Badly needed project |

A lot of articles are coming out lately from so-called transportation and mobility experts, urban planners, and heritage defenders criticizing the Pasig River Expressway project (PAREX), a priority project of the Duterte administration under the Build Build Build program to be undertaken by San Miguel Corp. at no cost to government.


Unfortunately, or under very suspicious circumstances, the critics never even raised an eyebrow against the numerous factories, buildings, illegal structures, and squatters’ colonies built along Pasig River that did not follow legal easement requirements and without waste-water treatment facilities.

As pointed out by an expert of the Asian Development Bank, “the problem is the river is comparably short and the drainage area is very densely populated. Untreated sewage and industrial effluent flows into it, and with poor waste collection and lack of proper landfills in nearby communities, it has basically become a garbage depot. Along the way, you have 48 tributaries pumping in more dirty water, including in the informal settlement areas where suitable sanitation facilities are often missing.”

Some of them even say the PAREX will photobomb historical and heritage sites. Have they complained in the past about the factories and illegal structures photobombing, a term used to refer to a situation when one appears behind or in front or within the view of someone being photographed, the view of Pasig River?

Who is behind many of these critics? Who stands to benefit from many of the criticisms? Actually, if one really looks at it, many of them have a common denominator. For those who are saying that PAREX will only benefit the rich, well, making government and SMC change their minds about PAREX will also benefit someone very rich.

I doubt though that the baseless criticisms will change government’s support of and view about PAREX. Unlike the critics who can’t even offer a solution or an alternative, the P95-billion, six-lane elevated expressway project will link the eastern and western cities of Metro Manila to complete the vision of an integrated elevated road network linking the north, south, east, and west corridors of the capital.

One group called on SMC to stop claiming that Pasig River is biologically dead, saying this undermines rehabilitation efforts by individuals and government institutions to revive the river. Personally, I salute individuals and groups that have been doing their river clean-up drives. Unfortunately, at the rate at which they are taking out garbage from the river and considering the rate at which factories and squatters’ settlements are polluting it, reviving the river appears to be an impossible dream.

Why are they not mentioning the fact that fortunately, SMC has taken upon itself to spend P2 billion just to clean up the river? The company plans to take out 600,000 metric tons of waste per year from the river, something that has never been done before.

The Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, an agency attached to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, has been trying to clean up Pasig River since 1999. From 1999 to 2017, the agency was able to remove 22 million kilos of solid waste from the river or only 20,000 metric tons. At what cost to the taxpayers? And how about the billions of pesos of international aid and loans that were granted to the said office to clean up the river? If there is anything and anyone the critics should pillory, then it is the PRRC and those who have managed it. The President even wants to abolish it. And why not? The Commission on Audit discovered that while the agency spent 96 percent of its P111 million budget in 2018 allotted for the clearing of six waterways, it only managed to post an accomplishment rate of one to 27.65 percent.

Some of the critics have even resorted to fake news. We have learned that an image that has gone viral, supposedly running alongside heritage sites in Intramuros  and is being circulated by one of the project’s critics – who said that the image came from PAREX proponents’ presentation to media – has been confirmed by SMC as fake and that it did not come from them.

In fact, according to SMC, based on the concept design approved by government, PAREX will run along the Binondo side of the river, avoiding the Intramuros side.

The project is still in its very preliminary stages, with proponent SMC and government agencies, just about to start working on the detailed engineering and design plan. If critics are truly well-meaning, then they should relay their recommendations via proper channels so that their concerns can be discussed and factored into the final design.

SMC has assured that the final design will go through government approval.

The critics sure play dirty.

Even the architectural and urban planning firm that SMC is trying to get for the project, green architecture expert Palafox and Associates and Palafox Architecture Group, has been the victim of a vilification and pressure campaign to force it to turn down the project.

Architect Jun Palafox tells me that he has become a victim of so much toxic anger, unfair, and unjust criticisms, some in good faith, some it seems in bad faith.

I’m not saying that all the concerns against the project are ill-intentioned. Any mega project has its pros and cons, but I’m sure that government already considered them before it gave its go-signal for PAREX. And as I mentioned, the project is still literally in the drawing board. And design concerns can be addressed at this very early stages of the project.

But there are criticisms that are truly uncalled for and do not have any basis whatsoever.

Take, for instance, one which says that PAREX is nothing but an ill-conceived, irresponsible money-making project.

If SMC is only looking at the money side of PAREX, then the P100 billion it will have to spend directly for the project, not to mention other costs associated with it, would be better spent for other projects that would allow the company to earn more, to recover its investments in a shorter period of time, and one that would not involve the company having to beg from the Toll Regulatory Board everytime it wants to adjust its toll rates.

We need PAREX much more than SMC needs it.



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