By Chino S. Leyco
Department of Finance (DOF) is lukewarm on the proposed financing for the rehabilitation of the Pasig river, noting that the government should first stop the indiscriminate dumping of garbage into the waters.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said it will be a waste of money if the government proceeds with the rehabilitation of the entire 25-kilometer river without the cooperation of the public.
“First step that we have to do there is you have to stop throwing garbage into the river because if you rehabilitate it and people will still put garbage, nothing will happen,” Dominguez told reporters in an interview at the DOF headquarters.
Dominguez said that what the people need is discipline in disposing of their garbage properly, which does not require financing, but political will.
“I will not go to any project there unless that is done, unless we can see that no pollution is being put there. It’s a waste of money if you keep on fixing it and then they keep on dumping stuff in there, it doesn’t work,” the finance chief said.
Dominguez also suggested that there should be a better coordination between government agencies involved in the Pasig River, like the Metro Manila Development Authority, Local Government Units, and Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Asked if the proposed rehabilitation would cost P200 billion, Dominguez said “that’s probably right because first of all, you have to dredge it and then you have to get rid of the barges that are sunk in there.”
Last week, Rolando L. Macasaet, Philippine representative to Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) said the government was considering to tap the Beijing-led multilateral financial institution for the rehabilitation of the neglected river.
Macasaet said the government may need about P200 billion or roughly $4 billion of financing to rehabilitate the 25-kilometer river, which connects Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay.
“What I have in my mind is that the game changing projects for the Philippines that AIIB can really help is the rehabilitation of a major river,” Macasaet said, referring to Pasig River.
“My initial cost is P200 billion, roughly $4 billion. But the government should initiate this and perhaps at my level, I can endorse it to the board for it to move on but it is the government that has to initiate the project,” he added.
According to Macasaet, once rehabilitation is completed, Metro Manila’s recurring problem on flooding could be solved, while helping regulate metropolis’ temperature.
“We will have the best real estate prices along the banks. We can have walkways, and parks. We can improve the quality of life of our people. It is a matter of national pride if we can rehabilitate the Pasig river,” the Philippine representative said.
For his part, Economic and Commercial Counselor Jin Yuan of the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines, said the proposed rehabilitation of Pasig River is an “urgent” project, but noted AIIB’s financial limitations to support the plan.
“The Pasig river rehabilitation will become an urgent project but as far as I know Pasig River is very large — across Metro Manila and 25-kilometers. So if the whole river, we have limitation, it will be quite expensive,” the embassy official said.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Persia, meanwhile, said that funding Pasig River should be prioritized by the Deterge administration.
“I think it should be given priority because it’s not just an economic project, it’s also an environmental and social project, so the benefits are multifaceted, compared with the other physical infrastructure projects that are really more physical and economic in orientation,” Persia said.