Wednesday, August 22, 2012

CLEAN, CLEAR: What went wrong?

Tempo published this article on August 18, 2012 (Front page). It can also be accessed at:

Nanay Puring recalls drinking water from Pasig River in 40′s
Manila, Philippines – “It was so huge, so clean and so clear–you could mirror yourself in the water. Lovers spent quality time while riding a boat, where they would later make their pledges,“ recalled 84-year-old Purificacion “Nanay Puring“ Malvas Punzalan, one of the few living witnesses of Pasig River’s festive days. 
She also described the various important domestic uses of the river to the people – for free. “You could still drink the water from the river. It was as clean as the water coming out from the faucet. Others who had no laundry places in their residences used the riverbanks, where water flowed continuously.”

Her personal encounter with Pasig River began in the 1940s, when she worked as a dressmaker for Japanese officials. “I used to ride a boat as it was my only means to reach our factory in Punta, Sta. Ana. If I’m not mistaken the fare then was 10 Japanese cents.”
Domestic consumption, transportation, recreation, part of urban life—indeed, this is how elders illustrate Pasig River’s “golden years”—starkly different from what people see today.
Attempting to, at the very least, rehabilitate the now “Black River,” the city government of Manila recently inaugurated the “facelifted” Estero de Paco, one of the 48 tributaries that feed into Pasig River, which extends from Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay.
The joint efforts of the government and private sectors have made the streets of Estero de Paco brighter, a result that they want to replicate in the remaining 47 esteros.
Nanay Puring’s wintry image of the Pasig River was a product of her generation. Unfortunately, people cannot see any single trace of that image today.
“When the river was still clean, people fetched pails of water from it. Also, when you throw something into it, you could see that it would flow with the river current–unlike today,“ she said.
With so many benefits people enjoyed from the Pasig River decades ago, what could have gone wrong?
“It was during the Japanese occupation when it started to become dirty, which continued until [the Philippine's transition to independence],“ recounted Nanay Puring, specifying that chapter in history when Pasig River’s glory gradually faded.
The transition gave the Philippines a slim opportunity to recover fast from the war. The country was also compelled to embrace a new set of colonial values.
The final years of the Japanese invasion caused immeasurable destruction to the Philippines. The countryside thought the city had answers to the swelling problem of unequal access to social services and its ensuing cycle of poverty. Consequently, massive urban pull migration occurred.
“People from provinces started flocking to Manila, until it became crowded. They lived under the bridges, sidewalks and any possible space to sleep in. Where do you expect their waste to go?“ she questioned rhetorically, to which she herself offered a hard-hitting answer: “Of course, to Pasig River.“
For Nanay Puring, warfare and the government’s neglect had direct effects on the river’s current condition. Majority of the people suffered from poverty then due to the long-term damage caused by the war, while the government intended to focus on economic rehabilitation. As a result, ordinary Filipinos turned their utmost attention to the most pressing concern of all–survival and subsistence.
“People felt they were starting from scratch. Way back then, life was really difficult that to survive–what food to eat today and tomorrow and where to get livelihood–was all that mattered,“ she added.
The dark years of the war had passed, and so its people. A new set of inhabitants filled even the remaining spaces meant for water plants to grow. Worst, the former scenic tributaries became congested `esteros’–and later on, eyesores of city life.
“These people were completely different–they no longer had any trace of discipline in them. Worse, the new ones continue abusing it,“ Nanay Puring expressed, obviously disappointed, about the river’s demise.
Since then, Pasig River’s condition has gone from bad to worse. (TO BE CONTINUED)

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