A hundred years ago, renowned American urban planner Daniel Burnham compared Manila Bay to the bay of Naples, the Pasig River to the winding river of Paris and Manila’s esteros to the canals of Venice.
Considered the cradle of the Tagalog civilization, the river was witness both to significant events in the country’s history and to daily lives of people in the fledging city of Manila.
Nowadays, however, Pasig is no more than a ghost of its old self. Apart from water lilies and janitor fish, hardly any life form survives in its murky recesses. Many of its tributaries are clogged by garbage from Metro Manila’s households.
|Squatter settlements along Metro Manila's waterways, such as this settlement along the banks of Estero de la Reyna in Tayuman, Tondo, contribute to the pollution in Pasig River. [Photo courtesy of the ABS-CBN Foundation]
Somewhere along the way, people’s view of the river changed, Gina Lopez, managing director of the ABS-CBN Foundation (AFI), said at the launch of Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig, the latest in a long string of efforts to rehabilitate the country’s most prominent river system.
From being a recreation venue and a source of food and livelihood, the river became the 'dumping ground' of informal settlers who live along the banks of the river and its tributaries, as well as by almost all establishments surrounding it.
An estimated 65% of the pollutants in the Pasig river come from households, 30% from the industrial sector and 5% from solid wastes.
Metro Manila’s 11 million-plus residents, according to studies, produce roughly 440 tons of domestic wastewater every day. The river became the city’s toilet bowl.
Worse, as the city continues to wage its battle against solid waste, the river also became the primary dumping ground. Currently, Metro Manila is reportedly producing as much as 7,000 tons or 31 cubic meters of trash per day. Out of this, about 1,500 tons is dumped daily (and illegally) on private land, creeks, rivers and the Manila Bay.
One river clean up effort after another failed as the source of the pollution—Metro Manila’s population of over 10 million individuals—continued to relentlessly dump waste and garbage into the river and its tributaries.
The problem has gotten so bad that some parts of the San Juan river, one of the Pasig’s main tributaries, are already emitting methane.
This is the situation that the AFI took on in March 2008 when its environment arm, Bantay Kalikasan, entered into a seven year agreeement with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to become co-manager of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Project.
The project has since metamorphosed into the Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig which was formally launched yesterday, February 24, at the Makati Park and Garden.
Clean River Zones
|This vision of how the Pasig River can look post clean-up was prepared by the Palafox Associates. [Courtesy of the ABS-CBN Foundation]
The new clean up project will have a two-pronged approach: consciousness raising and physical clean up projects.
To rehabilitate the river, Bantay Kalikasan together with all its partner agencies and organizations proposed a set of strategies which will control pollution at source.
The proposed clean-up includes cleaning up all the 47 tributaries that flow into the main river. In order to do this, Bantay Kalikasan plans to strengthen the Clean River Zones (CRZ) started by the Sagip Pasig Movement. These CRZs are composed of communities residing near the tributaries. The Clean River Zone vision is to have “zero toxic input to the Pasig River.”
To achieve this, solid waste management facilities will be set up in the area to ensure that all wastes, biodegradable and non-biodegradable, will be properly segregated and composted or recycled. One incentive for communities to get involved is the income they are expected to generate from making different products like pails, table tops, chairs, tiles, and bricks out of shredded plastics and melted styrofoam.
To address the problem on wastewater, Manila Water and Maynilad—both concessionaires of the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage System—agreed to do the desludging of all households in the CRZ for free.
In addition to this, Bantay Kalikasan proposes to the Local Government Units a good resettlement program coupled with a viable livelihood program for the informal settlers along the tributaries. (See related story: 'Squatters' relocation a must for Pasig River clean-up’)
Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig is not the first effort to clean up the river. There had been a lot of previous efforts, Gina Lopez acknowledged at the project launch on Tuesday, February 24, at the Makati Park and Garden. What is different this time, she said, is the central role the media will be playing in the clean-up campaign. “The media component was missing in previous efforts.”
ABS-CBN Chairman Gabby Lopez assured those present at the launch of the media network’s full support for the project. “We’re excited about this project. The model is the La Mesa Dam. We will apply that model to Pasig.”
Earlier, AFI was also instrumental in transforming and rehabilitating the La Mesa Dam into today’s La Mesa Ecopark, now a popular weekend destination in Quezon City.
The AFI has also been reaching out to major dailies and other networks in respect to the clean-up drive.
The media’s role is crucial because, in order to clean up the river, a change in consciousness is required, Gina Lopez said. “We need to shift consciousness, resurface hope that we can make things happen.”
Any clean-up effort, she explained, is bound to fail if there is no shift in consciousness. “Right now, people treat the river like it’s their toilet bowl.” People, she said, have to start regarding the river again as the “lifeline of our nation.”
Media attention is also important, she said, in order to get local leaders to support and get involved in cleaning up and beautification activities as well as to get them to act on complaints against those violating environmental laws. “You have to give them a pat in the back when they do good,” she told reporters present at the launch. At the same time, she said, media should also report on government inaction with respect to environmental violations.