Estero de Paco: health and rehabilitation through art

Young and old residents living along Estero de Paco bring out the “artist” in them as they painted the walls of estero.
Young and old residents living along Estero de Paco bring out the “artist” in them as they painted the walls of estero.

PACO, Manila – Three barangays near Estero de Paco in Manila are making use of the arts in raising awareness and fostering care for better health and environment. In Barangay 684, near Pedro Gil street and the century-old Paco Market, Barangay officials and representatives from Maynilad and the City Government of Manila took turns discussing with their constituents, gathered on the easement near the Estero, the importance of solid waste and waste water management. The discussions were followed by the painting of a mural highlighting sewer and septage connection, with the young and old alike using their brushes to give their artistic contribution to this undertaking. On Sunday (June 1), two simultaneous community assemblies-cum mural paintings are also scheduled in Barangays 671 and 736. The public are enjoined to participate.

Estero de Paco is one of the nearly 50 esteros that drain the lower Pasig river watershed. Its place in the cultural and economic history of Paco is well established. Its mention evokes fond memories, tinged with regrets for what was lost in the environment and a yearning for what can still be restored. Since 2009 up to the present, so much has been done by the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) and the Kapit-Bisig Para sa Ilog Pasig (KBPIP) of ABS-CBN Foundation to improve the environmental and health conditions in Estero de Paco: from clearing the waterway and its buffer zone of illegal and unsafe structures and providing decent housing to affected families, to dredging and periodic removal of sludge and solid waste; from paving, rip-rapping and constructing the easements, to the installation of catchment sewer pipes, combined sewer overflow (CSO) boxes, anaerobic baffled reactor (ABR), phyto-remediation and bio-remediation measures; from rehabilitating the Paco Market and establishing a Materials Recovery Facility with a cash-for-trash (Palit Basura) program to the regular conduct of information drives on proper solid waste management and waste water management.

“Nakikita natin na pag sama-sama tayong kumikilos, mas naaabot natin ang mithiin na maging malaya sa polusyon na galing sa basura at maruming tubig ang Estero”, says Barangay 684 Captain Jerry Dackel. (We realize that only through concerted action can we come closer to achieving our dream of cleaning the Estero, freed from solid waste and wastewater from households.)

The Asian Development Bank is one of the various supporters for the rehabilitation of Estero de Paco. It is funding a a small technical assistance project being implemented by Grupo Inclam. Seeing the importance of culture and the arts in educating people about the value of cleaning the esteros and the Pasig River, it also sponsored the production and staging of a play “Ang Halimaw sa Ilog”, directed by Miguel Faustman.

Five years since the Estero de Paco intiative commenced, PRRC, KBPIP, the barangays and the City Government of Manila are faced with the challenge of building or improving on the gains and sustaining what has been achieved. This twin challenge can only be addressed with an empowered community and strong political will on the part of barangay leaders.