NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 19 Oct) – Declared in the ’90s dying if not biologically dead, the Pasig River is back to life and the effort to resurrect it has been adjudged as the most noteworthy endeavor in Asia, earning the 1st Asia Riverprize, the world’s foremost award in river basin management. The award was given by the International River Foundation on October 16, 2018 in Australia.

Actually, the plight of Pasig River came into focus towards the end of the Cory Aquino administration with a study conducted by the DENR and the Royal Danish Government in 1990-1991. Results pointed only to the fact that the historic river was dying. Its estimated daily pollution load in terms of Bio-Oxygen Demand (BOD) was 327 tons–well above the maximum BOD (200 tons) that can sustain aquatic life.

The Pasig was hardly flowing. Tons of filth, ugly solid wastes and derelict structures and abandoned barges clogged the river. The chemical effluents from factories, manufacturing plants and domestic wastes rendered the 27-kilomter waterway repugnant to sight and smell. It is not known how many drums of air freshener the Malacañang Palace housekeeping staff used then daily to counter the stench of the nearby river.

The First Lady of the Palace, Amelita “Ming” Ramos, could not take it anymore. She began beating the drum to clean and put the Pasig back to life. Mrs. Ramos founded in 1994 the Clean & Green Foundation, Inc. (C&GFI), after President Fidel Ramos launched the Pasig River Rehabilitation Programme (PRRP) in 1993 whose main task was to revitalize the river in 15 years (1993-2008).

The C&GFI, a non-government, non-profit organization dedicated to the protection, preservation and enhancement of the environment, took the first cudgel for the rehabilitation of the Pasig. Open public spaces in Metro Manila were transformed into gardens, and the clean-up drive and the greening of the Pasig River banks began in earnest. Finally in January 6, 1999, President Ramos created the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) to give a more lasting attention to put the Pasig back to life.

The PRRC happily survives and manages to course through the administration of four presidents – Estrada, Arroyo, B. Aquino and Duterte – a testament to the truth that a good well-meaning project will transcend and rise above politics.

Pasig River beat the other finalist, Yangtze River of China, which was represented by the Asian Development Bank.

The IRF recognizes and rewards organizations that are making a difference through effective river basin restoration and management programs.

The IRF hailed the PRRC for its success in resettling, from 1999 to 2017, 18,719 families living along the riverbanks to decent homes, dismantled 376 encroaching private structures, established 37,471.68 linear meters of environmental preservation areas, developed 17 of its 47 identified tributaries, diverted almost 22 million kilos of solid waste and transformed communities into environmentally responsible citizens.

“This has resulted in significant water quality improvement, as well as the revitalization and development of the Pasig River system,” declared the IRF.

Today, the Pasig River is no longer an eyesore that it used to be, ugly black with drifting filth all around. The stench is now more or less tolerable. Some green patches of gardens and growing trees are now visible along the river bank. And passenger ferries give commuters an alternative route to their destination to escape the maddening traffic of the metropolis.

There is still much to do, however, to improve and sustain the rehabilitation of the Pasig. Of immediate and utmost concern is the management and effective clean-up of the esteros that empty their load of wastes into the Pasig, particularly during flash floods. The cleaning and greening management of the Binondo estero may serve as model in the effort. The planting of trees along the Pasig ought to expand to capture and reduce the toxic carbon footprints of the metropolis.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental.)