Tenejeros River can easily be saved
MANILA, Philippines -- Last Wednesday, Sept. 26, we reported on the aborted boat tour by Environment Secretary Lito Atienza of the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando river system, which has become world famous after it was listed as one of the 30 most polluted places in the world. I suggested that Atienza also try a tour of the Tenejeros-Tullahan River, which is also one of the most polluted rivers in the world. I suggested it because it is relatively easier to nurse back to health.
The Tenejeros-Tullahan River runs through Malabon City and Valenzuela City, which used to be famous for their fishponds. It used to supply fresh sea water to the fishponds when its water was clean. Thousands of families earned a livelihood from it. A person needed but to get into it with a net, a spear, a trap or a hook and line, and he was sure to go home a few hours later with enough fish, shrimps, crabs or oysters for the family.
The riverbanks used to be lined with thick growths of mangrove where crabs clambered among the roots and kingfishers waited on the branches to dive down to catch fish in the water below. The river used to be a playground for children living near the river. Many a child learned how to swim and fish there. I grew up there, and my childhood chums and I spent many happy times there. Not anymore.
The river is now a cesspool. The fishponds are dead. No fish can survive in them. They have been covered with dirt and converted into subdivisions and memorial parks -- or squatter colonies. Factories lining the river throw their effluents into the river and hordes of squatters on the riverbanks make it their open sewer. This is the water that floods the homes of Malabon and Valenzuela during high tides and heavy rains. The filling up of the fishponds and especially Dagatdagatan, a lake where the Bureau of Fisheries unsuccessfully tried to make “sabalos,” adult milkfish, spawn (the “bangus” that we buy in the wet markets are just baby milkfish), made the floods deeper and faster. Excess water used to run into the ponds and Dagatdagatan. With them filled up, the floodwaters have nowhere to go but to the streets and the homes.
The Tenejeros-Tullahan River can be revived. It is a relatively short river. It begins in Manila Bay and ends in Binuangan in Bulacan, still in Manila Bay. The rising and falling of the tides that occurs twice a day can cleanse it of the pollution -- provided no new pollutants are thrown in. That means relocating the factories and squatters.
To begin with, there should be a law prohibiting factories and industrial and commercial establishments from locating near waterways. They will always try to throw their wastes into them, if they’re near enough.
To prevent the regular flooding, the Japanese government has given the Philippines a loan to build dikes along the banks of the Tenejeros-Tullahan River. Properly used, the fund can, besides preventing flooding, accomplish five other major benefits: (1) prevent pollution of the river; (2) provide two more roads from Malabon to Bulacan; (3) increase the value of the lands along the river; (4) increase the tax revenues of the two cities; and (5) prevent unscrupulous people from stealing parts of the river.
Owners of lots beside the river steal parts of it by filling up the river alongside their lots, thus illegally expanding their properties and narrowing the waterway. To stop this, I propose that roads be built on top of the dikes, one on each bank of the river.
That way: (1) lot owners along the riverbanks can no longer steal parts of the river; (2) factories and squatters can no longer throw their wastes into the river (they can be seen by passing motorists and pedestrians); (3) the market value of the lots along the river (now only unsightly backyards) will increase because they will now have street frontages; (4) with the increase in the value of these lots, the local governments will collect bigger real estate taxes, and with the setting up of commercial establishments along these new roads, business taxes will also increase; and (5) with the new roads running on the banks of the river, it would be easier and faster for Camanava folk to commute.
In addition, with the river water already clean, ferries can carry passengers and cargo from Bulacan, Pampanga and other points north down the Tenejeros-Tullahan River to Manila Bay and the towns along the way, easing the traffic load on the MacArthur Highway in Bulacan and the Coastal Road to Cavite. In the old days, big flat-bottomed boats called “cascos” were poled down this river with their loads of rice, sugar, salt, vinegar and nipa shingles from Bulacan to be sold in Malabon, Navotas and other towns along Manila Bay.
With the water clean, the river can once more be a center not only of transportation but also of leisure, entertainment and tourism such as boating, swimming and fishing. Also, people will again have a livelihood from the marine life of the river.
What are needed for this to happen? Only the will power and perseverance of the mayors and other officials of Malabon and Valenzuela, the cooperation of their citizens, and the help of the national and foreign governments.
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Today’s jokes: Only in the Philippines does the government immediately offer a convict a pardon and the convict sets the conditions for the pardon.
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Paper and pen ousted Ferdinand Marcos. Envelope ousted Joseph Estrada. Tape is being used to oust Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Only in the Philippines are presidents toppled by office supplies.
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