Hopes up with new Pasig cleanup effort

Published September 7, 2020, 11:00 PM

by Manila Bulletin

When it begins its projected ₱95.5-billion Pasig River Expessway project, San Miguel Corp. (SMC) plans to also clean up and improve the flow of water along the Pasig River. It will be embarking on a project – cleanup of the Pasig – that has frustrated so many administrations and agencies of the government.

The 125-kilometer river from its beginning at the Laguna de Bay in the east to its end in Manila Bay in the west was the main transportation route in the early days before roads and highways were built. It also served as a major source of water, food, and livelihood.

But as Manila and the neighboring cities grew, they drew people from the provinces who built their houses near factories and pigpens along its shores and those of the many streams that flow into it from San Juan, Mandaluyong, Quezon City, and Pasig. It became so polluted that the river began to give off a smell in the 1970s, all fishing activities were stopped in the 1980s, and it was declared biologically dead in the 1990s.

The river become one big garbage and sewage dump as the untreated wastes from thousands of houses and factories flowing into it killed all life. And Manila Bay into which it poured all this sewage became a cesspool, in the words of former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza.

In 1999, President Joseph Estrada issued an executive order creating the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, which sought to coordinate with the local government units concerned and the Department of Environment and Natural Resource (DENR), but monitoring stations at 14 points along the river showed no improvement in water quality.

In the same year, a group calling itself Concerned Residents of Manila Bay filed a complaint before the Regional Trial Court in Imus, Cavite, against several government agencies it accused of “reckless, wholesale, accumulated, and ongoing acts of omission and commission” that resulted in Manila Bay becoming a “danger to public health.”

The RTC rendered decision in favor of the citizens group and the government agencies appealed to the Court of Appeals which upheld the RTC. The case reached the Supreme Court which, in 2008, ordered the respondent agencies led by the DENR, to clean up the bay. That was 12 years ago and the Pasig and Manila Bay are as polluted as ever.

Last week, SMC President and COO Ramon Ang said, “Of all the projects we have done, this will perhaps be among the most challenging and, at the same time, the most fulfilling. Not only will we be building a much-needed direct link between eastern and western Manila. We will also be leading a historic effort to bring the Pasig River back to health.”

The six-lane elevated expressway will be built along the banks of the Pasig River. The river bed has to be dredged and cleaned of debris and garbage. But that would be only the first step; the flow of garbage and sewage from the many streams flowing into the Pasig must stop and this may be beyond the capacity of SMC. This will require action from the local governments along with national agencies.

We welcome SMC’s plans but we foresee a myriad plans standing in the way. Many government agencies concerned will have to join in this great all-out effort to finally clean up the Pasig River.