MANILA, Philippines—Senator Franklin Drilon challenged national and local leaders on Friday to apply the same kind of political will that led to the revival of the Iloilo River to the on-and-off efforts to clean up the Pasig River and unclog the country’s polluted waterways, especially in the capital.
Drilon hurled the challenge in the wake of international recognition of the rehabilitation of the Iloilo River and as the government embarks on another supposedly intensified effort to relocate squatters living along congested esteros or canals in Metro Manila.
“We still have a lot of work to do but the good thing is we’re gaining ground and people, including international environment observers, are seeing what we are capable of doing for our rivers,” Drilon said in a statement. “For a once-dead river to be named a finalist in an international environmental award sends a clear message. The redevelopment of rivers in the country is bound to be a success with the strong political will and cooperation among the people.”
The International River Foundation recently included the Iloilo River among the finalists for the Thiess International Riverprize award. The other finalists are the Bolshaya River in Russia, Mara River in Kenya, and the Murray Darling Basin in Australia.
The Thiess Riverprize is sponsored by the Austrian government through the International River Foundation (IRF).
“I am seeing the cooperation from all stakeholders and this is crucial to the realization of our goals for the Iloilo River,” Drilon said.
Drilon, one of the leaders in the Iloilo River’s clean-up and rehabilitation, called on all sectors to continuously work together in relocating families living along river banks and other waterways.
Drilon said it was not only a flood control measure, but, more importantly, it was a step toward making Philippine rivers clean again.
“The redevelopment of polluted rivers would only become successful with the collaborative efforts among its stakeholders,” Drilon said.
“I laud the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the chief executives in Metro Manila for finally collaborating in order to relocate 100,000 families living along the river banks and waterways,” he added.
The government has announced a plan to relocate an initial 4,000 families living along esteros in Metro Manila.
“This undertaking will not only help address perennial flooding in Metro Manila, but it will also make our rivers clean once more. The removal of all obstructions and impediments along rivers will restore the natural water flow and make the rivers a source of economic growth,” Drilon said.
Citing what was done for the Iloilo River, Drilon said the collaborative efforts among government and its stakeholders made possible the relocation of about 1,000 families living along the danger zones of the river and its tributaries.
“The rehabilitation of the Iloilo River is motivated by our desire to alleviate the perennial flooding in Iloilo and to make the river the anchor of economic progress,” Drilon said.
“We must not underestimate the benefits of a clean river could provide us: protection from calamities, food, jobs, and economic growth,” he added. “If we were able to do it in Iloilo, the government, with all its resources, is definitely more capable to clean our rivers and waterways.”
Drilon is one of those behind the Iloilo River Development Council, a consultative and coordinative body with primary goals of improving the river water quality and preserving its ecology while promoting sustainable development of the city.
The Iloilo River had deteriorated because of several factors, including pollution, sedimentation, depletion of mangrove areas, and proliferation of man-made structures.
Aside from the relocation project, Drilon also caused the construction of an Esplanade along the river to boost tourism in the city and to increase environmental awareness among its residents.
Drilon said the Iloilo River Esplanade has a total of 1.2 kilometers of pathways at strategic places along its river’s 22-kilometer course and viewing decks that provide visitors vantage points to appreciate its beauty.
Drilon initiated the removal of 10 derelicts and 38 idle vessels which were blocking the river for about a decade; as well as the elimination of illegal fishpens and dikes.
Drilon, with P40 million in assistance from the Department of Agriculture, also had the old Molo Slaughterhouse shut down and a modern one constructed away from the river.
The council also spearheaded numerous mangrove planting activities, regular clean-up drives, and inspection of the river.