Pasig river rehabilitation (source: theriverman.org)
PRESIDENT Duterte has ordered the abolition of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) a month after he relieved its former head for alleged corruption. The PRRC was created by Administrative Order No. 7 way back in 1999 as an interagency body to oversee the implementation of the government’s master plan to rehabilitate the river “to its historically pristine condition conducive to transport, recreation, and tourism.”
The PRRC was created 20 years ago. One would expect that after 20 years, the problem of cleaning up the Pasig River should have been substantially solved. But it seems that all these years, this government agency has existed but the Pasig River and the Manila Bay into which it flows are today as dirty as ever.
In 2008, the Supreme Court called for the rehabilitation of Manila Bay and named 13 government agencies led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), each with a definite role to play in the total rehabilitation plan. Among these were the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, the Local Water Utilities Administration, the Metro Manila Development Authority, the Department of Health, the Philippine National Police, and the Philippine Coast Guard. Through the DILG, the local governments around Manila Bay were to play the major role of stopping the towns and other communities from dumping their refuse into the waterways.
Somehow, however, the overall cleanup program never happened. There were efforts by special groups created by Malacanang to clean up the Pasig, but the river became increasingly polluted. Fish that managed to survive were declared unfit to eat, and all swimming was banned.
Finally, the Duterte administration scored a big success in cleaning up Boracay and turned its attention to Manila Bay and the Pasig River. Two weeks ago, the DENR announced its plan for the Pasig – it would appoint some 2,000 “estero rangers” to police the 203 esteros and other waterways flowing into the Pasig, to stop the dumping of household and human wastes into them. In announcing this major project, the DENR surprisingly made no mention of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission which should have been carrying out a cleanup program all these years.
With its abolition, the PRRC will give up its main functions to a Manila Bay Task Force which will have to work with several other agencies to achieve the total goal of cleaning up the bay. It is a formidable task which, in the estimation of DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, will take at least ten years.
We simply have to forget the last 20 years of the abolished PRRC and look forward to the secretary’s rehabilitation program for the river and the bay and hope that he and succeeding DENR officials will be able to achieve this difficult goal in ten years as he expects.