasig has become today, a receptacle of metropolitan ooze and filth standing as stark witness, I dare ask: is being Filipino really an excuse for being foolish?

Once a romantic rhapsody! The hauntingly alluring strains of one of the most enduring of ‘kundimans’ (genre of Filipino love songs) is composer Nicanor Abelardo’s 1930s classic: Mutya ng Pasig -- Nymph of the River Pasig. (Lyrics by Deogracias del Rosario) The maiden’s lament by the moonlight over a mythical past, of bygone splendor, runs in part some thing like this: “dati akong paraluman sa kaharian ng pag-ibig.” (Once a muse I was, in this kingdom of love!)...”ang pagibig nang mamatay, naglaho din ang kaharian” (when love died, so did the kingdom vanish.)

Today, an absolute abomination! Pasig River, over the decades, has become a ’loveless kingdom’ of vermin and human detritus, its new reality has metastasized into the world’s longest (27 kilometers) septic tank! Pasig River is now the people’s cesspool! (Pozo Negro or Imburnal ng Bayan). It is difficult to conceive of anything more offensive to smell as well as to sight. The water is inky-eeky black, hosting human flotsam and jetsam. Water lilies abound and are tolerable but there is a strange, permeating discomfort that invade the pores of your skin. The sight of floating decay is felt cringingly up your inner butt! The river’s unimaginable filth vaporizing into miasma rising and wafting in to the air above and merges into the sphere. Alas, it is our hourly, daily breath!

How did all these come to pass? How can a government tolerate such utter incessant abuse and desecration of what otherwise would have been a highly useful natural resource. Not only the beneficence of its utility but, also the enjoyment of its aesthetic attributes. The mythical Mutya ng Pasig once enjoyed them but both have disappeared and no longer exist. Sadly, it begins and ends with people. Remember Pogo? American Walt Kelly’s comic strip possum who famously said: “We have seen the enemy and he is us!”

Deeply inured apathy, continuing absence of civic concern, culture of waste, incorrigibly unsanitary habits, collective municipal neglect and abandonment, all lead to an abdication of sense and sanity in governance. Speaking of governance, I will not be surprised if the response we get will be the usual hands washing of responsibility and followed by finger pointing. As a matter of record, there have been attempts to address the problems of Pasig river and yet there is nothing salutary to show. Accountability and responsibility are diffused, patchwork and porous. Ultimately, nobody seems to be really in charge. Does anybody really mean to genuinely care at all?

The Ferry Ride

My son-in-law, Sonny Dumpit, and I were not seeking answers to the profundities of life along the Pasig. However, simply out of curiosity and for sheer experience, last Thursday at 8 o’clock in the morning, we took to Manila’s much talked about Pasig River Ferry transport service. We thought it was worth the exploration. It was. A jarring eye-opener of a facility we have only heard of but never truly personally experienced. Irrefutably assisted by the smell, sights and sounds along the route, Sonny and I are rendered much wiser after that abject learning exposure. And thoroughly disgusted, as well.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority runs this subsidized transport service along the Pasig, with stations from Pinagbuhatan and San Joaquin in Pasig City all the way to the Escolta and Plaza Mexico in Intramuros, with a first stop in Makati parallel to JP Rizal street, near the foot of EDSA-Guadalupe bridge, where one has to transfer to a larger boat before moving on. The connection would only be available after a wait of an hour. That first leg was served by a small craft, with a 50-horse-power outboard motor. It has a capacity for twelve passengers but there were only five of us on that trip.

The animating concept behind this laudable municipal service is to provide an alternate route to downtown Manila from points east (Santa Ana, Mandaluyong, Makati and, of course, Pasig) and help ease the humongous vehicular volume on Metro Manila’s extremely congested roadway space, principally EDSA and C-5. But sadly, the ferry service does neither.

In fact, it is easy to conclude that it is more a source of employment for recommendees of ward politics than it is performing a general public service facility. The ferry service’s staff in every station outnumbered the passengers! I estimate that no more than 500 paying passengers were ferried that day. (I am certain this is not part of the system but an aberration that was evidently tolerated. It is noteworthy. After waiting for an hour for the next boat, returning from the Escolta/Intramuros stations, it finally came.But soon after, the pilot/operator of the craft went missing. We were informed that he had left to collect his salary at the MMDA head office willy-nilly abandoning a schedule itinerary! Fortunately, there was a smaller idle craft docked. We left Makati with the seats more than half empty. We had stoppages along the route because debris and detritus kept being entangled with the propeller. One was a discarded blanket!)

There is a very glaring lack of patronage which spells inevitable doom for the ferry service. Such is truly the pity. Its biggest drawback and disincentive in none other than the revolting urban river stench, severely abusing one’s olfactory senses. By all appearances, such subsidy is never to be recompensed, much less recovered. It is an absolute waste of resources.

Anachronistic Utilization

Having spoken of irrelevant locations in last week’s blog, we witnessed some such examples along the route also. We passed by some mills and factories on the northern edge of the river, mostly in Pasig and Mandaluyong. From these sites are disgorged into the river all the environmentally degrading, toxic industrial waste that they have nowhere else to dispose of. These business operations are fed with raw materials that are drawn from bottoms anchored in Manila Bay and barged up the river, pushed and/or towed by tug boats. There is, indeed, more sense in relocating these mills and factories to new sites by the bay, to be definitely closer to where the raw materials are now transported from. And, thus finally eliminating irrational and damaging commercial/industrial barging along the Pasig. These too are sources of pollutants. Besides, have we forgotten, it is the 21st century!

The real estate upon which these mills and factories sit, by a change in use and occupancy (relocation of industrial sites, that is) can provide windfall profits to their proprietors, economically justifying a relocation. A redirection of these sites towards residential occupancies with recreational facilities and foundations for much needed additional thoroughfares in suffocating neighborhoods is sensibly humanitarian. These occupancies have been impediments to a better quality of life in the city and must go.

Relocation sites can be created out of the foreshores across North Harbor, Malabon and Navotas to the northwestern vicinities not part of Metro Manila, intentionally creating other opportunities and new space for spreading out and decongesting existing metropolitan blight. Getting Manila rid of Pasig’s industrial polluters is a possibility. Reclamation (for profit) for this particular objective is fulfilling a crying need. Not the scramble among developers over Manila Bay reclaimable space that front Pasay, Paranaque and Las Pinas. The former is an existential imperative for Metro Manila. The latter is unmitigated greed.

Spoiling your Day

Strewn along the ferry’s route, from Pasig through Makati, Mandaluyong, Santa Ana, Punta, Santa Mesa, Sampaloc and even Malacanang all the way to Quiapo and Binondo, (again mainly from the northside) jutting out from river levees and retaining walls are open drainage culverts. Some are below tidal levels. These holes flagrantly spew septic effluent and human waste that gush out into the Pasig every hour of the day!

Let me share this revolting piece of information.

Of the entire Metro Manila, only less than 5% (in fact, closer to 3%) have access to sewage treatment facilities. A total of 85% utilize septic tanks, whose effluents seep, not through non-existent sewage mains but, through the soil of each and every home where these are hosted. This, by reason of design, construction and intent, only alleviated by “Malabanan” (the most popular septic waste treatment service in the country) visits which come very rarely and far between, if at all. These government data also mean that 10 to 12% have neither septic tanks nor access to a sewage treatment facility! Heavens, where in creation do they do it!

Can there ever be a justification for this man-made and man-neglected circumstance? Folks, Metro Manila has been sitting atop a pile of subterranean shit! And so is the rest of this country!

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.