Pasig River

VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

On Jan. 17, 2024, I attended the launch of the Pasig Bigyang Buhay Muli (PBBM) redevelopment project for Metro Manila’s most famous river, as a guest of the First Couple.

The project will cost P18 billion, with funding coming from the Philippines’ leading tycoons and taipans.

The 25-km Pasig River Esplanade will be completed in two years, max, according to First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos. Implementor is Secretary Jose Rizalino “Jerry” Acuzar of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.

It is not clear whether Jerry Acuzar can deliver.  Previous first ladies tried to undertake a Pasig redevelopment of one form or another. They all failed.

Housing chief Acuzar faces a herculean task. Previously, Jerry had promised to build one million housing units a year or six million homes during six years of the Bongbong Marcos presidency. After more than 18 months, there should have been 1.5 million houses. Where are they?

In the case of the Pasig project, Jerry’s job has been made easier by San Miguel’s Ramon S. Ang, who has spent P2 billion to clean the river and its tributaries. At of this writing, RSA has removed 1.5 million tons of garbage, making the river alive again. So laying out three- to 12-meter walkways on both sides from Manila Bay to Laguna Lake might seem like icing on the cake.

To ensure funding for PBBM (the river project, not the President), the country’s top tycoons and taipans were invited to the Jan. 17 event – Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala of Ayala Group, Manuel B. Villar Jr. of Vista Land, Lance Gokongwei of JG Summit Holdings and Robinsons Land, and Kevin Tan of Alliance Global and Megaworld. These are the Philippines’ top real estate developers, bar none. Their donations will come in handy.

Curiously, the government’s top revenue and finance people were also at the Pasig inaugural – newly minted Finance Secretary Ralph Recto, newly minted Secretary for Investments Frederick Go (a first cousin of Lance), DENR Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo Loyzaga, Bureau of Internal Revenue chief Jun Lumagui, GSIS CEO Wicks Veloso, SSS CEO Rolando Macasaet and Development Bank of the Philippines CEO Mike de Jesus.

Also there were Senate President Migz Zubiri himself and some of his pro-Cha-cha (by legislation) senators – Loren Legarda, Cynthia Villar, Mark Villar, Jinggoy Estrada and Nancy Binay. DILG Secretary Benhur Abalos and MMDA chief Don Artes had in tow NCR mayors whose cities straddle the Pasig – Honey Lacuna of Manila, Abby Binay of Makati, Menchu Abalos of Mandaluyong and Francis Zamora of San Juan.

At the launch, President BBM delivered an inspired speech. He said he has staked the Marcos name on the project. After all, he is verifiable Batang Pasig. He grew up and played by the river as a kid. And now, he sleeps and holds office there.

“Isa po akong Anak ng Pasig. Bago po ako’y pumasok sa larangan ng serbisyo publika, nandiyan na ang Bongbong Marcos na Batang Pasig. I grew up by the Pasig River. Today, I work by the Pasig River, I live by the Pasig River, I shuttle between the two – my work place and my residence, by boat, through the Pasig River. So, when it comes to knowing the state of Pasig River, I do not merely rely on statistics reported, but by sight and smell – on my morning and evening commutes,” BBM related.

The President cited cultural, historical, economic and strategic reasons why Pasig is important to the Marcos family, to Metro Manilans and to the nation at large. He said:

“No river in our country holds as great a cultural and historical significance as Pasig River. Its flow has not only shaped the contours of our nation’s capital, but the economic landscape of a booming metropolis as well.

“As the country’s first nautical expressway, it brought people together and their produce to its tributaries, along whose bank settlements grew and prospered.

“It is a witness to the ebb and flow of our history, transporting heroes during the birth of the Republic, the courage of patriots whose spirit was never broken in the watery dungeons of Fort Santiago.

“After the end of the country’s colonial period, the symbol of executive power was housed along its banks. For a river that has given us so much, we have given back too little.

“Our stewardship of this national asset leaves much to be desired. A national deficit, which we have never properly erased.”

BBM urged his listeners “to consecrate ourselves to the mission of transforming Pasig River to what it is supposed to be: a living river of multiple benefits for the multitude, featuring safe walkways and bikeways along its banks, a green corridor that will serve as lungs for our city’s needs, a string of parks for communities nearby.”

BBM promised that “along the 25-km stretch will judiciously sprout commercial enterprises, run by the best stewards and strongest stakeholders of the river’s development – the people themselves. We envision civic spaces where our children will play, our seniors will relax, families will exercise, artists can showcase their talents and the creative can display their wares.”

“We want it to be a permanent exhibit area of green technology that works – from solar lights to rain harvesting facilities – sustainable practices like urban gardens.

“We will also maximize this ready-to-use but underutilized maritime highway, by deploying more ferry boats and stations, because, if you build them, the riders will come,” Marcos Jr. elaborated.

“The transformation we would like to see in Pasig River are not cosmetic in nature,” the President assured. Accordingly, he has ordered the relocation of some 10,000 squatters living by the river. Also, during President Aquino III’s time, Malacañang, by the Pasig, was found not to have any sewage system.

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Email: [email protected]

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