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Pasig River: Haven of Life and Memories

Photo by: Omer Oscar Almenario

Looking back in time, Pasig River was once a picture of a healthy river that reflects the various colors of life. Even before the Spanish era, it had been “the highway or the major transport route for barter and trade, from which the goods of the orient found their way to the western world (Harper, 2000)”. Serving as a gateway for commerce, it brought riches and exotic treasures from far and near the land (Chorengel 2000).

The 18th century saw it as a wealth of aquatic bounty. All types of fish that can be found in both the bay and the lake can also be found in the river (The Journal, 2000). The 19th century revealed likely the status of life of residents living along its banks for the newest and most elegant houses were built there (Harper, 2000). The river also, for many reasons, filled the artists’ canvass - a picturesque image of floating houseboats, fishermen laying their nets, river merchants trading, natives bathing and enjoying the clear water of the river, and busy “lavanderas” (laundresses) washing their clothes along the banks surrounded by green bamboo trees and “nilads” (a kind of flower).However, as the 20th century came, figuratively and literally, it became dark and devoid of life.   There was a decrease in fish migration in the Pasig River in the 1930s. People’s bathing and washing activities dropped noticeably in the 1960s.  The river began to smell bad and water quality fell below Class “C” level in the 1970s. All fishing activities stopped in the 1980s. And finally, it was declared biologically dead in the 1990s.

The state of the Pasig River in the 1990s was characterized by the presence of islands of floating garbage, sunken boats and abandoned barges, colonies of makeshift shanties discharging domestic solid and liquid wastes into the river, and proliferation of factories with no proper treatment system for their industrial liquid wastes.  There were early efforts made to address the deterioration of the river as government agencies, such as the Pasig River Development Council in 1973, Pasig River Rehabilitation Program in 1993, River Rehabilitation Secretariat in 1993, and Presidential Task Force on the Rehabilitation of the Pasig River in 1993, were organized to rehabilitate it. However, only the municipal solid wastes were controlled; the domestic and industrial liquid wastes continued to pollute the river, making minimal improvement to the river’s worst state.

Only in 1999 that the rehabilitation effort received a major boost; the government realized that the rehabilitation of Pasig River is an enormous and difficult task, which can only be carried out effectively through the joint cooperation and sharing of resources of various government agencies and the private sector. With this, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) was created through Executive Orders 54 and 65.

Composed of sixteen commissioners mostly coming from the different government agencies under the chairmanship of former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Jose Atienza, Jr., it has the authority over all matters pertaining to the rehabilitation of the river. Its mission is to restore the Pasig River to its historically pristine condition by applying bio-eco engineering so as to attain a sustainable socio-economic development. Its goal is to restore the river water quality to “Class C” level - waters for fishery, recreation/boating, and supply for manufacturing processes after treatment.

Photo by: Omer Oscar Almenario

In the effort of PRRC to restore the once healthy river, it has undertaken a number of land based rehabilitation projects. It has relocated informal settlers living along the banks of the river and its connecting minor tributaries. It has built resettlement buildings to accommodate the informal settlers that are being displaced in the relocation. It has constructed linear parks, walkways and greenbelts within the cleared areas to prevent illegal squatting and to provide a better view and appreciation of the river.

To ensure the implementation of the National Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003) and the Philippine Water Act of 2004 (RA 9275), so as to prevent further dumping of solid wastes by nearby communities into the river, PRRC in coordination with Bantay Kalikasan (Nature Watch) has set up Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) and has trained residents on community-based solid waste management practices. Moreover, it is has hired river patrols to report those who are dumping garbage into the river, to collect garbage in the esteros (inlet canals), and to patrol regularly the waterways to prevent further squatting in the future.

On records, PRRC has relocated an estimated 8,000 informal settler families, has built 6 resettlement areas complete with basic amenities, has constructed 45 linear parks on both sides of the Pasig River (total of 21,757 km.), has constructed 3 material recovery facilities, and has hired 442 “Bantay Ilog” (River Watch) patrols.

Water based river rehabilitation projects are also being carried-out to ensure the improvement of the river’s water quality. The most comprehensive water based project considered by PRRC is the Pasig River Dredging Project. Nineteen (19) kilometers of the 27 kilometer stretch of the river will be dredged to remove an estimated 2.83 million cu. m. of contaminated riverbed sediments. It will deepen its depth from 3 m. to 6 m., widen its width to 40-60 meters. It is expected to reduce the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), which will result in the elimination of obnoxious odor and reduction of toxic elements and water-borne diseases, will minimize navigational hazards and increase the river traffic capacity, and will lessen the flooding incidents in the metropolis.

PRRC has cleaned the esteros (inlet canals), using boom traps, and has installed aeration and filtration systems in key strategic tributaries not only to eliminate or filter the solid wastes, but also to raise awareness among nearby residents the importance of maintaining cleanliness on these waterways.

PRRC has undertaken a pilot Bioremediation project along the stretch of an 800 m. X 1.1 m. parapet wall in Barangay Napindan in Taguig City. Bioremediation is the process of using biological agents such as bacteria to remove or neutralize contaminants in the soil or water. It also has undertaken Phytoremediation project that uses plants like the “Millionaire’s Vine, to clean the contaminated soils and water of the river.

Photo by: Omer Oscar Almenario

Finally, PRRC is managing the Pasig River Ferry Stations (PRFS) as part of its mission to transform the Pasig River and its environs into a showcase of new quality of urban life. Pasig River Ferry Service not only provides a first class major public transport that is faster, safer, and more convenient than most land based transport services, but more importantly, by bringing back the people close to the river, it opens an opportunity for them to once again realize and appreciate its ecological, social, and historical beauty, thus furthering potentials for more eco-tourism activities. Currently, a total of 10 ferry stations, 6 satellite stations, and 6 ferry vessels are now operational since its launch on February 14, 2007.


Chorengel. 2000. Pasig River of Life. Manila: Unilever Philippines.

Harper. 2000. ”River with a Past.” Pasig River of Life. Manila: Unilever Philippines.

“The Journal of Nathaniel Bowditch in Manila October 2 to December 22, 1796”. 2000. Pasig River of Life. Manila: Unilever Philippines.

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