Encouraged by the show of interest from the public in cleaning up Metro Manila’s waterways, Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje has directed field officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to initiate their own adopt-an-estero scheme in the provinces.

The Adopt-an-Estero program of the DENR encourages the business sector, together with local government units (LGUs) and civil society, to clean up and maintain a particular estero. It is part of the agency’s massive cleanup and rehabilitation of tributaries of major water bodies such as the Pasig River and Manila Bay.

Although the program has been initially implemented in the National Capital Region, Paje ordered all Regional Executive Directors (REDs) to identify similar partnerships within their respective areas of jurisdiction, targeting no less than 10 waterways, or a portion thereof, per region for the year. He expects to gain the same support from the provinces similar to what the program has earned in Metro Manila, and has instructed the Environmental Management Bureau to conduct an intensive information campaign on the program.

“We know there are many organizations and industries who are interested in improving the condition of our waterways which have become threats to public health and safety because of pollution. Since most of these are tributaries of lakes, seas and oceans, and with the astounding amount of garbage we always collect during clean-up drives, maintaining cleaner waterways should be a collective priority,” he said.

He likewise cited the occurrence of La Niña this year as another reason why the scheme needs to be undertaken in other areas at the soonest possible time. “We have seen and heard reports of flooding elsewhere in the country. It may be safe to say that some of these were caused by clogged waterways, especially in urban centers. We do not want a repeat of Ondoy as government warns of more rains to come even during the summer season,” he said.

According to the environment chief, the cleanup and rehabilitation of waterways or water bodies entails minimal cost to the adopting entity, and practically at no cost at all to the government. The simplest and most doable scheme, he said, is to set up garbage traps in certain places along an estero. The adopting entity could then hire people or tap the surrounding community to periodically collect the trapped garbage to prevent these from floating downstream.

The DENR had entered into a number of agreements under the Adopt-an-Estero program in 2010. The first was with the Manila North Tollways Corporation, and the cities of Quezon and Valenzuela for a one-kilometer stretch of Tullahan River along Barangays Talipapa in Quezon City and Ugong in Valenzuela City. The second was with the Philippine Mine Safety and Environmental Association for the Diliman Creek and its tributaries in Quezon City. Lastly, the San Miguel Foundation and the cities of Valenzuela and Malabon adopted a 2.7-km stretch of the Tullahan River traversing Barangays Marulas in Valenzuela City and Potrero in Malabon.

Other similar partnerships are under way for the adoption of the Marikina and San Juan Rivers, both tributaries of Pasig River; and Parañaque River, a tributary of the Manila Bay. The program has also sparked interest from international organizations and individuals.