The Pasig River: the name evokes vignettes of Philippine history throughout the ages like the courtship of Jose Rizal and the “love of his life”—Leonore Rivera immortalized in the pages of Noli Me Tangere in the tragic romantic pair of Maria Clara and Crisostomo Ibarra. Or preserved in myth and legend in the persons of Rajah Sulayman who along with Rajah Matanda were the rulers of Maynila by the time the Spaniards came in the 16th century. This “Pearl of the Orient Seas” had its ascendency in the first three hundred years of Spanish rule until its eventual decline. Overshadowed by the new population centers that mushroomed alongside her with their more vigorous and bustling commerce and industry that left Manila, that fair and resplendent lady, clothe in tatters; while around her a new and exciting metropolis had emerged that now comprises 15 urbanized cities and counting.
But today, the prospect of reviving Manila as a primary pivot of trade and business with its first-class port access to world trade is now in the offing. A catalyst for this is the recently announced Pasig River Expressway Project presented to the public by SMC Infrastructure some weeks back. Dubbed as PAREX, the plan overall is to build a Skyway or elevated expressway along the 25-kilometer course of Pasig River from its main source of Laguna de Bay towards the shoreline of Manila in the port area of Tondo. It is an audacious undertaking that makes a lot of sense. First it will open up the east-west corridor comprising Taguig, Pasig, Makati and then to Manila, making the navigational route along the river that is presently by ferry, which is somewhat sporadic and seasonal, into a modern 6-lane highway. PAREX will exponentially multiply the flow of trade, goods and people from Manila into the nearby provinces of Laguna, Batangas and the far-flung areas of Rizal along the Laguna lake shore.
San Miguel Corp. (SMC) president Ramon Ang has described the P95-billion SMC project as a means to provide “safe and efficient transport infrastructure that will be a hybrid expressway, accommodating multiple modes of transportation. Apart from accommodating motor vehicles, it will also feature a modern and efficient public transport system in the form of a Bus Rapid Transit that will run on both the Skyway and PAREX,” said Ang. He noted that, “PAREX will also be for pedestrians and cyclists. It will not just be for motorized transportation and convenience, but also for maintaining our health and well-being. It will not just ‘beautify’ the surroundings – it will rehabilitate the Pasig River and inspire urban renewal in Metro Manila.” PAREX will have three major segments –Segment 1 is from R-10 to Plaza Azul, Manila; Segment 2 from Pandacan to C-5, and Segment 3 from C-5 to C6. PAREX will also connect to, and utilize a 2.7-km. portion of the new Skyway Stage 3 from Nagtahan to Plaza Azul.
As to critics of the project who have rallied around their battle cry of “preserving our heritage which is the Pasig” or “Save the Pasig River,” Ang has this to say, “there are those who only cry for the long-dead Pasig river to be ‘saved’ now—after being indifferent to it and our many other rivers that have suffered the same fate, for so many decades.” On the other hand, SMC has put its talents, ingenuity and resources to truly rehabilitate Pasig, he said. “We will continue its ongoing clean-up efforts to revive the river, which plays a crucial role in draining excess water from Laguna Lake into Manila Bay. The company is spending about P2 billion to dredge at least three million metric tons of solid waste, and SMC has the resources and engineering expertise to “take care of the river for the long term,” Ang stressed.
As one cognizant of the historical role that the Pasig River has played in our cultural and geopolitical life, I am as ardent in preserving the river as a showcase of what it was before and are one with all parties who just want to make the Pasig River as vibrant, as dynamic and as an integral part of our lives—vital and productive in the growth and development of the nation. We can do this if we work and plan together how the Pasig River becomes “alive” again as befits its glorious heritage – as the incubator of new technologies and bustling commerce but also of cultural, educational and artistic flows among peoples throughout the National Capital Region (NCR).