A vision of Filipinos jumping into clean rivers may actually be in sight as the government reported headways in cleaning up major waterways. Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reports that, in the first six months of the Aquino administration (July-December 2010), water pollution in 10 of the country’s 19 priority rivers was reduced by 10 percent compared to the first semester of the year (January-June 2010).

The 10 priority rivers with reduced water pollution include the Meycauayan River, Marilao River and Bocaue River, all in Regio 3; Calapan River in Region 4B; Anayan River in Region 5; Iloilo River in Region 6; Luyang River and Sapangdaku River in Region 7; Balili River in the Cordillera Administrative Region; and Paranaque River in the National Capital Region.

Data culled from the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) showed that the level of water pollution in the 10 priority rivers, generally measured by the biochemical oxygen demand or BOD, for the second half of 2010 was at 26.08 milligrams/Liter (mg/L) on the average, down by 10 per cent from the level measured in the first semester of the same year at 28.84 mg/L.

BOD measures the amount of oxygen consumed by microorganisms in decomposing organic matter in the water. For class C waters – ideal for fisheries, non-contact recreation and manufacturing processes – a level higher than the standard or ceiling of 7 mg/L indicates the presence of more bacteria that deplete the oxygen in the water for other higher forms of aquatic life. In 2009, BOD levels reached as much as126.27 mg/L, or 1,700% beyond the standard.

Paje cited the unprecedented show of confidence and support in the government’s programs as the leading factor in reducing water pollution. So far, 77 corporations have extended human and other resources in the Aquino administration’s initiative to clean up the country’s esteros and other waterways using the public-private partnership approach through the “Adopt-an-Estero” program. These include the Manila North Tollway Corporation, San Miguel Corporation, the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA), Skyway Corporation and San Miguel Foundation.

Additionally, the Philippine Plastics Industry Association (PPIA) has been required to retrieve, collect and recycle plastics in esteros and dumpsites, while an association of supermarkets and retailers has started the “Reusable Bag Campaign for a Greener Environment” as part of concrete efforts to reduce solid wastes dumped along waterways, particularly plastic bags.The government has also issued Cease and Desist Orders (CDO) to eight polluting companies, and fined 22 polluting firms to the tune of P22.6 million. This, Paje said, shows the seriousness of government to improve water quality, especially in light of a report by the World Bank that the cost of water-borne diseases amounts to P6.7 billion a year.

Among the companies issued with CDOs were Tiffany Mansion Condominium, Eisenhower Condominium Corp., Batangas Sugar Central Inc., Waltermart, Medical Center Paranaque, Cebu Hybrid Farms Corp., Superstar Coconut Products, Inc., and Focus Ventures, Inc.

President Aquino had earlier noted that lack of clean water was a “critical constraint to economic growth” as it threatened national development through the spread of diseases. In his speech during the celebration of World Water Day 2011 in March, he underscored the importance of private-public sector partnerships in improving water quality, and vowed to come up with more water-related projects “to allow people access to what is rightfully theirs.”