MANILA, MAY 31, 2007
(BULLETIN) By YUGEL LOSORATA - Sadly, the river has become the sewer of the city rather than its lifeline...

Today’s generation may know the Pasig River of today as a stinking, repository of trash, but every Manileño just needs to be reminded of the river’s significance to understand that these murky waters once gave life to what is now known as the Philippine’s capital.

A Pasig River tour recently arranged in connection with the Filipino Heritage Festival took us through a historical journey – one that would make one want to clean up the river fast so people could see what Jose Rizal was talking about.

The Pasig River connects Laguna de Bay (via the Napindan Channel) into Manila Bay, stretching for 25 kilometers and dividing Metro Manila into two. Its major tributaries are the Marikina and the San Juan Rivers.

It used to be an important transport route in Spanish Manila. Through Manila’s early history, it runs through the heart of the metropolis and was the city’s center and lifeline. It was the principal means of transport, and the big warehouses and factories were on the river as well as the houses of the rich, including the presidential palace.

However, after World War II and with population growth, road construction, and newer business location strategies, the city center moved from the river to other sites. The river was largely abandoned.

In the 30’s, fish migration from Laguna Lake started to dwindle. In the 1950s, people stopped bathing in it. In the 1960s, people no longer used the river for washing clothes. Ferry boat transport also began to decline.

Many urban poor people moved in, factories were abandoned, and the wealthy moved off. The river became the sewer of the city rather than its lifeline. The river has become very polluted and is considered dead (unable to sustain life) by ecologists.

That task to clean it up belongs to the Pasig River Rehabilitation Program. Sadly, it will take decades to realize how the river can be clean again.

"It’s really about letting the people become aware of what the Pasig River was. There is a need for this river to be toured and seen because through this, the people will get to imagine its worth and pay their respect to what it has done to this country," explained Araceli Salas, financial director of Filipino Heritage Festival, a private service arm that promotes the legacy of various Philippine historical sites. Its projects are supported by both the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) and the Department of Tourism (DoT).


Though the waterway is not as pristine as it was in days of yore, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission is making some headway. Twenty kilometers of riverbank pocket parks have helped beautify the route.

The three–hour ferry cruise on Pasig River kicked off at the Guadalupe Station, passed over key Metro Manila cities along the riverbanks, docked at the Escolta station, before it made a return trip to the point of origin. The trip was even made more entertaining by teenagers who played upbeat tunes using instruments made of bamboo.

"Throughout the trip, we were pointing to the group what were previously in a location along the banks. We wanted to make people aware of the river’s rich past. We have all been taught that most cities around the world started developing through the livelihood and transport values of rivers around them. Metro Manila has the Pasig River as history could tell," Salas explained.

For a trip down Pasig River memory lane, ferry boats, about six of them and counting, are now open to the public at R25 per ride. More docking stations will be built for the ride.

More than the ride, it is the privilege of being able to cross and reevaluate a significant river of our heritage that makes this trip a lot more rewarding.

May is considered the Heritage Month, as the Festival celebrates its fifth year of staging tours and events to pay homage to the beauty of Philippine heritage. This year, the Festival has already flown to Tacloban, will go up to Cagayan Valley, and end its trips down to Cebu.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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