By Willy E. Arcilla | MANILA, 2/18/2011 — The Pasig River, once given up for dead, is back. Gone are the black and slimy, filthy and smelly waters. Now, the entire 25 km stretch flows with brownish-greenish currents without a nauseating stench. Even floating rubbish is minimal, although water lilies still abound. Best of all, hundreds of migratory birds, mostly seagulls, but even some egrets and herons can be seen feasting on its waters teeming with small fish, alongside scores of our menfolk using rod-and-reel; some even with nets, to catch palm-sized tilapia, dalag and bangus that the strong currents must have brought from upstream Laguna Lake.
I encourage everyone living in and around Metro Manila to ride the Pasig River Ferry (ferry terminal at Plaza Mexico in Intramuros to Nagpayong at the mouth of Laguna Lake) to witness and delight in the transformation of the Pasig River. A round-trip fare for the entire length of 25km will cost only P120 and take 3.5 hours back-and-forth meandering through parts of Manila, Mandaluyong, Makati, Taguig, Pasig and Pateros. Watch the birds and the fish, ride the currents and feel the breeze – all without car traffic.
I rode Ferry #2 piloted by a professional and courteous crew consisting of Capt. Melbor Baybay, Chief Engr. Tomas Sano and Deckhand Jose Magbanua. The ferry boats are air-conditioned and clean, safe and equipped with individual lifevests, with a TV set showing major channels and CD movies. Impressively, all six boats were made locally.
Congratulations and thank you very much to all the men and women involved in Pasig – the lead agency DENR, various national government agencies such as the DPWH, various branches of the armed services, the LGUs and NGOs, business groups and community organizations, including foreign funders from Denmark, Belgium and others.
The success of the rehabilitation efforts demonstrates what Filipinos can achieve if we all share a unity of purpose and show solidarity in action, imbibe personal discipline and embrace teamwork, persist and persevere even if it has taken nearly a whole generation. It is noteworthy this daunting undertaking was not an overnight success as it started way back with the establishment of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Program in 1989 followed by the creation of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission in 1999. It must have reached its tipping point under Hon Regina Lopez, culminating in the recent world-record setting footrace “10.10.10 last October 10th that attracted 116,000 participants (including my whole family), who all showed their love not just for a river, but for the environment, for present and future generations of Filipinos, and ultimately for God’s creation.
While the Pasig River has come a long way, I believe that the best is yet to come, and now that the Pasig river’s 25 km are back to life, here are 25 ideas to make it even grow.
Introduce a river cruise tour for day and nighttime offering dining and entertainment.
Put up a tourist destination at the end of the 1.5 hr ride in Nagpayong, e.g., offering travelers a taste of grilled “ihaw-ihaw” seafood and wholesome entertainment.
Put up a connecting boat tour to Laguna lake where tourists can enjoy a day cruise around one of the world’s largest inland freshwater lakes and buy local produce such as fruits and vegetables, dairy products and fish from farmers living around the lake, similar to the world-renowned “floating market” more than 100km west of Bangkok.
Manage and control the growth of water lilies which, while they may provide a good habitat for fish, may also clog channels and pose risks to boats navigating the river. I read that introducing ducks may be an option because they feed on water lilies.
Intensify efforts to clean up remaining portions, e.g., the relocation of squatters from under the Lambingan bridge, and dismantling of houses on stilts in Pasig and Pateros.
Install signs strictly prohibiting the throwing of any form of waste into the river.
Enforce the law using Pasig River Police meting out stiff penalties and imprisonment.
Complete the clean-up of all esteros and tributaries along the Pasig River.
Install distinctive trash bins in public areas for residents living along the river.
Ask San Juan LGU to clean up the San Juan River that empties waste into the Pasig.
Ensure adequate waste water treatment facilities are installed in all factories and plants situated along the riverbanks, as well as community sewage treatment. Monitor quality of waste water and effluents by regularly measuring bacterial count.
Continue to dredge and reinforce riverbanks with concrete retaining riverwalls.
Upgrade the rest of Pasig ferry terminals to be safe and inviting for more passengers.
Install signs warning people about the dangers of swimming in the river. The waters of Pasig may look deceptively calm but undercurrents are strong. Sadly there was a freshman high school student who drowned in the waters near the Lambingan Bridge.
Spruce up the 13 bridges spanning the Pasig River and put names on the bridges. Install signs to inform passengers of their location, e.g., “You are entering Makati”.
Continue to improve the riverbanks with colorful linear parks ala Marikina.
Plant more trees in Mandaluyong and Taguig, Pasig and Pateros following the example of Arroceros Forest Park and the Makati Park fronting University of Makati.
Introduce regular festive attractions such as fluvial parades to commemorate saints.
Introduce boat race competitions with the Manila Boat Club, e.g. rowing and sculling.
Build a boardwalk along the riverbanks for strolling, joggers and even a bicycle lane.
Install energy-efficient lights – even lighted billboard advertising along the river.
For low-income communities, replicate the RFM GK Village in Buayang Bato.
Ensure that the Calauan resettlement site provides sufficient sources of alternative livelihood and educational facilities for informal settlers who are relocated there to encourage them to stay, and even invite friends and relatives to relocate voluntarily.
Develop a comprehensive and long-term plan for the eventual relocation of the Pandacan and Sta. Ana oil depots that will be mutually beneficial to all stakeholders.
Partner with other agencies such as the Laguna Lake Development Authority and all the LGUs charged with the clean up of Manila Bay to share best practices and collaborate in rehabilitating the entire Laguna Bay-Pasig River-Manila Bay zone.
The lesson is clear. If we can bring back to life a dead Pasig river, the major artery of Metro Manila and sole lifeline from Laguna Lake to Manila Bay, we can do the same for our polluted oceans and waterways, our denuded forests and poisoned corals. And if we can revitalize the nation’s environment, we can revitalize the nation’s economy. But the Philippines, the sick man of Asia, can only truly recover, once we truly unite.