In ‘biologically dead’ Pasig river, life is finding a way
Once considered a bucolic jewel snaking through some of the busiest areas of Manila, Pasig River has long been thought of as dead—a waterway that only accrued sludge and filth.
Don’t be surprised if the 25-kilometer river is again brimming with life.
Environmental advocates and students picking up garbage along the banks of Pasig River on Saturday were amazed to find activity above and beneath the fetid waters: the hardy janitor fish and tilapia, migratory birds and hyacinths.
“We were surprised the river wasn’t foul-smelling,” says Joshua Wano, a junior tourism major from Polytechnic University of the Philippines. “The water also seemed clear. Before it was dark brown to black.”
Wano was among the dozens of volunteers who joined Saturday’s Pasig River #Salikalikasan, a cleanup activity led by the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary (PCGA) and other government and private organizations in time for Earth Day on Sunday.
“The Pasig River has significantly improved,” said George Oliver dela Rama, public information officer for the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC). “Though it was declared biologically dead in 1990, [for the last five years] you can see a resurgence [of] life.”
Choked by sachets
But while environment advocates consider cleanups like this as mere “stopgap measures” to revive the river, they deem it crucial to raising awareness among the communities to sustain the river’s rehabilitation, said Bayen Tinga, the event’s organizer and external affairs director of PMFTC Inc.
Much remains to be done for the Pasig River, which is suffocating from high levels of organic and chemical wastes dumped into it by the thousands of factories and households along its banks.
It has yet to meet the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ standards for Class C water quality, which would make it viable for fishery, recreation and manufacturing.
According to Dela Rama, 70 percent of all wastes in the river are domestic—human feces, garbage, food and compost, while the remaining 30 percent come from industrial and chemical waste from factories.
Lt. May Thorssen of the PCGA particularly lamented the high saturation of plastic sachets choking the river. “That’s always been a huge problem, because the households living along the river could only afford to buy [their commodities] not by the jug, but by the single sachet,” she said.
But recent tests showed improved water quality in the waterway, Dela Rama said. He attributed this partly to the PRRC’s continuing efforts to clear the easements of households and structures, particularly along the river’s tributaries.
“Once we finish that, we could convert them into environmental preservation areas [like] water parks and green belts. Hopefully later on we could introduce water quality technology and conduct community awareness works so the public may be more aware of how to sustain the river,” Dela Rama said.
Other initiatives such as private sector-led cleanups, as well as the installation of sewage treatment systems along densely populated areas along the river’s tributaries, have also helped revive the dying river, he added.