Cleaning of the Pasig competes with the Yangtze of China
SINGAPORE – When visiting Singapore it’s hard not to reflect on the progress made here and compare it to Manila. The ride from Changi Airport to town alone is enough to trigger dozens of conversations on the parlous state of affairs we encounter on a daily basis.
Coming here with my sister to visit my grandchildren reminded me of the Manila of my own childhood. It was a very different place, dare I say more orderly, cleaner and a nice place to live.
But there is progress. I learnt that at the 20th River Symposium being held in Sydney this Sunday, believe it or not, the Pasig River is up for an award. The International River Foundation, which champions the restoration, protection and sustainable management of the world’s rivers, has shortlisted the Pasig and Yangtze Rivers as finalists.
Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission executive director, Jose Antonio “Ka Pepeton” Goitia said that “the consecutive entries of the Pasig River as a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Thiess International and Asia Riverprize shows the world recognizes the efforts of the Philippine government to restore the Pasig River and its environs since PRRC was established in 1999.”
Yesterday’s news showed a picture of a clean Estero de San Miguel in Manila. I will have to see this with my own eyes and hope this can be sustained.
Again, comparing the progress made in Singapore, efforts here began in 1977 when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew called for its clean up with the goal of having fishing in the Singapore and Kallang rivers.
People say it’s not fair to compare Singapore with its land area of 600 square kilometers and population of close to six million, with the Philippines with our land area of 300,000 square kilometers and population of over 100 million. It seems to be that smaller units of governance are more accountable and effective.
Regular readers of this column will know that I’ve been a strong advocate for shifting from a presidential system to a unicameral parliamentary system. There have been and will continue to be many debates on the relative merits of a federal vs a unitary government. Both have their relative merits. Given our own history and the challenges we face I am for the federal side.
I wonder for example how well we know where and how our own national budget of P3.6 trillion taxpayers money is spent. Close to 70 percent of that goes to national government agencies and 17 percent to local government units. And then of course there is the very tricky question of the sharing of responsibility for revenue generation. We need a much higher level of debate on these critical issues. Readers may wonder why I’m talking about rivers. Sitting in front of me is a book entitled “River of Life, River of Death” written by the Financial Times’ Asia editor Victor Mallet. This has been autographed and given to me.
It is a story of one of the world’s great rivers – the Ganges in India. I know so little of India even though we share so much in common – both highly populated noisy democracies, perhaps overly focused on glorious pasts than any kind of meaningful future, as I flick through a graphical journey from the source of the Ganges in the upper Himalayas moving from east to west across the Indian sub-continent.
There are parallels with our own Pasig. Why have we neglected a river that was once the lifeline of Filipinos? Where does it come from? Why is it so dirty?
In the Philippines the center of business in Makati also connects to the center of government in Manila. I have been writing too much about the intramural of politics but outside these, things are happening that we should be aware of. For example, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission was established in 1999 during the Estrada administration. It is co-chaired by the Secretary of Budget and Management, and the chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority with members from the government agencies. The only local government agency on the commission is the MMDA. This is problematic in addressing this issue because zoning is in the hands of local governments.
The opening scene of Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo” is the boat ride from Manila to Calamba Laguna. It is on this trip that Crisostomo Ibarra’s (as Simoun) patriotism was once more reawakened.
We must give credit where credit is due. It was the former first lady Ming Ramos, who led us to focus on cleaning the Pasig. Rizal’s Pasig River is moving again and it is great that in this we would be competing with China’s revival and care of the Yangtze river. Observes modern historian Ambeth Ocampo, “The color has changed, and I hear fish are in existence!” What would Rizal do had he lived today, I wonder. But then, I agree with Mr. Ocampo: “Rizal would have been pleased” because his beloved Pasig is coming to life, though, slowly but surely, I hope.”
In El Filibusterismo, translated by the late Ma. Soledad Lacson-Locsin, the opening scene is that of a Filipino steamship TABO “ardously sailing upstream through the winding course of Pasig River.”
In “By the Banks of the Pasig River,” he, according to Maria Pia Benosa’s executive summary of the lyric poem, invites readers to join him on a banca trip to Antipolo and bask in the beauty of the Pasig River ..... Yet, the most poignant tag he’d ever give to Pasig was as “witness to my griefs.”
Besides making financial contributions and helping keeping it clean, the best way to show your support is by using the water thoroughfare. Take the ferry boats plying from Plaza Mexico station in Intramuros to Sta. Elena station in Marikina City.