City of Manila,  Waterways

Grand Plans for the Pasig River: Will the Dream Finally Materialize?

The rehabilitation of the Pasig River has been a long and continuing story, going as far back as 1993 when then First Lady Amelita Ramos led the charge, so to speak, in the multisectoral efforts to clean up the already dying river.

To the movement’s credit, the efforts to rehabilitate Pasig River continued even after Mrs. Ramos’ tenure as first lady. However, throughout this time, these efforts have not been “full-blown”, not to mention the fact that the efforts have been “uneven” and “incomplete” partly due to a lack of a comprehensive vision at least as to how and coordinated efforts among the different national agencies and local governments that surround the Pasig River and its tributary rivers and esteros. For instance, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) operates the Pasig River Ferry since 2007, Makati developed a riverside park in the Poblacion area in the 2000s, the renovation of Jones Bridge in 2019 to name a few, and the mini riverside park constructed at the Intramuros side of the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge.

The linear park at Poblacion, Makati near the bank of the Pasig River
The mini-park constructed near the Intramuros end of the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge

The Urban Roamer has to give a special mention to the efforts by the City of Manila to redevelop the section of the Pasig Riverside along Muelle del Banco Nacional between Jones Bridge and Banquero Stree, christened Plaza Yuchengco. Completed in 2022, the park features a number of native flora species planted throughout the length of the park in a simple but elegant layout.

Now, more than 30 years since the Ramos administration spearheaded the Pasig River rehabilitation efforts, the administration of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has decided to bring all these disparate rehabilitation efforts together under a single, comprehensive masterplan with a revitalized Pasig River Urban Development Project, also known as the “Pasig Bigyang Buhay Muli” project.

This was formalized in August 2023 when Pres. Marcos Jr. signed Executive Order 35 which established the Inter-Agency Council for the Pasig River Urban Development which would oversee the project, with the secretary of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development as the council head and having among its members the heads of different government agencies such as the MMDA, Philippine Ports Authority, Philippine Coast Guard, Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, Department of the Interior and Local Government, National Historical Commission of the Philippines, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, among others. The council in turn tapped private partners to oversee the masterplan design, particularly WTA Architecture and Design Studio and Landscape Architect and Urban Planner Paulo Alcazaren as consultants in bringing the idea of a revitalized Pasig River to life.

To kick off the Pasig River Urban Development Project, Pres. Marcos unveiled to the public the first phase of this massive masterplan, the rehabilitated riverside park south of the Pasig River from National Press Club Building up to the eastern end of the Manila Post Office Building, with a walkway passing under Jones Bridge to connect to Intramuros, with seating areas mini-promenades and a docking area for boats and ferries though it will not serve as a station for the Pasig River Ferry.

In contrast to Plaza Yuchengco, this area is more ornate in character, matching the neo-classical character prevalent in area due to the presence of Jones Bridge and Post Office. It is also a nice touch that apart from the 19th century inspired streetlamps (though I personally feel were too many), there are also statues of children portrayed doing the traditional dance “pandanggo sa ilaw” with the candles in the glasses they hold actually serve as lights in the night. Very creative.

But make no mistake, the Pasig River Urban Development Project is not just about beautiful spaces and parks. It is also about creating a livable and connected city conducive to walking, biking, and mass oriented transport via the ferry service. The most interesting part of the project that would be worth looking forward to are affordable housing developments to be built on the eastern end of the Pasig River in Rizal Province for those currently living near the river and the ferry station to be built in that residential project so the people who have livelihoods near their old place can still go to their livelihoods through convenient public transport.

As it is, the completed part of the Pasig River development project, which is just 1% of an envisioned 50-kilometer development on both sides of the river, serves as a proof of concept that reviving the Pasig River and creating a livable city is not an impossible dream, that it can be done through political will, clear vision, and cooperation of everyone involved, including the public.

Of course, it would be remiss to ignore the lingering threats that may thwart this project’s success. One in the form of a proposed elevated expressway that is the Pasig River Expressway project being proposed by San Miguel Corporation. Given the ambition and the vision involved in the Pasig River Urban Development Project which would run throughout the river’s entire length, the presence of an elevated expressway even on one section near (if not above) the river would at the very least mess up these plans. Curiously, the project masterplan does not allude at all to the potential existence of the expressway though San Miguel still is keen on doing it.

Skyway Stage 3, constructed by San Miguel Corporation, has part of the elevated expressway pass above San Juan River, serving as the company’s proof of concept for its proposed Pasig River Expressway

It remains to be seen what will be the outcome of these competing and conflicting projects but here’s hoping that the promises of a livable city that we already have gotten a taste of would be something that will be fully realized.

Acknowledgements as well to the Official Gazette and GMA News

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