Back in the centuries of Spanish rule, Pasig River was an important transport route in Manila. Today, due to societal and government negligence along with industrial activity surrounding Pasig River, it is now so polluted that it is said to be no longer biologically active. Filipino youth of the present day probably know this river as one that many say should be brought back to life, but never is.
Part of the blame for this is the society in which we live – one that is predominantly made up of Filipinos characteristic of C and DE socio-economic status who necessarily have far less spending power than the country’s affluent minority. Metro Manila, of nearly 12 million souls, is a disproportionately tiny area occupied by an eighth of the entire country’s population, mostly comprised of urban poor and moderate to low-income families with significantly less access to economic opportunity.
The low cost of manpower stemming from the massive supply of job seekers competing for few job openings tends to subject most residents to financial insecurity, thus explaining how an average Filipino family is able to spend less for necessities. Millions of Pinoys living in abject poverty cannot preoccupy themselves with environmental concerns as they devote most of their time scraping a living and are barely able to survive from day to day. This explains the widespread indiscriminate littering in Metro Manila.
Another part of the blame falls onto government, for failing to sustain both environmental regulation of industrial activities around Pasig River, and the determination to lift Filipinos from economic limbo. A more critical look at the combination of poverty and loosely regulated big business reveals the prevalence of what is called a tingi economy, or “sachet economy,” where consumers generally have the propensity to make purchases of small quantities rather than larger ones.
At the core of it all are the engines that feed on a tingi economy to grow their multi-billion peso enterprise with a virtually limitless supply of cheap labor, millions of tingi/sachet-product consumers, and the absence of the strong arm grip of government environmental regulation. These business entities are profiting from the way society and the Philippine economy is set up, and some are even dumping hazardous wastes into wherever it is convenient and cheap to do so. With much of Metro Manila’s waterways leading down to Pasig River, pretty much anything dumped within the metropolis could find its way to Pasig River either via regular drainage paths or through urban flooding during rainy season. Going the way of micro-retailing of smaller packs so that no one is too poor to afford anything, makes for a huge customer base that includes millions of Pinoys of even the lowest of incomes.
The waste generated by an economy that consumes massive quantities of various products looks like multiples of the garbage in countries of higher standards of living, the same way ten thousand pennies make up the equivalent of a single hundred dollar bill. Imagine even just a fraction of that waste put into Pasig River, and it is no wonder that more than 6 decades after the first signs of decline in fish population, the river is dead. Thanks to growing poverty, which is ironic considering the continued success of micro-retail and the ubiquitous sachet, the way we consume killed the Pasig River.
If not with economic upliftment for more individual Filipinos, how else can we revive Pasig River? Surely not with fun runs. Surely not with social events that we’ve been having for so many years that only resulted in the Pasig River staying a ghost of its colonial self centuries past. Definitely not with the way we continue to consume while nonchalantly ignoring our impact on what follows the consumption.