ParaƱaque residents race against time to save dying river
by Dulce Festin-Baybay
Posted on 04/23/2008

Filed Under: Conservation, Local authorities

MANILA, Philippines – It’s summertime and once again, Florencio “Jun” Bernabe Jr., the mayor of Parañaque City, looks back with nostalgia to the days when he, his brothers and friends, would regularly swim in the Parañaque River near their ancestral home at La Huerta.

“The river was relatively clean. The color of the water was green because of the vegetation; there were the ‘salambao,’ fishing implements to catch fish, shrimp, crabs and squid,” he recalled. “We would swim back and forth from our house in La Huerta across to Don Galo. As we grew older, we would jump from the Parañaque bridge to the river. We had lots of fun!”

Today, Bernabe says people can still swim in the river but at their own risk.


He traces the deterioration of the eight-kilometer river to the development of residential communities, commercial establishments and the influx of fisher folk from provinces seeking greener pastures, among others.

“All tributaries lead to the mainstream Parañaque River that goes all the way to Manila Bay. People working on development projects, mostly laborers, stayed near the creek and did not leave even after their projects were completed. At first, they were few in number but their relatives started coming and filled up the spaces,” explained the mayor.

“During my father’s time (Florencio Sr., mayor during the ‘60s and ‘70s), he had a task force to remove the informal settlers. After my father’s term, the task force was disbanded.”

Based on the mayor’s estimate, there are around 30,000 informal settlers in Parañaque alone, living in creeks, by the riverside, under bridges and on government property.

As the river’s situation continued to deteriorate, concerned residents – volunteer representatives from the Church, nongovernment organizations, environmental groups and government agencies, in addition to local officials and the youth – formed and incorporated on Dec. 19, 2000 the Save the Parañaque River Foundation, Inc. (SPRFI).

Its board members meet regularly every other Thursday over dinner in the home of SPRFI chair Cora Alma de Leon, the secretary general of the Philippine National Red Cross. The foundation’s main objective is to get support for the cleanup of the river.

SPRFI president Manny Erni pointed out that there is still life in the river as can be seen from the tiny fishes spotted in the body of water. This situation can change, however, if dirtying the river continues unabated, he added.

“Longtime residents recall that in the 1960s, the width of the Parañaque River ranged from 30 to 40 meters,” said Erni. “Today, from Baclaran to the mouth of the river at Don Galo, the width has narrowed down to eight meters in some areas. This is proof that there is not only land grabbing but sea grabbing as well.”


Other objectives of the SPRFI are to clean and remove the garbage clogging the flow of the water, undertake scientific studies on the state of the river with help from consultants like the Environmental Counselors Inc., relocate illegal settlers, conduct cleanup and proper waste disposal campaigns, launch “Clean the River” programs in Parañaque schools and barangays and organize fund-raising events like concerts.

There are also plans to have a regular river patrol, construct lighted promenades where residents can walk and jog, and host the cultural “Caracol” activity, a local tradition. With help from environmental groups like the Green Army, trees and mangroves would also be planted.

Creekside residents had to be involved as well in the cleanup. Monsignor Manny Gabriel of the Parish of St. Andrew’s in La Huerta visited families living under the bridge and near the creeks and was appalled by their living conditions.

In 2005, two barangay captains announced a breakthrough in the campaign to save the river. Sto. Niño Barangay Captain Mel de Leon reported that he had succeeded in relocating 38 families living under the Sto. Niño-Don Galo bridge to Laguna province. For her part, Don Galo barangay captain Marlyn Burgos said she convinced 50 families living beside the Don Galo riverbank to relocate, also in Laguna.

Mayor Bernabe is also looking at more relocation sites for the illegal settlers.

And when does he intend to swim in the river again?

“Maybe in 10 years time, but hopefully, before that,” the mayor said.


Plaque of recognition from Shell Companies in the Philippines