Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu hit the ground running Wednesday as the newly appointed chair of the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) in answer to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s call to clean the Pasig River.

The environment chief led atechnical inspection of Pasig River and pledged to get rid of informal settlers and go after pollutersof the historic river.

Cimatu was joined in the more than two-hour inspection tour of the river by Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair Danilo Lim, and officials of the PRRC, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

As they traversed the length of Pasig River from Manila to Makati, Cimatu noted several violations including the three-meter easement from the riverbanks.

"We have the authority to restore the three-meter easement, and MMDA and PRRC are working on this," Cimatu said.

Based on Presidential Decree 1067 or the Water Code of the Philippines, banks of rivers and streams and shores of seas and lakes throughout their entire length and within a zone of three meters in urban areas are subject to the easement of public use in the interest of recreation, navigation, floatage, fishing and salvage.

However, MMDA Resolution No. 3, series of 1996 adopts the uniform 10-meter easement from the existing shoreline, banks or streams along the Pasig River.

According to Cimatu, the 10 meter easement along the Pasig River is subject to expropriation.

The environment chief also saw some 1,000 informal settler families (ISFs) near Del Pan Bridge and vowed to relocate them.

"Relocation is our priority. We will take immediate action. We will remove and relocate the ISFs in coordination with the National Housing Authority,” he said.

Cimatu said that during his recent meeting with local government officials, including barangay captains, he warned them of administrative and criminal charges should they allow relocated ISFs to return to their previous settlements.

The DENR chief said that outfalls discharging wastewater into the river will be checked to monitor water quality, as well as illegal discharges.

“The moment we see a private outfall whose discharge is not according to standards, we will issue them a Notice of Violation (NOV),” Cimatu warned.

He noted that establishments which were earlier issued NOV have been made to pay fines for every day that they did not comply. “We will not let this pass. We will bring these to the Pollution Adjudication Board,” he added.

Cimatu also said the regulated and proper use of the river will be observed, referring to the barges docked along the river that deliver raw materials to the factories, and to the makeshift junkshops along the riverbanks.

“We have to move them out because they contribute to the low quality of the water in the river,” said Cimatu.

The DENR chief said that immediate action will be taken on the large amount of water hyacinths in the river.

MMDA Chair Lim said a 600-meter trash trap has been installed to prevent water hyacinths to reach Pasig River from Laguna Lake but this was destroyed by the continuous rains, thus will have to be replaced.

Cimatu also stressed the need to clean the esteros simultaneously and continuously to prevent the garbage from flowing to the river and then to Manila Bay.

The Pasig River tour gave Cimatu a picture of the water body’s physical condition, as well as the structures and establishments in the riverbanks that affect the river’s water quality.

On August 28, President Duterte issued Executive Order No. 90 transferring the PRRC Chairmanship from the PRRC to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with hopes to revive the river with Cimatu at the helm.

The President recently expressed dismay over the river’s water quality describing it as “uncleanable” because the lack of zoning caused factories and houses along the river to discharge their waste to it.

Last year, Cimatu delivered on the President’s directive to clean Boracay in six months. Early this year, he was tasked to spearhead the ongoing rehabilitation of Manila Bay which has gained ground with the cleanup of esteros, the resettlement of informal settler families (ISF) and the improving water quality readings in major outfalls.

Pasig River is approximately 27 kilometers long and connects Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay. The main Pasig River passes through the cities of Taguig, Pasig, Makati, Mandaluyong and Manila, and the municipality of Taytay in Rizal.

The river system has four major tributaries—Marikina, Pateros-Taguig, Napindan and San Juan—and 43 minor tributaries mostly located in Manila. ###