Clean­ing of the Pasig com­petes with the Yangtze of China

The Philippine Star - - OPINION - CAR­MEN N. PE­DROSA

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.

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