City of Manila

Revival Pains: The Case of the Paco Market and Estero de Paco Rehabilitation

In 2010, the government and partner agencies and organizations launched a massive drive to rehabilitate Estero de Paco as part of the greater and still-continuing campaign to rehabilitate Pasig River and its tributaries. As part of this drive, Paco Market, one of Paco’s iconic structures which is located alongside the Estero de Paco, was “redeveloped” as well as a showcase of the new Estero de Paco and, in a way, a new Paco as well.

More or less a decade has passed since the Estero de Paco project was initiated and by and large, it seems most of the major rehabilitation work has been completed. It’s an opportunity to look back at the past and see as well how much progress (or otherwise) this part of the city has experienced as the result of the rehabilitation.

The Estero de Paco

Running from the Pasig River to the Estero de Tripa de Gallina in San Andres district, the Estero de Paco serves as the main water body of Manila’s Paco district, as well as being one of the main tributaries of the Pasig River.

This creek has long been regarded as an important part of Paco and its people. It was along the creek that Paco grew as a suburb of old Manila. Soon enough, commercial activity grew out of the opposite banks of the creek which, along with the San Francisco de Dilao Church, would form the nucleus of what can be considered as Paco Proper.

The creek itself was also used as an avenue of commerce. It’s been said that in the old days, fishermen would transport the fish they caught in Manila Bay through this creek, eventually offloading their catch at the creek banks where they would be sold in the old Paco marketplace and, possibly, nearby areas.

The Paco Market

The advent of American colonial rule meant changes to the landscape of Paco. For one, Paco became part of Manila itself. Thus, it was included in the ambitious plan designed by Daniel Burnham for the City of Manila. One of the recommendations of the plan was to utilize Manila’s creeks such as the Estero de Paco as avenues for transport and trade, similar to the canals of Venice.

Paco Market before the war (image courtesy of Historical Paco)

While the Manila Burnham plan was sadly not fully implemented, some remnants of that plan remain. One of the was the Paco Market, constructed in 1911 and designed by William Parsons, the same architect behind Manila Hotel. It was built strategically along the banks of Estero de Paco to serve as the place for fishermen to deliver their catch. It was also strategically located along Herran (now Pedro Gil) Street, where commercial activity has started to grow.

Decline and Revival

While much of Paco was spared during the Second World War, the district fell victim to unchecked urbanization and congestion as was the rest of the city. The market and the creek suffered as a result with the market falling into urban decay and improper waste management affected the creek. Adding on to the problems were the shanties the began to sprout alongside the Estero de Paco, worsening the pollution situation.

Estero de Paco in the 2000s (image courtesy of the Pasig River Watch)

Faced with these challenges and a growing environmental awareness among the public, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission alongside partners such as the ABS-CBN Foundation launched a drive to rehabilitate Estero de Paco. Of course, cleanup of creeks, especially the tributaries of the Pasig River is nothing new. And if one is going to based on such activities previously, one would think it will not be as a success as the ones that came before. However, one key difference here is that there is active involvement of the private sector through the ABS-CBN Foundation. And it also helped that in 2010, ABS-CBN Foundation’s Gina Lopez (who would later become a short-lived Environment secretary in 2016-17) would be appointed as the chairperson of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission.

The rehabilitation involved a lot of activity and not just dredging the trash that accumulated on the creek. It also involved relocation of a number of families and the demolition of their shanty houses by the creek and the establishment of a linear park along its stretch.

Estero de Paco in 2014

Owing to its location by the creek, the Paco Market also fell into the commission’s Estero de Paco plans. The whole market was redeveloped from within. Perhaps the most notable aspect of this redevelopment is the addition of a mini-ampitheater style community area where talks, workshops, or activities can be held. This particular addition has strengthened Paco Market’s value as a community hub of the district.

Paco Market and Estero de Paco Today

Today, if you visit Paco Market and Estero de Paco, you can certainly notice the improved aesthetics. The market is at least clean and more organized and one can see flowering plants and tall green shrubs along the creek and there is less trash to see on the river. Yes, I did say “less” as there is still trash to be seen on the creek.

Which leads to one of the biggest challenges this area is facing: maintenance. Will the hard work and effort made in rehabilitating the creek and the market stick around for the long term? How well does/will the people appreciate not only work that was done but also the lessons to be learned here?

Seeing some of that trash on the creek admittedly dampened this Urban Roamer’s spirits. But being an optimist, the fact that there is not much trash there anymore gives some encouragement. Maybe there are people who clean up the creek regularly but it just so happens that I did not see them in action.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how this area will evolve in the coming years. Hopefully, it will not regress into those dark days again.


Acknowledgements to Historical Paco, Academia, Wikipedia, and Pasig River Watch


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