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The Pasig River

By martin2013 Jul 10, 2013 2210 Words
The Pasig River

“As exemplified by the city government of Marikina, the development of the riverbanks depends mainly on the local government. The political will to evict people from illegally built establishments and structures and to maintain the developed areas along the river has driven local governments to lengthy debates with concerned groups. In addition, funding for the construction and maintenance of parks

The PRRC sketch design of the Pasig River in the future

along the river is scarce. This is aggravated by the fact that the zoning ordinance that stipulates that waterways must have a 10 meter clearance on both sides, is hardly put to effect” – “Case Study III – Pasig River, Philippines” by: Renato T. Cruz.

Last July 17, 2010, the class as fundamental requisite for the completion of the course in Urban and Metropolitan Administration and Development in Masters in Government Management – Executive Special Program (MGM-ESP), Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila under Professor Gilbert Lozada toured the stretch of Pasig River.

Boarded in a Ferry Terminal the class at about 9:00 a.m. was filled with eerie of feelings and excitement anticipating of what it might see the condition of “Dying River” and when it will ultimately come back to life.

Urban and Metropolitan Administration & Development – Batch 2010

To my dismay and to borrow the words of Menchit R. Santelices retired Information Officer IV, Philippine Information Agency article on Pasig River “the Pasig of Maria Clara's time is a far cry from the Pasig River we see today. No thanks to the more than 300 factories and the homes of 10,000 families lining the banks of Pasig which have virtually turned the river system into a waste basin”. In the present situation, the Pasig River is one of the greatest casualties of the movement of large and high degree of concentration of people in Manila attributable to Urban Revolution. Currently, its waters are very turbid, and became more and more silted with organic matter and non-biodegradable materials. This is obviously not suited for life, and as of 1991 study by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) only six species of fish and two types of plants can tolerate the polluted waters. Relatedly, the focus of this reaction paper is to identify the root causes of the decay of the River and determine what the government did and should do more to address this problem. The chief reasons of the river's deterioration are industrial pollution, solid and liquid waste dumping, and urban migration. It was determined that about 315 of the 2,000 or more factories located beside the river are the principal polluters of the water, most of which are in the textile and food manufacturing industries. Domestic liquid waste also contributes a huge amount of pollution load in the river, as the wastewaters discharged into the river's many tributaries are directly deposited without being treated first. And most noticeable is the increasing number of squatter colonies living beside the river. These inhabitants do not have proper waste disposal systems, and their refuse is directly deposited into the river. By and large, the banks of the Pasig River are lined by shanties consisting of approximately 12,000 households. About 2,000 families live in houses on stilts or under the bridges, in sub-human conditions, where they present a danger to themselves and to the vessels using the river. These settlements have no sanitary facilities and their liquid and solid wastes are discharged straight into the river. Urbanism and the various subcultures existing in Metro Manila result in many problems that reflect the complex socio-economic characteristics of the city. With the continuous dumping of wastes, the river bed has become more and more silted with organic matter and non-biodegradable rubbish. This results in serious flooding along the river, affecting nearby communities and carrying polluted water to the households living close to the river.

Factories near the Pasig River
Shanties beside the river and under the bridge
Urban development basically is the not problem but a solution. The building and rebuilding of permanent structures over land near the river for purposes of creating or producing of the built environment is part of the growing industrialization of the metro cities and therefore inevitable. It is not therefore about urbanization, globalization, and free trade , but comprehensive planning, organization and discipline. Yet, for centuries the Pasig River has been used, abused, and neglected. Since the early 1500s, commerce and day-to-day needs have pressed Pasig and its tributaries into tireless service. The river has now been declared a critical water body because of the unspeakable amount of waste dumped into it daily by households and industries. About 330 tons of industrial and domestic wastes are discharged everyday in this waterway, depleting the biochemical oxygen needed to support marine life. Until recently, little has been done to protect the river system. Past efforts to rehabilitate Pasig river were unsuccessful because they failed to take into account the larger context of the urban environment of which Pasig river is a part. To solve this perennial problem, Pasig River Rehabilitation Program (PPRP) was created. It aims to upgrade the environmental state of Pasig within 15 years. Its scope of work includes projects that focus on commercial, industrial, and household pollution; solid waste management; squatter resettlement; waterways dredging; hauling sunken barges; riverside development; and public awareness. Apparently, the rehabilitation of Pasig River became one of the priority programs of government premised on the principle that sustainable development is a key element in providing people with a clean and healthy environment. The Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) was created pursuant to Executive Order No. 54. It deals primarily on management, rehabilitation of the river and regulation of the dumping of untreated wastewater and solid waste on the waterway. It also involves resettling squatters along the Pasig and the development of parks by the riverside. The PRRC adopts the goals of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Program, especially that which includes relocating squatters in the river area, developing parks, keeping watch on industries along the river, and monitoring water quality. The relocation of squatters is consistent with the "no relocation, no demolition” policy. Moreover, Presidential Decrees No. 600 (1974) and 979 (1976), or the anti-marine pollution laws, are the bases for prosecuting river polluters, including those that pollute the Pasig tributaries. The government, through the DENR, vigorously implement pollution control laws, rules, and regulations including the apprehension and imposition of penalties on violators of these laws. It has likewise initiated linkups with the private sector like the Sagip Pasig Movement and the Piso Para sa Pasig which have been most helpful in community organizing, promoting community-based waste management program, and launching beautification projects on policy in implementing its socialized housing program for squatters. In summary, these are government measures to save Pasig River from rot. The aforesaid programs however, have certain glitches and constraints in their implementation. It is apt therefore to enumerate them, as follows: a)Difficulties in the availability of technology, bureaucratic procedures and a general lack of funds; b)Polluting industries had adequate waste treatment facilities but could not comply with the DENR standards due to inefficiency of their operations; c)The presence of laws and regulations against littering and dumping have helped the program in its drive to reduce floating wastes on the river, the main constraint however is the enforcement of such laws; d)Logistical requirements are barely met and bureaucratic procedures have hampered the implementation of the projects; e)Lack of dissemination and information about waste reduction and the education of the riverside communities in waste management and the need for more personnel for the training for waste management; f)Although regular desludging of septic tanks was carried out, there has been a shortage of sludge disposal sites complying with the environmental standards. g)Expenditure allocated for dredging is minimal compared with the overall amount required to create an impact on the flow of the river; h)Squatter relocation faces the problems of funding, logistics and the constant struggle with the community organizations of the squatter groups; i)Need of educating of the riverside communities, as with solid waste program, especially the squatters eligible for relocation; and j)Program implementation is aggravated by the growing influx of migrants from other parts of the country and the metropolis coupled with the ever decreasing space available for them. Ultimately, the first few months of the implementation of the PPRP concentrated on building consensus among the organisations concerned on the master plan for rehabilitation and on setting-up the implementation system to meet the objectives of the long-term program. This in itself has been a most gruelling but equally rewarding experience. Once all the agencies, public and private, agreed on the objectives and strategies of the Rehabilitation Program, getting them to align their respective programs and projects into an overall system was less difficult. Unfortunately, the PRRP has to grapple with the attendant problems of coordinating a multi-agency, long-term program which will cross the term of three Presidents. The Philippine Government has a habit of changing priorities with every administration. The long-term success of the program also hinges on the capability of its managers to obtain the resources required to meet its objectives. Logically, the consistent implementation of the master plan would build a formidable credibility for the program which, in turn, could attract support from donors. Unless, however, the Rehabilitation Program can be rationalised to be financially beneficial, it will be dependent on grants and soft loans and will not be able to attract profit-orientated private sector investment. Unfortunately, this is a circular argument. The huge financial gap in the program will continue to plague its successful implementation. Social pressure will be an important element in the future of the program. The continuous, direct participation of private sector organisations will compel the government to pursue the long-term objectives of the program. Public opinion and the vigilance of the media will certainly escalate this pressure. This will be a function of consistent and aggressive information, education and communication campaign and of the transparency of the program. So far, the information, education and communication efforts of the PRRP have roused public awareness but have not brought it to a level of concern that can mount pressure on the Government to pursue the program.

The following will be critical areas requiring careful attention in any program implementation:
Increased co-ordination between the agencies and organisations involved in the program through closer review of the plans for implementation, common efforts at capacity building, and critical support to key projects. Another important element is the institutionalisation of the co-ordination system that has been established, either through the establishment of a new agency with a limited tenure or the strengthening and incorporation of this function in an existing government agency. A strong law needs to be passed by the legislature in the immediate future to realise this.

Constant review and upgrading of the plan of operation. The program should be flexible in order to respond to rapid changes in the economic and political environment. If there is an effective system of coordination among all the agencies involved, it should not be difficult to amend plans, to rectify errors and to take advantage of new opportunities.

An aggressive campaign to raise resources to ensure the implementation of the key projects in the Plan of Operation. It will be impossible to secure funding support for all the projects in a short period of time and, therefore, resource generation should be prioritised. If the coordination system has been put in place, major efforts should be made to obtain the necessary funds to ensure program implementation. Lack of funds should not be used as an excuse for delays in project implementation. Instead, creativity should be exercised in revising plans or breaking up the projects into more implementable sizes to prevent delays. The worst thing that could happen to the program is for it to lose its momentum and, in the process, to lose public and political Interest.

Ultimately, strengthening private participation in the program should also take into account. Private organisations are usually more capable than a government of sustaining initiatives because they are less affected by political considerations. The active participation of more private organisations, especially those that can provide special technical expertise (for example, in the form of community mobilisation and research) not normally inherent in government, will ensure continuity of the program.


Cruz, Renato T. (1997). Case Study III – The Pasig River, Philippines. World Health Organization Organization. Accessed on November 14, 2007.

Murphy, Denis; Anana, Ted, Urban Poor Associates, Philippines. Case study, 2004. Pasig River System – Metro Manila. Accessed on November 14, 2007.

Orendain, Joan (2007). Pasig River ferry sails again thru RP’s 1st highway. Accessed on November 14, 2007.

Water Pollution Control - A Guide to the Use of Water Quality Management Principles. Edited by Richard Helmer and Ivanildo Hespanhol Published on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme, the Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council and the World Health Organization by E. & F. Spon © 1997 WHO/UNEP ISBN 0 419 229108.

Case Study III - The Pasig River, Philippines by: Renato T. Cruz

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