The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) is keen on including the rehabilitation of the Pasig River, estimated to cost $4 billion, on the administration’s list of game-changing projects.
On the sidelines of the Philippine Business Conference on Thursday, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia said the list of 75 flagship projects is “not set in stone” and can still be changed by the administration.
The list, he added, will still be proposed to the Investment Coordination Committee (ICC). Once it is approved, it will be endorsed to the Neda Board for approval.
“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,” Pernia told reporters. “I will raise it tomorrow [Friday]. We have an ICC meeting, I can raise it. In fact, Mr. [Rolando] Macasaet already mentioned that to [Finance] Secretary [Carlos G.] Dominguez; it’s just a matter of following it up.” Macasaet is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) alternative director for the Philippines.
In the second session of the conference on Thursday, Macasaet “challenged” the Duterte administration and the business sector, through the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), to take on the rehabilitation of the Pasig River. Macasaet said the rehabilitation of the Pasig River could cost around P200 billion, or $4 billion. If the government proposes this to the AIIB, Macasaet said he is willing to endorse the project to the AIIB board.
He noted that the AIIB, as an institution, favors “lean, clean and green” infrastructure investments, so there is a good chance the AIIB can finance the project.
“We will be able to regulate the city’s temperature. We will have the best real-estate prices along the banks. We can have walkways, 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,” Macasaet said.
For their part, Jin Yuan, commercial counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Manila, said since the Beijing is already constructing two bridges crossing the Pasig River, the government may be willing to work with the AIIB on the project.
Yuan sees the need to undertake the project since no less than President Duterte has lamented the sordid state of the Pasig River.
However, Yuan said if Chinese funding will be used for the rehabilitation of the entire 25-kilometer stretch of the Pasig River, their resources may be limited for such an undertaking.
“As I know, Pasig River is very large, across Metro Manila and 25 kilometers. So if the whole river, we [will] have [a] limitation. [It] will be quite expensive. Now we are waiting for FS [feasibility study] to be completed and the Chinese government is very willing to work with AIIB to carry on this very important project,” Yuan said.
In 2012 the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) said rehabilitating at least six canals or esteros leading to the Pasig River will cost a total of P173.26 million.
Then-PRRC Chairman Regina Paz L. Lopez said the rehabilitation of Estero de Aviles will amount to P16.15 million; Estero de Uli-Uli, P24.1 million; Estero de Quiapo, P30.18 million; Estero de San Sebastian, P14.35 million; Estero de Sampaloc, P44.27 million; and Estero de Valencia, P44.2 million.
A study commissioned by the PRRC back then showed that roughly, the total benefits in the next 20 years to residents could reach up to P23.94 billion, while the local government stands to benefit a total of P1.36 billion in taxes.
Lopez said benefits to residents include total land value, which could reach P22.45 billion in the next 20 years; some P218.4 million in savings from temporary flooding relocation; P270.86 million in recreational value; and P998.27 million in health savings.
For the government, Lopez said in the next 20 years, the government could generate some P561.33 million in land taxes and around P801.9 million in real-property tax for buildings.
“Excluding the costs of relocation and costs of other agencies, the total costs incurred by the PRRC, KBPIP [Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig], DPWH [Department of Public Works and Highways] is already P164 million. This does not include yet the costs of other agencies. Including the maintenance cost of about P2 million a year and further development costs, the total costs may reach P300 million for the duration of 20 years,” the PRRC stated in a presentation.
Manila’s Pasig River continues to play an important social, cultural, historical and political role in the nation’s capital. Its restoration, which began with the Pasig River Rehabilitation Program in 1989, aims to reverse the effects of years of negligence, uncontrolled development and unabated pollution.
In 1999 a presidential mandate established the PRRC, with the clear goal of restoring Pasig River from a biologically dead river to Class “C” level—that can sustain life—by 2014.