Monday, July 14, 2014

Rehabilitation of esteros & other Pasig River tributaries

Note: This photo-essay appeared in slightly different version in the 11-17 Jul 2014 issue of FilAm Star, "the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America," published weekly in San Francisco CA.  This blogger/author is the Special News/Photo Correspondent of said paper in the Philippines.

Estero de Vakencia: then and now.
Photo from Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission.
The thought that this river should be brought to life again has not left us after enjoying the ferry boat ride on the Pasig from Pinagbuhatan, Pasig City to Plaza Mexico in Intramuros on two fine sunny days in early June (FilAm Star issue 276).

We’ve read about the core program of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) chaired by Ms. Regina Paz. L. Lopez, the main thrust being the restoration of the 47 tributaries of the Pasig comprising esteros, creeks and other waterways. 

These tributaries are distributed in nine (9) clusters in “The Strategic Development Framework for Tributaries (2014-2016)” under the Pasig River Rehabilitation Master Plan:  Cluster I (8 Manila esteros); Cluster II (7 Manila esteros, which includes Aviles, Sampaloc, San Miguel and Valencia); Cluster III (8 Manila esteros including Paco and Santibanez); Cluster IV (5 creeks in Mandaluyong and Makati); Cluster V (5 creeks and in Pateros and Taguig); Cluster VI (4 tributaries in Pasig); Cluster VII (3 creeks in Mandaluyong and San Juan; and Cluster VIII (4 creeks in Quezon City) and Cluster IX (3 creeks in Quezon City). 

The named esteros in the Manila clusters have already been totally or partially completed, and these were what we wanted to see. We’ve had enough of seeing clogged esteros or creeks in going around Santa Cruz, Quiapo or Binondo.

The Estero de San Miguel boardwalk.
Estero de San Miguel. We first did a solo exploration of this estero from the foot of the LRT Station on Legarda to Arlegui Bridge, the gateway to Malacañang.   We walked on the floating boardwalk just like the students going to or coming from their classes at Centro Escolar University or the V. Mapa High School.

This portion of the estero was generally clean and garbage-free, and we noted the floating islands of vetiver grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides) that spell the slogan “Clean Water Soon.” These grasses are phytoremediators; and when planted close together, they can filter out sediments and decontaminate heavy metals. Viviter is used worldwide for slope protection and soil erosion control.  

At the end of the board walk, a block from Arlegui, is an antique-looking stone pedestrian bridge to the mini-park behind Centro Escolar. The view from here is a row of houses all painted green, which we thought to reflect the spirit of environmental protection.

Jericho Von Miranda, PRRC media and communications head, was our amiable guide during our second journey to another sector of Estero de San Miguel.  This time, our pathway was the easement between the tributary and the residential houses. Easements had been transformed into linear parks bordered by green plants and other ornamentals. Through PRRC’s ecological training activities, homeowners became River Warriors who are responsible for making the estero and the linear park ecologically sound.

The rehabilitated Estero de San Miguel was inaugurated on 04 June 2014. Around Php52-Million was spent for dredging, installation of the floating boardwalk, development of linear parks, river bank improvement, slope protection and phytoremediation.

The 2-km long Estero San Miguel has yet to be completely rehabilitated. We noted, for example, that there are still houses of informal settler families (ISFs) built along or over the waterway.  Miranda informed that their relocation is a major component of the PRRC master plan.

Top photos (left to right): Esteros de Sampaloc & Aviles.
Bottom (l to r): Linear parks along San Miguel & Paco esteros.

Estero de Aviles.  Our walk on the linear park was about half-kilometer, the length of the waterway itself, and almost at the end is the barangay hall.  Where this hall now stands, according to Miranda, were the houses of ISFs who amicably accepted to move to relocation sites outside Manila.

The rehabilitated Estero de Aviles was inaugurated on 07 July 2013.  About Php6.2-Million went into dredging works, linear park development, and the construction of the barangay hall and the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).
Estero de Paco.   This estero is more than two kilometers long.  During the walk, we chanced upon river warriors cleaning up areas that were flooded the night before because of the heavy rains.

The rehabilitated waterway was inaugurated on 11 January 2012, the first to be completed and thus serves as template in the rehabilitation of other tributaries.  Php20-Million went to the cleaning and rehab of the estero and of the century old Paco Market.

Tarpaulin posters of the old estero heavily clogged with garbage provide a very strong  contrast to what we saw: clean waterway with active island reactors-aerators surrounded by lush green plants and river warriors on their rafts busy in their cleaning tasks.  The three island reactors worth Php5-Million generate oxygen to help restore aquatic life in the waterway.

River Warriors maintaining cleanliness of the esteros of Paco
(top & bottom left photos) and Santibanez (bottom right).

Estero de Sampaloc and Estero de Valencia.  Our sight-seeing was confined to Estero de Sampaloc via the well-kept linear park along the kilometer-long tributary. We skipped the shorter Estero de Valencia for another time.   Both rehabilitated esteros were the latest to be inaugurated on 11 June 2014.

The rehabilitation involved not only riverbed dredging, desilting works, and riverbank development but also relocation of some 400 ISFs in Bulacan.  We noted a serious commitment among the homeowners to keep their linear park “yards” clean by proper management of their household wastes (“Tapat Ko, Linis Ko”).

Estero de Santibanez. This short tributary (about 400 m long) was the last in our guided tour.  It lies close to the Malacañang Park. 

We found this waterway a refreshing sight.  The water seemed fresher than those of other esteros, concrete planters were built to wall the linear park from the estero, and there were three boats that the river warriors use for cleaning operations.  These boats are also used for livelihood:  for a fee, visitors may have some fun boating around the waterway.

The rehabilitated estero was inaugurated in November 2013. Php13.69-Million was used for infrastructure development.  The estero was dredged, the three-meter easement was restored and developed into a linear park, bioremediation was initiated, and community volunteers were trained as river warriors. The easement restoration involved relocating ISFs.

It was a pleasure to note that homeowners there tended “little gardens” on the concrete planters with signage boasting that “this garden is cared for and loved by this family.”  A friendly ambiance pervades among the residents living near this tributary.

The PRRC spearheaded  the rehabilitation of the above six esteros.  It had the ABS-CBN Foundation Kapit Bisig Para sa Ilog Pasig (KBPIP), Local Inter-Agency Committee (LIAC) and the City of Manila as major partners.  PAGCOR, Metrobank Foundation and DPWH had distinct participation in specific estero projects.  The Department of the Interior and Local Governments (DILG) was involved in the relocation of informal settler families.

PRRC began with 16 esteros in Manila and Quezon City, and seven new project sites were added these year involving 140 barangays in Manila: the esteros dela Reina, Magdalena, San Lazaro, de Vitas, Kabulusan, Sunog Apog and Maypajo.

There are informal settler families to be relocated, and PRRC intends to start the process by the third quarter of this year. 

Relocations pave the way for recovering the three-meter easements and developing them into linear parks, walkways and greenbelts.  PRRC calls them Environmental Preservation Areas (EPAs), which can serve as “buffer for public safety and river protection.”

It will take some time, but the vision is of Pasig River becoming alive once again with the complete rehabilitation of its 47 tributaries.

Postscript. Throwbacks.

Plano de Manila y sus Arrabales [Plan of Manila & Suburbs] 1898 shows the
esteros & other Pasig River tributaries.  [Source: Perry-Castaneda Library Map
Collection, University of Texas at Austin available from]

‘There are many canals or esteros emptying into this [Pasig] river,” the American Express Company described in their guide to Manila and the Philippines (1933), and “[t]he strange and brilliantly colored “cascos” and the long and narrow “bancas” move slowly up and down the canals.’

National Artist Nick Joaquin delved farther into the beginning of his “Manila, My Manila” (1999): “...this delta was not a solid hunk of ground ... [but] a jumble of small islands between which ran the rivulets that we call esteros.”

In his “Almanac for Manileños” (1979), Joaquin describes Trozo as “a Little Tondo in the 1870s”, a marshland “traversed by three great waterways: the Estero de San Lazaro, the Estero de la Magdalena, and the Estero de Tutuban or Teneria ... deep running estuaries, navigable, and connecting through the Pasig with the hill country north of Manila. When the mountains there were still densely forested, loggers rolled the timber they felled down the Pasig and into the esteros of Trozo, which became a lumber-yard area.”

It’s the national hero Dr. Jose Rizal who defined the role of the estero, specifically the Estero de Binondo, during his time:  “the Binondo creek ...plays, as do all rivers in Manila, the multiple roles of bathing place, drainage and sewerage, laundering area, fishing ground, means of transport and communication, and even source of potable water, if the Chinese water hauler or peddler finds it convenient (Noli me Tangere, Soledad Lacson-Locsin translation).”

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