Estero rangers to help clean up Pasig, Manila Bay

Published November 14, 2019, 12:01 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

We are all aware that there is a Pasig River bisecting Metro Manila as it ends its run from Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay. What most of us don’t know is that the entire region is interlaced with so many creeks and waterways – at least 203 of them, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). And each one of them is an active contributor of pollution to the Pasig and eventually Manila Bay.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu announced last weekend that 2,000 “estero rangers” will be named to police the esteros – three assigned to each of the 711 barangays in Metro Manila. They will be endorsed by barangay officials and work with the local government units. They will be commissioned on November 15 at the DENR central office in Quezon City.

There may be a problem of legal jurisdiction in this arrangement for – as in the traffic problem – local government units retain authority in their respective jurisdictions. The DENR will have to work closely with the LGUs if the program is to succeed.

The pollution problem of Manila Bay was handed by President Duterte to the DENR after it succeeded in cleaning up Boracay in six months last year, and Secretary Cimatu has assessed the Manila Bay problem and said it will take at least ten years.

Boracay had become a “cesspool”– to use the description used by President Duterte – after just a few years as the country’s top tourist attraction. But Manila Bay has been collecting garbage and all sorts of household and human wastes for decades. Millions of homes have been using the 203 creeks and waterways in the area for this purpose, so that Manila Bay today is unfit for swimming and any other sports that require contact with the polluted water. The proliferation of squatter shanties has only worsened a problem that has long existed.

The estero rangers of the DENR will be able to see the garbage floating in the water but pollution from human wastes will be detected only through chemical tests, and this is the bigger problem. Local officials and the police will be needed. At a recent Senate hearing on the polio problem, the Department of Health said a big part of the rise in polio cases was due to a public sanitation problem, pointedly saying that 3.5 million households in the country lack sanitary toilets and 700,000 of these are needed in Metro Manila.

The rangers are a welcome addition to the overall effort to clean up Manila Bay by cleaning up the Pasig River and the 203 creeks and other waterways that flow into it in Metro Manila. But they are only a part of a wide circle of workers and planners that must be organized and put to action in the coming months and years with the ultimate goal of cleaning up Manila Bay – hopefully in ten years.