THE most critical step in easing the extreme flooding of Metro Manila is the construction of the Parañaque Spillway, and the deepening and development of Laguna Lake. Since 1977, I have been proposing these two monumental projects. Forty years after, only the Manggahan Floodway has been built. With this, Laguna Lake became a basin with 23 faucets without a drain.
During the Arroyo administration, right after the event of Typhoon Ondoy, the construction of the Parañaque Spillway almost pushed through. But sadly, because of the change in administration, it did not materialize. It suffered from analysis paralysis.
But recently, I am glad that Ramon Ang and San Miguel Corp., bold and visionary, are more than willing to undertake the project. It will be a great service to the Philippines, especially Metro Manila.
Laguna Lake and Parañaque Spillway
There are two major catch basins for Metro Manila—Laguna Lake and Manila Bay. In between them are two major rivers—the Pasig and Marikina rivers. But when storm surges occur, there is a major problem in the flow of water. It clogs at the intersection point which is the Pasig River. And the consequence is that the Marikina and Pasig rivers spill over. The Pasig River and Laguna Lake do not have the capacity to accommodate all the flood waters coming down the mountains.
The water that flows down from the mountains of Antipolo towards the Marikina River is diverted by the Manggahan Floodway which directs excess water to flow towards Laguna Lake. But for the cities near the Pasig River, water is pumped towards the river and ideally will flow out to Manila Bay. The problem here is that when Laguna Lake is overfilled with flood waters, it will need to pass through Pasig River before it exits Manila Bay. Hence, the water reaches critical levels because of the bottleneck and eventually result in major floods. During Ondoy, more than 4,000 cubic meters per second flowed down the mountains. Pasig River only had a capacity of 600 cubic meters. This resulted in the flooding of approximately 80,000 hectares of urban land. If the proposals for the Spillway and dredging of the Laguna Lake and rivers had been carried out, the floods would not have been as catastrophic.
The Parañaque Spillway was a proposed project that would have allowed water from Laguna Lake to flow directly towards Manila Bay instead of flooding the lakeshore towns of Laguna, Rizal, and Metro Manila. Metro Manila still needs the Spillway or a SMART Tunnel like the one in Malaysia. Another probable solution to mitigate a spillover would be the regular deepening of our rivers, estero, and most especially, Laguna Lake.
Elsewhere in the world, waterfronts are the “front doors of development” with high-value real estate, tourism and transportation. Unfortunately, our country’s leaders and most of our people treat the waterfront as “back-of-the-house, garbage dump, or sewers” that “uglify” our communities and cities.
Do you know that the Pasig River is much longer than the Grand Canal of Venice? The Pasig is 27 kilometers long while the Grand Canal is only 3.8 km. Despite its being much shorter than the Pasig, Venice’s Grand Canal is one of the most important economic, transport, and heritage treasures of Italy. On the other hand, the Pasig River, despite its natural splendor, has become the very symbol of disappointment. Elsewhere in the world, developed nations are waging wars and territorial disputes for waterfronts, coastlines and rivers. They even spend billions of dollars to extend what little they have. Our country, by contrast, is blessed with natural wonders. The Philippines has the third longest coastline in the world, not taking into account the newly discovered 400 islands.
Metro Manila is interconnected by numerous rivers and tributaries. From Laguna Lake, it connects with the Marikina River, Pasig River, San Juan River, then exits out to Manila Bay. From Manila Bay, it can access the coastal communities of Bulacan and Cavite, and may enter the river channel of the Pampanga River. It can also access Corregidor, the tip of Bataan, as well as the tip of Batangas.
In 1905, Daniel Burnham created a plan for Manila that prioritized pedestrians over then horse-drawn carriage. The plan also called for regaining the luster and use of the rivers and estero of Manila. Burnham saw Venice, Paris and Naples in the Pasig River, Binondo canal, Manila Bay, and the other waterways. He envisioned them as major transport systems. Riverbanks, Burnham wrote in his report, will be created with shaded walkways.
While many are upset about the state of the Pasig River, I firmly believe that there is hope. Whenever I drive past Guadalupe Bridge along Edsa, I imagine the Pasig River to be the future of Metro Manila.
Year after year, our citizens suffer the same problems but with more severity. For a longer-term solution, we are already fortunate to have had previous planning, studies and recommendations from way back, which we only need to revisit, update and implement. The answers and the latest technologies to implement them are available as well. By all means, the government should allow the private sector to pursue the project if it is for the good of the Filipino people.
If it helps, the government can also adopt a peer review process in each phase of the project. The most important thing is to get the project off the ground. I believe all it would take is visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design, and good governance.