With or without PAREX: SMC makes progress on Pasig River cleanup, 54,000 MT tons of silt and solid waste removed in just 3 months

San Miguel Corporation (SMC) is making headway in its P2-B Pasig River cleanup initiative aimed at helping mitigate flooding throughout Metro Manila and the flood-prone provinces around Laguna Lake.

The project is part of the much larger goal of SMC to clean up all the major waterways in Metro Manila and nearby provinces to allow water to flow freely into the Manila Bay.

Together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), SMC reported that from July – when the project started- to date, the company has already removed 54,000 metric tons of silt and solid waste from the Pasig River–specifically, from two of its shallowest sections, at the Pandacan and Malacanang areas, both in the City of Manila.

At the same time, its ongoing P1-billion cleanup initiative for the Tullahan River system–which has been cited as having helped prevent severe and prolonged flooding in Malabon, Navotas, and Valenzuela—has so far extracted a total of 463,000 MT of solid wastes from the river.

Tullahan River is also cited as one of seven Philippine tributaries in the top ten list of the world’s worst plastic-emitting rivers, the same list that Pasig River topped.

SMC is also undertaking a river channel enhancement program for the tributaries belonging to the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando River System (MMORS) in Bulacan province.

“With or without the PAREX project, we will continue to clean the Pasig River. Water sustainability has been our advocacy within the company for many years now. We have also been helping clean up rivers and bodies of water in our communities before, but since early 2020, we’ve been taking more direct action, starting with the Tullahan River, to help address flooding and to support government’s Manila Bay rehabilitation program. By helping dredge, clean, and maintain rivers, we can mitigate flooding and minimize the amount of wastes that end up in the Manila Bay,” SMC president Ramon S. Ang said.

Apart from the two pilot areas in Pandacan and Malacanang, SMC will also prioritize extracting solid wastes from other shallow portions of Pasig River, namely at the C-5 area near the Marikina river junction, at the mouth of Manila Bay, and at the Makati-Estrella area.

The Pasig River program aims to extract three million metric tons of silt and solid waste from the river, or a monthly target of at least 50,000 metric tons for five years. Current output for the cleanup is expected to increase as the company looks to hire more personnel and deploy more dredging equipment in the coming months.

A global study published recently named the Pasig River as the top polluter of the world’s oceans, dumping around 38,000 tons of plastics into the oceans yearly. The study also revealed that 28% of the rivers responsible for global plastic pollution are in the Philippines.

“Our river systems are interconnected. If there is a problem with one, other river systems will be affected. So when we say we will clean up Pasig River, benefits will not be limited to Metro Manila, or the parts of the Pasig River we know and see,” Ang said.

“The main concern we want to address–which is critical for millions of Filipinos in and around Metro Manila–is flooding, brought about by multiple problems affecting our larger river systems which have gone unchecked for so long. Beautification is not the priority now, although by cleaning up the river consistently, and with everyone’s cooperation, it will come naturally,” Ang added.

The massive effort will also be critical to helping mitigate unchecked heavy siltation of the Laguna Lake, which has led to increased flooding in Laguna province.

Ang explained: “Cleaning and deepening the Pasig River will increase its capacity to receive floodwaters from the Marikina River–and reduce peak water flows that normally go to the Laguna Lake through the Manggahan Floodway. This can ease typical severe flooding experienced by Marikina City, as well as in Calamba, San Pedro, Biñan, Sta. Cruz and Pila, in Laguna, which we all saw last year during Typhoon Ulysses.”

“Looking at the bigger picture, the Pasig River dredging will not just benefit Metro Manila. Yes, it will do a lot to address flooding in the metropolis but equally significant, it will help mitigate the problem of Laguna Lake, which remains without a solution for now,” Ang said.

Ang recalled the heavy flooding experienced by cities like Pasig and Marikina following heavy rains brought on by Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, as an example of severe consequences of not being able to adequately clean major river systems.

“Regular dredging and cleanup will help address the sedimentation and siltation that are a problem of many rivers in the country. Floods are becoming more severe. It has only been more than a decade since Typhoon Ondoy flooded many parts of Metro Manila, mostly areas adjacent to the Pasig River like Pasig and Marikina. We have to do what we can to help make sure that doesn’t happen again,” he added.

He added that according to bathymetric studies conducted by SMC, parts of Pasig River and Marikina River now only have depths of 1 ½ meters, while portions of Pandacan going out to the Manila Bay only measure two meters.

The P2 billion initiative was launched in July together with the DENR, Department of Public Works and Highway (DPWH), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and Mandaluyong Mayor Menchie Abalos.

“We are grateful to our government partners for their support. A clean Pasig River is a dream we share with many Filipinos, especially those who have worked to achieve this goal in the past. There are many issues that need to be addressed to make this dream a reality, but we are progressing,” Ang said.

Ang said that the company is working closely with DENR and is waiting for the approval of a detailed dredging plan by the DPWH, to set the ideal depth and priority areas for dredging.

The initiative is seen to boost efforts to rehabilitate the Pasig River, which, for so many decades, has suffered from continuous dumping of industrial and solid wastes and even sewage, in its waters.

“With government’s support and cooperation from stakeholders, we hope to bring the Pasig River back to a level where it can be enjoyed by more Filipinos,” Ang said.