MELANDREW T. VELASCO: SMC’s noble rehabilitation of Tullahan River system

With the looming onset of the rainy season, focus must now be on the dredging of esteros and the rehabilitation of rivers to avert flooding in the metropolis and other urban centers in the Philippines.

Improper garbage disposal and tons of effluents discharged into bodies of water from factories and industrial plants result in water pollution, destroying marine lives, aesthetics and recreational values of the bodies of water.

While it is primarily government’s responsibility to ensure the problem of water pollution is addressed, the sad reality is public funds are not enough. Each of us must be involved in solving the problem of pollution in our country’s bodies of water to bring drastic changes to their dismal state.

Filipinos are fortunate that tremendous effort is being exerted by many private companies and organizations to rehabilitate bodies of water. One of these companies is San Miguel Corporation (SMC).

SMC is an active partner of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in latter’s Adopt-an-Estero Program. DENR partners in the program undertake environmental improvement on the waterway they have adopted. Aside from regular clean-up activities and dredging of the waterway, they may also conduct information and education campaigns, community mobilization activities and trainings for stakeholders.

The program is one of DENR’s priority initiatives and strategies relative to the continuing Supreme Court mandamus to clean up Manila Bay. It was on March 14, 2019 when former DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu and SMC President and CEO Ramon S. Ang (RSA) signed the memorandum of agreement to formalize the partnership. 

Spanning 27 kilometers from the La Mesa Water Reservoir in Quezon City to Centennial Park in Navotas City, the Tullahan-Tinajeros River System is a major tributary of Manila Bay. It is considered one of the most polluted waterways in the Metro Manila. It traverses the cities of  Malabon, Caloocan, Valenzuela and Quezon. It is the beneficiary of SMC’s river rehabilitation initiative.

Recently, SMC announced its initiative to rehabilitate the Tullahan River has gained ground. After months of cleaning major segments of the river system, it was reported that hydrographic survey showed significant improvement in the river depth and carrying capacity. Silt and solid wastes were removed, making the flow of water from upstream unobstructed. This has resulted in less flooding in nearby areas.

This has provided relief to communities affected by flooding as a result of overflowing rivers that are filled up when downpours occur. “Essentially, what we’ve accomplished is to remove the silt and wastes that have made these rivers shallow and increase their ability to receive water from upstream channels, particularly during heavy rain or typhoon season, which is when severe flooding in many areas in Metro Manila occur,” RSA said.

RSA added that the Tullahan River’s depths at areas along the 10-kilometer stretch the company’s cleanup teams have worked on are now between three to five meters, compared to one to two meters previously. 

SMC has removed 876,296 metric tons of silt and solid wastes from the Tullahan River and it hopes to reach one million metric tons by June. It has allotted Php1-billion budget for the program that was launched in 2020. The amount will include cost for equipment acquisition.

SMC’s river dredging and clean-up initiative has been lauded by DENR as Acting Secretary Jim O. Sampulna commended the conglomerate for its dedication in protecting and preserving the environment. “We are very grateful for our partnership in securing healthier and cleaner waterways for a better future,” he said.

It will be recalled that on November 26, 2010, DENR inked a Memorandum of Agreement with San Miguel Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of San Miguel Corporation to clean up Metro Manila waterways. One of the focus areas of the Foundation is on the environment that includes river rehabilitation.

The agreement involved the environmental improvement of a 1.7-kilometer portion of the Tullahan River in Valenzuela City starting from MacArthur Highway to the Philippine National Railways bridge. The MOA also stipulated that SMC through SMF will undertake “expanded environmental improvement including including the dredging of portions of the Tullahan River from the MacArthur Highway all the way to Manila Bay.”

Then DENR Secretary Ramon Paje called the partnership “a big boost to our adopt-an-estero program” as he emphasized that most of the water bodies in Metro Manila could no longer be restored by government alone. 

The SMC initiative to clean the river system is part of the company’s campaign to promote environmental sustainability. It complements other flood mitigation efforts in Navotas, Malabon, Valenzuela, and Caloocan.

In the future, a rehabilitated Tullahan River system may provide alternate route for transportation between Quezon City and Navotas, aside from flood mitigation and its contribution to a cleaner Manila Bay.

 But, the rehabilitation of Tullahan River system entails the collaboration of all stakeholders, not just the national government, SMC, the local government units and the communities in nearby areas.

It is our shared responsibility. We must be involved.