Wake Up, Philippines!

Cry me a river of hope

Posted in Environment, Luzon by Erineus on March 27, 2009

FROM THE HEART By Gina Lopez Updated March 08, 2009 12:00 AM

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Hope for the Pasig: Kapit Bisig Sa Ilog Pasig is a movement that aims to clean the Pasig River. There is no way we can clean this river if we don’t work together.

In the latter part of 2007, as La Mesa was winding down, my brother suggested that I take on the cleaning up of Pasig River. I thought he was nuts for suggesting what seemed to be an impossible task; I actually thought he was teasing.

But a few months later former First Lady Ming Ramos decided to close shop and turn over the Pasig River Project to Bantay Kalikasan — and then a few days later Sec. Lito Atienza agreed to let me co-manage the rehabilitation of the three waterways: Laguna Lake, the Pasig River and Manila Bay.

A year into the job and flush from a hugely successful press launch on Feb. 24, I am convinced it can be done. I had set a timetable of seven years. But the more I go into it, the more it looked like it could be accomplished in less time. Some readers must be thinking, What?

Let me first share with you my passion. Did you know that Tagalog comes from Taga-Ilog? Our ancestors were originally river dwellers. The river is intimately connected to our history and to our identity as a people. How can we resign ourselves to the fact that we are Taga-ilog — Taga-ilog na marumi? Some parts of the river are not only dead — they are toxic. I was horrified to visit the San Juan River and see whirlpools of methane gas there! The San Juan River is a recipient of the toxicity that comes from Quezon City, and it is at the mouth of the Pasig River.

I was shocked to see how the people live near the river banks. The river is literally their toilet bowl. Under the Mindanao Avenue Bridge, there are 52 families living without windows, inhaling all those toxic fumes. The other week, one baby fell into the river and drowned!

How did we ever come to this?

In the same vein, I have heard stories of how pristine the river once was — and this was not so long ago. I myself can remember water-skiing across Manila Bay when I was in my teens. This is not something I would even momentarily consider now.

It is very clear to me that the cleaning of the Pasig River and all its tributaries is not only a physical exercise; it will have tremendous impact on our psyche. Just last Sunday when we launched the Kapit Bisig sa Ilog Pasig on ASAP, when the stars were singing songs of paradise and hope, I felt a stirring within me.

And since then I have gotten texts and e-mails on the project. The cleaning of the river definitely strikes a chord in our collective psyche.

So, how is it going to be done? The first order of the day is to relocate the illegal settlers. As long as there are people living along the river banks — with the river as their toilet — no cleaning will be possible. I am fortunate to have a very strong partner in the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission headed by Jun Tablan. He is dynamic — a real doer. Under his leadership we have, over the past month, already relocated more than 100 informal settlers and will resettle a little over 300 by the end of March. Jun says this is not even his job description but he is helping to do it anyway.

Where are we going to put the rest? NHA, under the leadership of Rico Laxa, is entrusted with the project management of the Calauan Resettlement Site, which can hold between 8,000 to 10,000 families. That is enough to make a huge difference. Globe Asiatique’s Delfin Lee has generously agreed to finish the existing 800 houses on the site as well as build better houses for the 168 families already there. site. Delfin has even agreed to fix up the existing elementary school building. When he offered to also fix up the sports field, I teasingly said I would put up a statue of him onsite. Teasing aside, Delfin has been really great! His efforts ensure that by June we will have moved 1,100 illegal settlers — and cleared up a sizeable portion of the riverbanks. Aside from livelihood, the game plan is to put up a really good school there — similar to the Xevera School of Globe Asiatique where our children are winning regional awards. A good school, livelihood, fresh air, and good management — I doubt that they will go back to the subhuman conditions they were experiencing in Metro Manila.

So now I need to find the funds to resettle the rest. There are exciting possibilities offered by the MMDA and certain congressmen, so I continue to be upbeat. But I do need help from the private sector.

Why else am I so upbeat? I have great partners! Manila Water and Maynilad have been tremendous. I had a very successful working relationship with these two companies for La Mesa and the relationship continues to bear fruit for the Pasig River.

I also have great LGU partners. Mayor Sonny Belmonte has already given P2 million for a solid waste management program. Mayor Jejomar Binay has said that he is with me all the way. The other mayors have also been wonderfully cooperative. Mayor Fred Lim and Col. Carlos Baltazar of Manila have been great in clearing up Estero de Paco after the informal settlers left, and MMDA was great in having their cranes speed up the job. The cooperation of the mayors is crucial. They need to make sure the law is implemented — that none of their residents continue to toxify the river. Ed Manda of the Laguna Lake Development Authority is also a great partner — and has committed to make sure that the factories along the river will not be allowed to dump toxic water into the river.

What continues to infuse me with optimism is the existing technology. I love scientists! The DOST has come up with great machines that can turn plastic and Styrofoam into chairs, tables, bricks — the possibilities are many and promise not only functional value but revenue possibilities. This means that instead of ending up in the waterways, the trash will be recycled and render service to the community.

Egay Maranan, a presidential awardee for Science and Technology, has had great results with his bioremediation technology: a 99 percent reduction in coliform — from 18,666,000 to 160,000 parts — in one month! Of course the allowable level is 5,000, but his success offers much promise.

Dinky Hermentera of Plantex has technology that can bioremediate at the source — this means microorganisms, fungi, green plants and their enzymes can be used to return natural environments altered by contaminants back to their original condition. She came to my home to demonstrate, placing organic materials in my septic tank. Before the input, the COD (chemical oxygen demand) was 4,789. In five days, it went down to 100! Class C is 70 COD, which could easily have been reached had she put a little more of her material in. With this technology, we can attain Class C liquids coming out of our septic tanks. It would be a great stopgap measure until we get central sewage treatment facilities.

I love the technologies above because they are effective, they are inexpensive and they are Filipino!

Oh, I could go on and on about the technologies that are cropping up that show promise. And the scientists keep saying seven years? We could do it in less!

The role of media is key. This was the missing link in previous efforts. Even if billions are spent on engineering and cleaning the river, it is going to stay dirty unless we change our mindsets. The river is not our toilet bowl! It’s our life. It’s God’s gift to us. The shifting of consciousness, the touching of hearts, the ability to inspire and tell the story — that’s the role that media plays. The Philippine STAR has committed itself to the cause. How can we not make a difference?

Kapit Bisig Sa Ilog Pasig is an apt name for the movement. There is no way we can clean this river if we don’t work together.

Last December, I was at a retreat and the river kept coming up in my meditation. One “message” that repeatedly came to me was that the cleaning of the Pasig River was all about hope. It is hope that is the receptacle of divine help. It’s when people have lost hope — when there is cynicism — that our angels have no one to give to.

When we manifest our positive hearts and spirits in the way we work, the heavens can help. By showing people these miracles — the things being done to improve the river — I believe there will be a snowball effect. Once people start to believe, once they start to see the possibilities — then the greatest heights can be reached.

Kapit Bisig Sa Ilog Pasig needs all the help it can get. Let me end by sharing with you a beautiful quote by one of the staff of Bantay Kalikasan:

Once, there was Pasig River

Let this no longer be a story of how the once-glorious river lost its wonder but how sincere, untiring commitment and well-meaning, strong partnerships brought it back to life.

Be part of the story. Let’s give our children a future they can believe in.

* * *

I can be reached at gina_lopez@abs-cbn.com.

For volunteer information/inquiries please e-mail Girlie Aragon, project manager of the Pasig campaign, at girlie_aragon@abs-cbn.com.

For direct donations, you may deposit at Banco de Oro, Scout Albano Branch, account number 393-0078222.

You may also donate through text by typing GIVE [space] ILOG then send to 231 for Smart and Talk & Text or 2366 for Globe, Touch Mobile, and Sun Cellular. Every time you text, you’re giving life to the Pasig River.

View previous articles of this column.

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=446497&publicationSubCategoryId=87

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