Anak ng Pasig

CITIZEN Y - Yoly Villanueva-Ong -

Anak ng Pasig naman kayo, Tapon doon, Tapon dito                   

Di n’yo alam ang tinatapon n’yo, ay bukas ko at ng buong mundo!

[You sons of Pasig! You throw (waste) everywhere

Don’t you know that you’re throwing away my future and that of the world?]

This was the first message song that turned “platinum”, the recording industry’s lingo for commercial success. It sold over 100,000 CDs, making it an official monster hit. Anak ng Pasig was Aliw Awards’ Song of the Year in 1993. Evidently, it had struck the right chord. The song was about a child who grew up by the riverbanks thinking that it always had black water. One day, she saw an old photograph when it was still a glorious stream of clean flowing water. She is incensed and condemns the culprits who made waste of the river. It was a far cry from the lyrical and mellifluous libretto of Nicanor Abelardo’s classic, Mutya ng Pasig. But then, so was the river.

After the song hit the airwaves, former First Lady Ming Ramos focused her energies on the humongous task of trying to revive our version of the Dead Sea, or more accurately, Murdered River. She launched Piso Para Sa Pasig, a fundraiser calling on ordinary citizens to show their concern and donate whatever they could afford for a clean-up. In 1999, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission [PRRC] was born.

To her credit, Ming managed to raise enough funds to begin the dredging of a waterway so critical as it is the bloodline of a choking metropolis. As a primary artery, it traverses all the way up north to Navotas, south to Laguna de Bay, east to Marikina River and west to Manila Bay. With its tributaries, the watercourse wraps a labyrinthine web around 11 major cities in the Greater Manila area, a stranglehold of organic leachate, chemical contaminants, bacteria and disease, a cataclysm waiting to happen. Any hope for prosperity is throttled by the threat of vomiting toxic content that can spill out as far as the South China Sea!

By the time she stepped down from PRRC in 2007, the Pasig River was reportedly showing a glimmer of life, and the water was resuscitated by 25 percent. Ferry transport had begun to operate. But there was a long way to go. Gina Lopez of Bantay Kalikasan was chosen to take over from where Ming Ramos left off. Fresh from her success in the Save the La Mesa Watershed project, Gina rolled up her sleeves with characteristic fervor and optimism.

PRRC has drawn a comprehensive master plan that goes far beyond just a cleanup. For one, Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay are interconnected to Pasig River making the geographic scope much larger and the unmitigated consequences direr. The plan was holistic and long-term, involving the massive relocation of informal settlers, sustained livelihood projects, a cohesive waste management policy among others. The government and private sector facilities had already partnered up. But it needs the participation of business and the general public to further increase the chances for success.

So Citizen Y and colleagues took the first trepid step to commitment— an ocular! It was definitely not a gondola ride in Venice’ canals. In fact, it is not for the fainthearted. Gina and her staff took us through the maze of tributaries armed only with tissue dubbed in White Flower to inhale when the stench became too much to bear. On flatboats, some portions on foot, we covered a sizable part of the tributaries that snaked through Paco, Pandacan, Quiapo and Mendiola.

I don’t know what was more mind-boggling and heartrending: the amount of garbage, methane gas, human excrement freely floating on the water; or the families subsisting in the most dehumanizing conditions under the bridges and by the riverbanks. At one point, we had to sit on the floor of the boat to pass the underbelly of Mendiola Bridge. It had a clearance of about 28 inches because the tide had crept up by late afternoon. We were shocked to see families living under the bridge. Like barnacles, makeshift dwellings with just enough height for lying down hung from the concrete. As many as seven people lived in one room! As we passed through, a mangy toddler happily waved us on.

The tour’s finale was right behind Malacanang Palace. Not even the menthol could mask the reek of putridity. The water was stagnant with the weight of the garbage. It was a standing invitation for dengue and cholera. The irony was poignant. Right behind the Seat of Influence, was the seat of effluence.

Before cynicism could rear its ugly head, picture this showcase of rescued river at the embankment of the PRRC office along Quirino Ave. This could be what the whole water body could look like with determined resuscitation. The water was clean, green and flowing. Replacing litter was a little patch of garden with flowers on top and an aerator under to infuse a constant supply of oxygen. Its bank used riprap from Dr. Bo Arboleda’s award-winning invention of biodegradable coconut husk, planted with vetiver grass. Its deep roots keep the soil from eroding into the water, and absorb and contain the pollutants.

Eager troops of deputized river warriors zealously guard their bit of Paradise. They know that with everyone lending a hand, 25 kilometers of a rehabilitated watercourse is doable. The Masterplan has a timeline of seven years. Gina thinks we could make it happen in less time if corporate and ordinary citizens work together. The River could become the majestic jewel of yore again. From the immortal song Mutya ng Pasig —-

“Ang lakas ko ay nalipat, Sa puso’t dibdib ng lahat; 

Kung nais ninyong ako’y mabuhay, Pag-ibig ko’y inyong ibigay”


[My strength has gone and now lives in your hearts; If you want me to live again, give me back my love]

It is fervently hoped that your generosity will flow.

Email [email protected].


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