Saturday, October 07, 2006

Scourge of the Pasig River

I once been associated with a government agency which deals with the rehabilitation of the Pasig River and its environmental concerns. Although it is not a top secret agency with unlimited funds and nosy secret agents, it is considered one of the powerful environment watch dogs for Metro Manila and four other provinces. For obvious reasons, I hesitate to divulge its name.When I was appointed as adviser of its special task force on pollution control, I was inevitably entangled with the Pasig River and the majestic Laguna Lake where the growing metropolis empties its load of vomit and toxic goo. Even a shitty job (worse than calling it a thankless job) offers a few perks. Among these privileges is to travel along the dying river aboard the agency's speedboat (airconditioned and fast for Philippine standards). During a trip with some foreign VIP, we started at the Manila Yatch Club and sliced through Manila Bay into the mouth of Pasig River at Parola, Tondo. The trip along the the murky waters of the Pasig River was slow and agonizing. Yet, there are sights to behold along the old Aduana. The old buildings of a forgotten Manila caught my attention. There is Bureau of Immigrations building at Intramuros with its unique architecture that dates back to the Commonwealth era. Another is the enigmatic Jones Bridge which sits as a formidable sight along the river's initial stretch. I tried to concentrate a little harder and started to picture an entirely beautiful scenery that exists in the times of Rizal and Bonifacio. A river that rivals the grand Thames and idyllic Siennes. It is crissossed by bancas and steamships that ferried people from Manila to the nearby provinces. There are a variety of fishes which playfully thrive in its clear blue green water. All combined to paint a breathtaking scenery. But my thoughts are short lived and I am facing a bleak reality- the foul smell of Binondo's urine (that creeps into our airconditioned cabin), the dead dogs and cats that float along flotilla of water lilies. As we inches deep into Pasig River, I saw the decaying scenery that has resulted from years of neglect by the local and national governments. The majesty is now damned with the squatter colonies which cling helplessly along the banks. The old structures which once stirred men's fantasies are left to rot away with each year's passing.

As we were in the middle of our trip, i noticed a sudden shiver in our boat's engine. I was told we were passing the fortress of Malacanang Palace - the residence of our President. Even if we were also a government agency, we still have to pass through heavy security check and watchful eyes of the Presidential Security Group. It took us to an even slower crawl. No pictures can be taken. No body would even take along look at palace for the fear of being suspected as a coup plotter. What a bummer!! For the rest of our trip, i pondered on what has just beckoned. Now i know why Pasig River has been neglected and seldomly used as thoroughfare for Manilenos. If passing through the Malacanang perimeter will subject each boat and ship to security check, passenger ferry business will surely fold up in a matter of days. Well, thats the real score if we are going to pit the security of the President and the state of the river that most Metro Manilan's hope to be rehabilated. 

We have to admit the location of Malacanang Palace along the Pasig River is a big hindrance to the latter's development. Our good President should look for other places to cool her heels. Surely there would be a lot of fitting sites - maybe even outside of Metro Manila. Malacanang does not need the Pasig River to define it. It can totally exist without the river. On the other hand, the Pasig River cannot freely realize its full potentials if there is a huge stumbling block that drives away its well wishers. Until the offices of the big bosses at Malacanang palace are located elsewhere, Pasig River remains a high security zone and people unfriendly. Without the admiration, the dying river will helplessly fade into oblivion.

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