President  turns  his attention  to  Pasig  River

Published September 23, 2019, 12:07 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

E CARTOON Aug 18, 2019President  Duterte, voicing exasperation over  the  impossibly  polluted condition of the Pasig River, announced last Tuesday that he was  removing the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission   and transferring all  its functions and responsibilities  to the Department of Environment  and Natural Resources  (DENR).

The river can no longer be  cleaned  up because  there  is no zoning,  he said.  Over the years, the wastes of  so many factories and households  have been thrown into the river which flows into Manila Bay where  its wastes join  those of 17 other rivers that  end up  in the bay.

And yet the Pasig River is such  a  historic  and  beautiful   part of Manila and the many towns upstream. It is so valued a spot in our history, in fact, that it was made  the site  of  Malacanang,  the home of  Philippine presidents.

The  deterioration  of the river goes back many decades. It  is  said  fish  began  to  disappear  from the river in the 1930s and by the 1970s, it had begun to give off  a smell. All  swimming  and travelling by boat had stopped by the 1980s. It was declared biologically dead in the 1990s.

The principal reason was that after World War II,  shanty towns of people  coming from the provinces sprang  up all along the river. They  and the factories  and  piggeries and markets  that  arose  all along the river and its many tributaries  simply  disposed  of their wastes  into the river  That practice,  it may be noted, continues to this day; only recently, so many  dead pigs, victims of Asian swine fever, were found  floating on the Marikina  River on  its way to the Pasig.

During the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos  in  the 1990s, some 700,000 people were relocated from squatter areas to various towns in  Bulacan,  Laguna, Rizal, Cavite, and Batangas, but most of them  returned  to  other shanty towns along the Pasig to be close to their places of work in Metro  Manila.

This is the Pasig River and  Manila Bay which President  Duterte  now wants to clean up, after  the government’s success in the six-month rehabilitation of Boracay  island.  But  the problem in  Metro Manila is a hundred  times bigger, that  Secretary Roy Cimatu of the DENR said  it will take more than  ten  years  to stop all the garbage and the pollution  pouring into the bay  from  the Pasig  and the many other rivers in Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan, Metro Manila, Laguna, and Cavite.

President  Joseph  Estrada, who succeeded President Ramos in 1998, created the  Pasig River Rehabilitation  Commission in 1998 with the singular job of cleaning  up the Pasig. It has evidently failed in this task after all these years. The Pasig is as dirty as ever. There was a plan led by then Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno to set up  a ferry service with so many stops along the Pasig, but nothing has come of it, probably  because,  with the pollution and the smell  of the river, many  commuters  would rather take  the buses,  jeepneys,  and light rails  in Metro Manila’s traffic-jammed streets.

But President Duterte  appears  determined to do something about the Pasig problem, especially since he lives right along its banks in Malacanang. He said last Tuesday, “Me, I am just near the Pasig River. Sometimes I take a bath there if  I  want  bacteria in my body to help me become immune.”

He was joking of course, but we hope, as in the case of so many other previous jokes, he  means  to   really  do something about the dirty, smelly, polluted Pasig River.