Saving Manila heritage: Pasig River Heritage Appreciation walk launched to oppose PAREX

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
Saving Manila heritage: Pasig River Heritage Appreciation walk launched to oppose PAREX
This October 2021 photo shows a member of artist-heritage advocacy group Renacimiento Manila in Jones Bridge, Manila.
Faceboo / Renacimiento Manila

MANILA, Philippines — For a group of artists and heritage advocates, Pasig River is a “cradle of rich heritage within the metropolis.”

However, a proposed six-lane elevated expressway called Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) traversing 19.37-kilometers that is expected to rise over this treasured river is feared to impact heritage structures.

The controversial P95.4 billion project of San Miguel Corp. would cover the cities of Manila, Mandaluyong, Makati, Pasig and Taguig.

What are the potential heritage properties at stake?

Renacimiento Manila earlier estimated at least 40 important architectural treasures in a diverse range of styles, including Neoclassical, Art Deco and Neo-renaissance structures to be affected by this project. Some of these jewels are designed by renowned architects such as Tomas Mapua, Angel Nakpil, Juan Arellano, Jose Maria Zaragoza and Luis Maria Araneta.

Among the built heritage properties seen to be affected by this project are dozens more still existing historic bridges, industrial heritage and heritage districts, as well as government offices lying along the river banks.

These include the Walled City of Intramuros Malacañang Palace, among others. The group said that the Palace, now the official residence and workplace of the Office of the President, is the former country home of Spaniard Luis Rocha who was involved in the Galleon Trade.

“This elevated expressway will reshape the landscape and rob the Tagalogs’  (taga-ilog) of their cultural identity which is a Constitutional right,” Renacimiento Manila said in April.

“It may preclude future plans to make the river and its banks a vibrant tourism spot, open public space, means of public transport that will enhance the sustainable quality of life of Manilenos,” it added.

However, the PAREX project broke ground last September 24, just days after the SMC and Toll Regulatory Board signed the Supplemental Toll Operations agreement for this.

In view of this, concerned citizens, tax payers and organizations who disagree with the construction launched an online petition calling on SMC to terminate the project.  

“PAREX will erase our people’s bond with the river that is the cradle of our country’s civilization and is a heritage resource of national significance,” their joint statement and online petition read.

 “We believe that PAREX will spell the death of the Pasig River and our people, heritage, mobility, economy, and environment. The project will violate the constitutional right of all Filipinos, including generations to come, to a balanced and healthful ecology,” they added.

International non-government organization International Council on Monuments and Sites that works for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage place, likewise said PAREX “will worsen traffic, benefit only a minority, and kill the river, our heritage.”

Meanwhile, as part of its commitment in the wider campaign to halt the PAREX, Renacimiento Manila on Saturday kicked off its Pasig River Heritage Appreciation walk that highlighted the heritage structures and sites that are believed to be affected by the thoroughfare.

The group said the route started at Plaza Lawton and proceeded to Jones Bridge, Plaza Moraga, Muelle Banco Nacional, Calle Escolta, Plaza Goiti, Santa Cruz Bridge and then back to Lawton.

Early this week, the group announced that it would be holding heritage walks of varying themes every Saturday morning for the whole month of October.

“Knowing the cultural and historical significance of this area of the Pasig River is key in understanding why, in the lens of heritage advocates, it is important that PAREX never sees the light of day,” Renacimiento Manila said in a Facebook post.

Lovers and defenders of Pasig River also held #IlogPasiglahin event, a bike ride and ferry last October 2. They converged at the Escolta Ferry Station to ride the ferry to Guadalupe and go bike back to Escolta.

‘PAREX will not impact heritage’

Amid the uproar against the proposed expressway, tycoon Ramon Ang assured heritage advocates that SMC’s PAREX would avoid the Intramuros area.

He denied an illustration of the supposed alignment of PAREX showing it runs alongside Intramuros circulating on social media.

This was posted by landscape architect and urban planner Paulo Alcazaren who listed down heritage sites and structures that would be affected by the proposed PAREX's first segment due to their proximity. He said these sites are protected by the Republic Act 1066 or the “National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.”

“For the record, per the basic alignment developed in consultation with, and approved by the government, PAREX will not run on the Intramuros side, but on the other side, along Binondo,” Ang was quoted as saying in a report of The STAR.

“Like many who oppose the project, we are also Filipinos who value our heritage sites, especially Intramuros, where we helped in the restoration of the Manila Cathedral a few years back,” he added.

Based on the SMC’s 2021 Project Description for Scoping of the PAREX project, the project size reads:

“The project entails the 19.37 Kilometer elevated highway that will run from west of Metro Manila, beginning at the areas of San Nicolas and Intramuros in Manila and terminates at around the C-6, with a connection to the South East Metro Manila Expressway vicinity in the Municipality of Taytay in the Province of Rizal.”

Project layout of PAREX
San Miguel Corporation's project description for scoping - PAREX via Move as One Coalition

SMC also presented these plans during an online public consultation on July 14.

SMC Infrastructure Engineer Edgar Doña then noted the request of Renacimiento Manila’s request to include heritage impact assessment for the project.

Under review

Meanwhile, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, a cultural agency of the country mandated to “manage, maintain and administer national shrines, monuments, historical sites, edifices and landmarks of significant historic-cultural value,” has yet to release a comment on the PAREX issue.

“Regarding PAREX it is being reviewed na ng lawyer and for agenda ng NHCP board,” NHCP’s restoration architect Luisa Valerio told Philstar.com.

Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto last week said he has also yet to express his opinion on the controversial project as he has only been seeing media reports about it.

“Right now they have yet to present it to us in detail so I will give a statement or express my opinion to the public when I know all the details of the project,” Sotto said after he filed his certificate of candidacy for the mayoral post.

"Dapat i-present nila sa amin. Dapat magkaroon tayo ng malalim na konsultasyon sa iba’t ibang stakeholder bago matuloy 'yung proyekto,” he added.

In the meantime, different activities in relation to the opposition to the PAREX led by various organizations are still being conducted.

The online petition made on Change.org titled "Stop the proposed Pasig River Expressway! #NoToPAREX #IlogPasiglahin" has earned 9,335 signatures since late September.

Ang in The STAR report said the issues raised by the public “can still be adjusted, based on inputs from government and stakeholders during the detailed engineering design stage.”

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