For years, the Pasig River has symbolized urban pollution. San Miguel Corp. President and CEO Ramon S. Ang plans on changing that, with the goal of addressing Metro Manila's massive flooding problem.
Earlier this year, San Miguel said it would pull out 600,000 metric tons of waste annually and dredge the river over five years. Before Ang, several government and private sector initiatives sought to clean Metro Manila's main waterway, from the late environmentalist Gina Lopez to former First Lady Amelita "Ming" Ramos.
When asked why he's taking on the challenge, he cited devastating floods that cities face during the rainy season. "Kasi nakikita ko, kawawa," he told editors at Summit Sandwich Sessions.
"Nakita ko ang cost ng pagbabaha," he said, recounting the damage Marikina City sustained from Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. Ang also mentioned his numerous SMC colleagues residing in the area, saying "pag binaha ang bahay nila, lagpas bubong."
"Maybe this is one thing we have to do to help solve the flooding problem ng Metro Manila," Ang said.
The Pasig River runs for 25.2 kilometers, splitting Manila into the northern and southern half. Its length traverses Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Taguig, and Taytay, Rizal. Its major tributaries are the San Juan and Marikina River, the water levels of which are often used by local authorities to determine evacuation protocols during storms.
Originally, Pasig River had an average depth of eight meters and a width of 150 meters. Due to silt and waste, depth at the most affected area of the river stands at just two meters, leaving little to no room for flood water.
Previous administrations have attempted to clean the river, and megadikes were also constructed to address the flooding problem. While it helps cities keep floods at bay, a bigger problem plagues the river and city residents.
"Sabi ko, ako na lang maglilinis," Ang said. He said he then called engineers to survey the river and surrounding areas for an assessment of what needs to be done.
Dredging activities are a standard process for waterways nationwide, but Ang said his team had to get rid of the trash first before dredging could even begin. "Lilinisin mo yan mechanically," he said.
To get the job done, the team used a mechanical clamshell. Some of the items pulled out of the river include old mattresses, refrigerators, and even car parts. "Lahat ng basura, nandoon na sa Pasig River," Ang said.
Though past efforts to clean the river failed to fully solve the capital region's waste and pollution problem, Ang remains optimistic it can be done in five years.
"Kaya natin easily to take out 600,000 metric tons a year of garbage, we can easily remove 2,000 tons of garbage. Right now, nagagawa namin, easily sa isang araw is three to four thousand a day" he said, referencing the company's clean-up efforts in Tullahan River, north of Manila.