After cleaning up the trash-filled Estero de Paco, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) is setting its sight on another eyesore—Estero de San Miguel, the tributary behind Malacañang Palace.
Cleaning up the 2-kilometer tributary would be “good feng shui” not only for President Benigno Aquino III but also for the people living near the banks of the waterway, PRRC chairperson Regina Lopez said Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Lopez said the PRRC could replicate at Estero de San Miguel the success it achieved at Estero de Paco, where residents now enjoy cleaner water and healthier air.
“We want to clean the area behind the seat of power because it is good feng shui,” she said.
“The River is a very important component of a city’s growth. There is no way of accurately measuring the total value of bringing it back to life,” Lopez said.
ADB to help
Metro Manila is expected to reap billions of pesos worth of economic benefits from cleaning up the Pasig and its tributaries, speakers at the forum said.
But beyond economic benefits, rehabilitating the Pasig and the riverside communities would help improve the lives of illegal settlers along the waterways, they said.
Kunio Senga, director general of the ADB’s Southeast Asia Department, said the bank was especially interested in helping in the Pasig rehabilitation project because that would also address poverty and welfare issues.
Lopez said the national government had committed to fund the rehabilitation project, with President Aquino pledging P10 billion a year until 2016 to finance it. The project would include relocating the illegal settlers, building housing for the relocated families and cleaning the esteros.
Private companies are also pledging investments in the commercial areas to be opened up by the rehabilitation, Lopez said.
“We need private investors and the water concessionaires of Metro Manila. It’s a good thing they are pitching in,” Lopez said.
Lopez said estimates in a study of Estero de Paco showed the community’s savings could reach P24 billion over 20 years. The local government would be able to save P1 billion over the same period, she added.
Like Estero de Paco, Estero de San Miguel and other tributaries near the presidential palace—such as Estero de San Sebastian, Estero de Quiapo, Estero de Uli-Uli and Estero de Aviles—would be rid of floating trash. The tributaries would also be desilted to improve water flow.
Trees and plants will be planted along the banks to filter the wastes. A park will also be built on the banks. But Lopez said the community would have to guard the estero to discourage residents from throwing garbage into the river.
Lopez also said they would have to relocate dwellers living right on the banks as the law does not allow structures within 3 meters of the easement.
Benefits are real
Whether one believes in Chinese geomancy or not, the benefits of cleaning up Metro Manila’s waterways are real, she said.
Having a clean waterway has led to a massive improvement in the quality of life of residents on Estero de Paco, a study showed. The area did not experience floods last year, sparing residents of expenses in evacuating.
Crime also went down by 40 percent in the seven barangays surrounding the estero and business environment improved, according to the study.
Lopez said the study also projected that land values in the area could rise to P50,000 per square meter in 20 years. Right now, a square meter of land there is valued at around P4,000. For the local government, this would mean higher land taxes and business activity on the banks of the estero.
The community is also saving P49 million a year from reduced medical expenses, Lopez said, noting that river stench was the primary cause of respiratory diseases among residents.
“Maybe it is psychological due to a more healthy environment. But there is a significant improvement in the health of residents along the estero,” Lopez said.
Aside from Estero San Miguel, the PRRC also plans to clean up other tributaries in Manila, Makati, Quezon City, Taguig, San Juan and Mandaluyong.
Officials said the rehabilitation of the Pasig River system would ease flooding in Metro Manila as the river serves as one of the catchment areas for rainwater.
“We have 48 esteros plus the Pasig River, and we have the Manila Bay and Laguna Lake. Imagine, the savings and taxes would be much more,” Lopez said.