Saving the Pasig

Published May 31, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

 José Abeto  Zaide
José Abeto Zaide

By José Abeto Zaide


After seeing years ago in Korina Sanchez’s “Rated K” documentary Gina Lopez of ABS-CBN Bantay Kalikasan Fundation’s take on the challenge to save the Pasig River, I wrote her, kibitzing from the bleachers on saving the patrimony for our children (perhaps, too late for our lifetime?)

Visualizing: When then President Fidel V. Ramos visited Austria, my wife Victoria tried to interest the First Lady Ming Ramos to observe the small strip of man-made island that divided the Danube in Vienna. On the UN Organization’s bank side were promenaders, kiosks, and bistros; yet the Viennese conceived that swimming and water sports were still possible. Vienna’s solution? It built a small dam between the island and the bank and filtered the water to make swimming in that strip possible.

Application: Damming the strip between the Hospicio de San Jose site and the Malacañang side could create the small sliver, which can inspire more river activities. (Is this Gina Lopez’s objective in cleaning up that portion by the bridge?)

Icon: During the visit to Vienna, the artist Gus Albor gifted Mme. Ramos an Augarten plate: A gold leaf paint flowing like a river on white plate. Conceivably, the perfect logo for the Gina’s Kapit-bisig sa Pasig.

Relocation or Sur Place: The bigger challenge is domestic waste and refuse. Relocation may not be the answer; or better said, it may not be immediately do-able because of:

  • Cost of moving 9,000 or more households (who are the mayors’ voters).
  • These residents must live close to their place of work and schools.Transportation is a major expense and the main reason for squatting.
  • The possibility of their return (or others moving into the vacuum).

Immediate Solution? Combination of:

  • Massive education on hygiene and social responsibility with Gawad Kalinga.
  • Empty 3% of the area; install community bath/toilet facilities and garbage collection.
  • Channel GMA’s Oyster (temporary relief-employment program) into real long-term Pasig River revival project. (Hire first those who live there).

Long-term Solution: Expropriate empty lots near the Pasig as NHA final relocation sites.

Postscript. I recall in my previous incarnation at posting in India: When Rajiv Gandhi visited France in the mid-‘80’s, he poured out of a clay urn water from the Ganga river into the Seine… a beautiful metaphor of the confluence of two cultures. But French environmentalists must have been aghast when India asked the following morning for technical assistance to clean up the Ganga!


That episode of kibbitizng to Gina Lopez was some ten or more years ago. Fast-forward to today. Gina Lopez is still at it. But so much water (and refuse accompanying) has flowed into the Pasig.

The National Geographic ran a serial titled “Planet or Plastic?” about polluted rivers pumping the world’s plastic into the oceans. – “The 20 most polluted rivers account for two-thirds of the total amount of plastic entering the ocean form rivers. Fifteen are in Asia.” Among such “national champions,” three are in China – the Yangtze River (which downloads 333,000 metric tons of garbage), Xi, and Hangou. Other majors are Bryants (Indonesia), Ganges (India and Bangladesh), Imo (Nigeria), Cross (Nigeria and Cameroon), Amazon (Brazil, Peru, Colombia,  and Ecuador), and – hold your breath and pinch your nostrils), the Pasig in Manila!

The report has more bad news: “Manila has a metropolitan garbage collection system that stretches across 17 separate local governments – a source of chaos and inefficiency.… In 1990, the Pasig was declared biologically dead, and in 1999 the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission was formed to help clean up the river.”

Quo vadis? In 2004 Manila was already running out of landfill space. A picture of a canal tributary of the Pasig filled with floating debris and refuse like you could walk on them.


The European Union proposes bans on plastic products like cotton buds, straws, stirs and balloon sticks when alternatives are available. The proposal would cut stirers, litter in half for the ten most prominent items and avoid environmental damage estimated at over $250 billion over the next dozen years.

EU VP Frans Timmermans hopes to see results before May, 2019. He also made new proposals ensuring that the polluter pays. Unlike so many EU proposals that are immediately criticized by consumer and environmental groups as too little too late, the reaction was largely positive.


European Green Party lawmaker Monica Frassoni welcomed the news that New York is the latest to consider banning plastic straw. She said, “the scale of the problem means that we cannot rely on individual European countries to take action.” Plastics production is now 20 times higher than in 1960s. The EU has also been spurred into action by China’s decision to no longer import part of the bloc’s waste.


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