Ilog Pasig

The Philippine Star - - BUSINESS - BOO CHANCO

We should be happy Honeylet Avan­cena, the vir­tual First Lady, has made it pos­si­ble for the Pasig River re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ef­fort to be taken up in the last Cab­i­net meet­ing. Be­fore her, Ming Ramos also tried to do some­thing. Even the su­per­woman, Gina Lopez, also at­tempted to make a dif­fer­ence.

The last time I talked to Gina about the Pasig River, she told me that 80 to 90 per­cent of the pol­lu­tion comes from do­mes­tic waste. Squat­ters along the banks of the river and its trib­u­taries, with no toi­let fa­cil­i­ties and with the bad habit of throw­ing garbage any­where, cause most of the prob­lem.

Ac­cord­ing to Gina, most of the fac­to­ries along the river bank have put in place wa­ter treat­ment sys­tems. In fact, Gina said, they were lament­ing to her that they are throw­ing clean wa­ter into that cesspool of a river. They feel they are wast­ing money clean­ing their in­dus­trial waste wa­ter only to be dis­posed in the murky river.

Gina didn’t think the ob­jec­tive of clean­ing up the river is im­pos­si­ble to ac­com­plish. She has proven it can be done in the Paco es­tero and that es­tero near Mala­canang. She uses lo­cal res­i­dents to act as river war­riors to en­sure the river stays clean.

But a mas­sive dose of po­lit­i­cal will is nec­es­sary to move the squat­ters along the river bank. This is the tougher part of the as­sign­ment. Gina moved some of the Paco squat­ters to an NHA site in Calauan, La­guna and that was not easy. Even a great amount of as­sis­tance from the pri­vate sec­tor couldn’t over­come the fact that there are no liveli­hood sources in the re­set­tle­ment site.

I am hope­ful that be­cause Honeylet has shown in­ter­est to de­liver on an im­pos­si­ble project, Pres­i­dent Duterte will pour in the re­sources of gov­ern­ment, plus large doses of his tough po­lit­i­cal will for her to suc­ceed.

And speak­ing of Pasig River, I also wel­come the re­port they will try again to use the river for trans­porta­tion. With the strong lead­er­ship of Bud­get Sec­re­tary Ben Dio­kno and MMDA chair­man Danny Lim, maybe this nth try will be more suc­cess­ful.

There are many prob­lems that made past ef­forts fail. Doris Magsaysay-Ho, who put in money and re­sources on those river boats at the re­quest of then Pres­i­dent Cory, told me it doesn’t seem we are ready for it.

“We put in boats to have ser­vice every eight min­utes on points from Marik­ina to Es­colta. Boats were full dur­ing rush hour, but empty in be­tween and the boats still had to ply on sched­ule.”

Doris also brought en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, may­ors, con­gress­men and se­na­tors, as well as gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to see their op­er­a­tions in the hope they would un­der­stand the po­ten­tial of mas­ter plan­ning the land ar­eas along the river for de­vel­op­ment with the river as a trans­port mode.

Doris lamented, “we wrote off loses to CSR. We stopped when the DOTC some­time later un­der an­other pres­i­dent pre­sented a trans­port mas­ter plan that did not in­clude the Pasig River sys­tem. As you can imag­ine that was a ma­jor dis­ap­point­ment.”

My friend, Ed Yap, who chairs the trans­port com­mit­tee of the Man­age­ment As­so­ci­a­tion of the Philip­pines noted that “the other hand­i­cap is that com­mutes are mostly north to south (not east to west as the river is), con­firmed by a DOTC ori­gin-des­ti­na­tion study and, as Doris cor­rectly pointed out, a dearth of river­side de­vel­op­ments that can serve as des­ti­na­tion points.”

Doris thinks many things should hap­pen for the river to work as an al­ter­na­tive mass trans­port for NCR. For one thing, Doris pointed out that trans­port has to be in­ter­modal and the con­nec­tion must be seam­less. This means that a bus, jeep, tri­cy­cle, bike, or clean safe side­walk to walk on, must be im­me­di­ately ac­ces­si­ble from every boat ter­mi­nal.

“Un­like most cities in the world, Pasig River does not have a road along its banks. Imelda Marcos cleared off an area from Guadalupe to Makati, but it ends. Thus, the ter­mi­nals we were able to carve out were lo­cated in odd places.

“For ex­am­ple, the Marik­ina stop at the time was in the mid­dle of a squat­ter area. I don’t know now if there has been ur­ban re­newal to en­able a stop some­where there.

“Manila de­vel­op­ment sadly has rivers and bays as back of the house. Barcelona had the same, but a mayor turned it around for the Olympics and cre­ated an amaz­ing wa­ter­front for the peo­ple to en­joy.

“To make the river a sus­tain­able and suc­cess­ful trans­port mode re­quires more than a boat or ter­mi­nal. There has to be a com­mit­ment from all may­ors to make the wa­ter­front along rivers and bays ac­ces­si­ble for the en­joy­ment by the pub­lic. (Paris, Ber­lin, Lon­don, Seoul, Moscow, etc)

“There’s an op­por­tu­nity for a wa­ter­front project on Roxas Boule­vard which could be a ma­jor peo­ple’s park project – a gift from Pres­i­dent Duterte to the peo­ple. If it were to be made, we could have some wa­ter trans­port so­lu­tions from Manila to Cavite.

“In short, the wa­ter of­fers part of the so­lu­tion, but we need to plan the city. There has to be an all of gov­ern­ment ap­proach, in­clud­ing the city may­ors, to plan from a bird’s eye view re­gard­less of pub­lic or pri­vate vested in­ter­ests.

“We should en­sure the ap­proach to city plan­ning con­sid­ers pub­lic in­ter­est- peo­ple first- as the only guide to what is right or wrong pol­icy, strat­egy, or plan.

“We should de­sign and con­struct mass tran­sit for all – both rich and poor. As Mayor Pe­nalosa of Bo­gota said ‘a civ­i­lized so­ci­ety is not when the poor buy a car, but when the rich ride the bus.’

“We should clus­ter hous­ing (es­pe­cially so­cial hous­ing) into con­tigu­ous zones so there are economies of scale to place mean­ing­ful and sus­tain­able trans­port so­lu­tions – whether bus, train, or boats.

“And we should keep side­walks /pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion in planned cities CBDs sa­cred pre­req­ui­sites to make walk­ing and bik­ing safe and pos­si­ble.”

Boo Chanco’s e-mail ad­dress is bchanco@gmail.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @boochanco

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