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More and more people are waking up to the fact that esteros are crucial to the health of the watershed, which in turn determines the quality and quantity of water within a given area. And with climate change triggering greater volumes of precipitation into waterways already choking with debris, wastes, contaminants, and silt, reviving our country’s esteros represents a vital step to protect the population, especially riverside communities.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources identified a 1.63-km stretch of the Pasong Tamo River as one of the esteros to be resuscitated under its Adopt-An-Estero Program, which is a flagship project of DENR Secretary Ramon Paje. Soon after the inception of Adopt-An-Estero, it was highlighted for immediate implementation under the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Director Juan Miguel Cuna and piloted in the EMB-National Capital Region by Regional Director Roberto Sheen. In 2011, Director Sheen was able to encourage and convince several establishments to join and participate in DENR’s estero cleanup program and since then, Secretary Paje himself has signed 17 Memoranda of Agreement for execution by the parties concerned.
For the Pasong Tamo River project, the MOA signing was presided by Secretary Ramon Paje, formalizing commitments among stakeholders including the DENR through EMB, the local government of Quezon City, Laguna Lake Development Authority, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, DMCI Project Developer’s Inc. (DMCI Homes), Rotary Club of Diliman Silangan, and barangay leaders. This joint initiative between a builder-developer and Rotary Club is the first of its kind for DENR’s Adopt-An-Estero Program.
The pilot project in the Pasong Tamo River, bounded by the bridges along Tandang Sora in Barangay Culiat, and Carmel Avenue in Barangay Bahay Toro in Quezon City, may be expanded at a future date and will be in full force and effect for one year, renewable for another year upon mutual agreement by all parties. The MOA signing coincided with the celebration of Environment Month in the Philippines this June, the anniversary of DENR, and World Environment Day.
Engineering Solutions to the Estero Problem
Most water bodies in Metro Manila have deteriorated to the point of posing serious threats to the community, especially the children. Diseases like dengue, acute gastro-enteritis, and soil transmitted helminthiasis continue to undermine the lives and livelihoods of many estero residents, while those living in the vicinity of the Pasong Tamo River cite flooding and reeking waters as their main concerns.
According to Rotary Club of Diliman Silangan Charter President Rodino Bernardo, when he and his team delineated the watershed in that zone, they were initially overwhelmed by the fact that there are about 1,200 hectares of watershed stretching to Commonwealth Avenue. Given the enormous size of the catchment, and the long-lasting and border-transcending effects of an endangered watershed, the problem can only be addressed by getting people’s acts together. “The solution here would be a combination of educating and informing those within the catchment area,” Bernardo explains, in addition to regular cleanups, community mobilization, and training of concerned stakeholders.
DMCI Homes will help decongest the identified stretch of the Pasong Tamo River. According to the signed MOA, the company will be given wide latitude in decision-making as to the surface cleanup and engineering solutions to be implemented. “We care for that strip of river,” says Alfredo Austria, president of DMCI Homes.
Austria adds that DMCI Homes’ role will entail cleaning up waterways, removal of unsightly effects of clogged esteros, undertaking some plantings and river improvements. Over the long term, the company has agreed to tap the assistance of its sister companies and other volunteers in endeavoring to rehabilitate the remaining portions of Pasong Tamo River by actual dredging and desilting of the river, phytoremediation thru constructed wetlands, planting along the river banks, rip-rapping or coco-matting, and construction and greening of linear parks.
Estero as metaphor for interconnectedness
Home includes the larger community where we live, which is why breathing life back to the estero should be considered a natural extension of our family’s household/backyard cleaning. This is tied in with the notion of interconnectedness: esteros flow into other bodies of water, and a person/institution’s individual actions, whether positive or negative, produce great social consequences.
“We’re just a part of the team and we’re happy to be involved,” says Austria. “We are always on the lookout for such opportunities… in some small way to become active within the communities that we’re part of. We’ve seen that members of the DMCI Homes communities are also very, very eager to do their share in improving the environment that they are in.”
The DENR Adopt-An-Estero Program can perhaps be regarded as having produced some of the best work done through public-private partnership. It continues to gain widespread private sector support, with more than 260 signed agreements all over the country. Accountability arrangements will be set, according to Secretary Paje, and one of these is the department’s weekly site visits to monitor and assess projects. Cleaning up the estero is quite literally a dirty job which might seem small compared to recent major occurrences in the country, but as pointed out by DENR Undersecretary Analiza Teh, this, too, is good governance.
This article can also be viewed online in the Philippine Star
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