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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco