Pasig River

With PAREX uncertain, advocates ask Marcos: Consult communities for Pasig River revival

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With PAREX uncertain, advocates ask Marcos: Consult communities for Pasig River revival

DREAMS FOR PASIG RIVER. Jovel Jacolbia and Rigel Magcale of Ilog Pasiglahin show drawings by school children of their 'dreams' for Pasig River. Rappler photo

Is President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. serious about his 'people-centric' plan to develop Pasig River? Advocates tell Rappler what will convince them of the Chief Executive's sincerity.

MANILA, Philippines – With the future of the Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) project uncertain, advocates who opposed the project called on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to center his Pasig River revival initiative on the needs of communities near the iconic waterway.

Joven Jacolbia and Rigel Magcale, members of volunteer group Ilog Pasiglahin, told Rappler on Friday, March 22, that they would support the President’s and First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos’ “Pasig Bigyang Buhay Muli Project” (PBBM), if it would be based on genuine consultation with communities.

“We welcome the plan because we in Ilog Pasiglahin think that government should take the lead in rehabilitating Pasig River,” said Jacolbia in a Be The Good interview with Rappler community lead Pia Ranada.

“We’ve seen the plans. President Marcos said, it will be people-driven, community-oriented, but right now, unfortunately, none of us–and even none of our partner communities–have been consulted in the drafting or planning the program,” he added.

The “Pasig Bigyang Buhay Muli Project,” which has the same acronym as Marcos’ name, was officially introduced to the public last January. It has its roots in his July 2023 executive order which created the Inter-Agency Council for the Pasig River Urban Development (IAC-PRUD), headed by the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development and vice-chaired by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

With PAREX uncertain, advocates ask Marcos: Consult communities for Pasig River revival

In the plan, 8 areas along the 25-kilometer stretch of the Pasig River will be developed into “people-centric” zones that will feature a mix of commercial spaces, public parks, bike lanes, and jogging areas. Thousands of informal settlers stand to be displaced by the project but the government gave assurances they would be given new homes in permanent relocation sites.

How the Palace-backed river revival plan would jive with PAREX and other road projects near Pasig River confuses groups like Ilog Pasiglahin.

PALACE-LED PASIG RIVER PLANS. On January 17, the ‘Pasig Bigyang Buhay Muli’ project was officially introduced to the public during an opening ceremony headed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos. Photo from Bongbong Marcos Facebook Page

But Marcos’ vision for the river is closer to their goals than the planned expressway.

Jacolbia and Magcale, however, emphasized that genuine public consultation and collaboration with Pasig River communities would make the Marcos plan more sustainable. Without the involvement of communities, it would be easier for another administration to scrap the project. It would also be much easier for private developers to “co-opt” the riverside sites and turn them into enclaves for the rich, shutting out ordinary people who have the right to enjoy the river too.

Hindi naman gagana ‘yung isang proyekto ‘pag hindi naman ‘to ginamit o hindi naman ‘to sinosolve, ‘yung kung ano bang mga problema ng communities,” said Jacolbia, pointing out the importance of consulting with the people.

(A project cannot run without people who can benefit from it and if it does not address the issues of the communities.)

The two advocates also pushed for a law that would ensure protection of Pasig River from projects like PAREX. There is also still the planned Southern Access Link Expressway or SALEX that could affect one end of Pasig River.

One way is to declare Pasig River a heritage site, something which only one city, Makati, has done, through an ordinance.

“It needs to be protected by law, Pasig River, that it’s open for nature and sustainably developed. The laws should make it hard to be co-opted for things or developments that are not people-centric,” said Magcale.

He also pointed out that, in the local development plans of cities that would be traversed by PAREX, the river’s banks were identified mostly as recreational or tourist sites, not as a site for a major road. Thus, if national government were to listen to local government units, PAREX and other projects like it should not be given the green light.

The national agency that had previously coordinated policies for Pasig River, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, was dissolved by former president Rodrigo Duterte in 2019.

Pasig River rehabilitation guide book

Currently, Ilog Pasiglahin is developing a “Pasig River Rehabilitation Guidebook” that encapsulates the “vision” of different communities for the future of the Pasig River. In their book, they enumerated six factors that they believe is essential to a “sustainable Pasig River development.”

  • Local communities and their livelihood: A project can only be fully realized if the government understands what the people need.
  • Environment: The rehabilitation of the Pasig River should not only center on a clean-up drive for the water system, but also ensure that there is a healthy ecosystem where animals, particularly fish and birds, can thrive.
  • Transportation: There should be clear, concrete plans on how the waterway and its banks can be utilized for transportation. Access to bike lanes and ferry services must be open and expanded to all communities.
  • Heritage and tourism: These two interconnected components point to the prominence of the Pasig River both as a heritage and tourist site. Proper utilization and promotion of historical structures built near the rivers such as the Intramuros and Fort Santiago situated inside it help revive interest in landmarks.
  • Urban planning: The Pasig River stands at the heart of the busy metropolis, stringing together cities and bodies of water, including Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay. With strategic urban planning, Pasig River could better contribute to improves access, mobility, and connections throughout the metropolis.

– Adelainne Balbin/

Reviving Pasig River and developing it sustainably is among ways groups believe we can #MakeManilaLiveable.

Be The Good: Let’s Talk Liveability’ is a special series of conversations about improving quality of life in Metro Manila involving experts, activists, government officials, and ordinary people. If you want to learn more, check this page.

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