FOR people surrounded by water, we Filipinos do not seem to appreciate rivers, lakes, or even the sea. And yet, those natural resources may hold the key to the solutions of so many of our problems.
Take traffic congestion in Metro Manila, for instance. A recent Japanese study estimated that its economic cost at about P2.4 billion a day. In a year, that adds up to P576 billion, which is P176 billion more than the 2014 infrastructure budget. One solution, which the Aquino government is pursuing of late, is to build more roads. The downside is that construction work worsens the congestion in the short term. Even after the projects’ completion, the Philippines will still lag far behind in infrastructure development relative to other Asean countries – and in meeting the actual domestic needs for more roads. Worse, the rail system has further deteriorated under the present government.
All of the government’s efforts to ease traffic congestion have not amounted to much. To its credit, the government did try to revive the Pasig River ferry, but to date that pursuit has not taken off. What a shame.
If developed well, the Pasig River could be another EDSA. The river is longer than that major thoroughfare, about 25 kilometers versus EDSA’s 23.8 kilometers. Also like EDSA, the Pasig River cuts through the heart of the metropolis, including the core business and financial venue, Makati City.
Actually, using the Pasig River for transport is not a new concept. Many have forgotten that before the urbanization of Manila, the river served as a major means of transportation for the capital city.
We also should remember that the Pasig River connects to two important bodies of water – Manila Bay at its mouth and Laguna de Bay at its source. Again if the Pasig is developed, people and cargo could be shipped to and from Metro Manila and the lakeshore towns in Rizal and Laguna. The lake’s shoreline is about 220 kilometers. Just imagine the cost of building a road that long.
On the other end, Manila Bay has a coastline about 190 kilometers. By ferry from the Pasig River, it would be possible to go from Manila to the coastal towns in Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, and Bataan.
Of course, the reality is far more complex. Pasig River and Laguna de Bay are heavily silted in many parts, and that limits their use in transportation. Resolving this issue not only requires the relocation of countless illegal settlers along the river banks, but also the replanting of denuded mountains and other areas to stop dumping further soil erosion into the lake. Moreover, developing water highways will require the construction of ports for passengers and cargo. Huge investments will be needed to build and manage the ferries and other vessels that will ply these bodies of water.
Still, the potential benefits are enormous. The positives may be even greater once we start thinking of other things to do with these natural resources. For instance, Pasig River and Laguna de Bay can also be developed for tourism. Also, they can be tapped for recreational activities, such as sailing and many other water sports.
Of course, we should not forget the basics. Laguna de Bay, in particular, can be an important source of fresh drinking water for Metro Manila and nearby provinces. If revived, the Pasig River and Manila Bay could be a boon to the fishing industry. And if cleaned, the tributaries and estuaries could mitigate flooding in Metro Manila.
These and the other potential benefits mentioned earlier could be realized only if we stop treating our bodies of water as moats and as public toilets.