Nearly two years since it launched its ambitious, P2-billion Pasig River cleanup initiative, San Miguel Corporation (SMC) reported that it breached the 1-million metric ton mark of silt and solid waste removed from the historic but polluted waterway, adding it is optimistic the project can be fully completed by August, or right in the middle of the rainy season.
SMC President and CEO Ramon S. Ang said that with the use of bigger equipment it procured for the monumental undertaking, the company has been able to remove 1,312,615 tons of waste from critical sections of the Pasig River.
The project, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other government agencies, is in support of the Manila Bay rehabilitation effort and is being implemented at no cost to the government.
Ang said the company’s dedicated team as well as a fleet of heavy equipment, including some donated by Japanese shipping giant NYK Line in honor of its Filipino seafarers, will close in on the 1.5 million-ton mark by the time the initiative wraps up.
“More than the number of silt and solid waste removed from the river, we would like to emphasize the benefits of the river cleanup, such as the increase in its depth, and the widening of some narrow portions that have resulted in greater river capacity, faster water flow, and lesser chance of severe flooding, particularly in vulnerable communities near the River,” Ang said.
“We will be able to see the full benefit of the cleanup, in support of the government’s flood mitigation programs, as we expect heavy rains in the coming months,” Ang said.
SMC’s Pasig River cleanup output has also surpassed the 1.12 million tons of silt and waste it removed from another polluted major river, the Tullahan River, which has helped reduce incidences of severe flooding in the cities of Navotas, Malabon, Valenzuela, and Caloocan.
“For Tullahan River, we were able to reach our output in 26 months, or a little over two years, despite quarantine restrictions that delayed the start of the project in 2020,” Ang explained. “With restrictions easing, and with the benefit of larger equipment as well as learnings from the Tullahan cleanup, we were able to hit the same output for the Pasig River in just 20 months,” Ang said.
Currently, the average daily extraction output is at 2,000 metric tons with the current coverage at 21.62 kilometers, Ang said.
Ang said that SMC is now eyeing to further improve its river cleanup activities in Bulacan province, following its experience in Tullahan and Pasig Rivers. SMC’s Bulacan River cleanup covers the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando River System (MMORS) and has so far extracted a total of 498,908 metric tons of silt and solid waste.
San Miguel is also cleaning up the San Juan River, which connects to the Pasig River. So far, it has removed some 172,498 metric tons of silt and solid waste from the river.
Some residents and local officials near the 15-kilometer tributary already reported reduced flooding in their areas.
“Dati-rati, umaabot sa isa o dalawang palapag yung baha. Umuulan pa lang ay nagsisimula na kaming mag-akyat ng gamit. Pero ngayon di na masyado mataas ang tubig kaya wala na kami masyadong pangamba, (In the past, floodwaters would reach one or two storeys high. Whenever the rains start, we move all our stuff upstairs. But now, floodwaters are not that high, so we are not as alarmed,” said Reynaldo Balili, who lives near the Marilao Bridge in Quezon City where the San Juan River passes through.
For his part, Barangay Talayan chairperson Jerry Ongtauco said his constituents have always had to suffer through heavy flooding. “Hindi lang tubig pati basura ang napupunta dito. Napakahirap talaga para sa mga residente. Now, in the last two years, you can see that it has been partly solved (Both floodwaters and garbage reach our area so it is really difficult for the residents. Now, in the last two years, you can see that it (flooding) has been partly solved,” he said.
The company attributes the improvement of water flow to the increased depth of portions of the river from 0.5 to 1.5 meters to 2.5 to 4 meters. As part of its Skyway Stage 3 project years back, SMC also funded the cleanup of the San Juan River and the reconstruction of the San Juan River Bridge or Pinaglabanan Bridge.
Apart from the San Juan River, the Pasig River cleanup also benefits the Laguna Lake, particularly the towns surrounding it, which have experienced severe flooding in recent years due to heavy sedimentation of the said lake.