To build or not to build? That is the question that has been asked for some time after it was announced earlier this year that work would begin on the Pasig River Expressway (Parex).
There are currently three elevated highways in Metro Manila: Skyway (Levels 1 through 3) that connect Alabang in Muntinlupa and the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx); Harbor Link, which connects Manila’s port area to NLEx’s Mindanao Avenue Interchange; and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Expressway, which connects Skyway and Aseana City to the airport terminals.
The proposed Parex, a 19.3 kilometer elevated road that would connect Road 10 in Tondo, Manila, to Circumferential Road 6 in Taytay, Rizal, will traverse most of the historic and potentially archaeologically rich Pasig River through the cities Manila, Makati, Pasig and Taguig.
The San Miguel Corp. project at least affects the visual integrity of a number of heritage sites, particularly in Manila, Makati, and Pasig, aside from the environmental concerns of some groups.
In Manila, Intramuros, a national cultural treasure with a world heritage site, the Church of San Agustin, the Aduana or Intendencia building, the El Hogar building, the Pacific Commercial Building, the Jones Bridge in Manila, the building of the National, may be affected Press Club by architect Angel Nakpil, the Commercial Bank building by Jose Ma. Zaragoza on Escolta, Edificio Calvo, Manila Central Post Office, Manila Metropolitan Theater, Arroceros Forest Park, Quezon Bridge, Ayala Bridge and Isla de Convalecencia, where the Hospicio de San Jose is located.
Also included are sites within the histo-cultural overlay zone in Sta. Ana neighborhoods, such as the Manila Boat Club building, an important cultural asset (ICP), the Lichauco Heritage House, Plaza Felipe Calderon, the Sta. Ana Church and Pao Ong Hu Taoist Temple.
In Makati, these include the historic houses of Barangay Poblacion, such as the Coronado House from the Spanish era, the Tolentino and Cu-Unjieng houses from the American era and the old Municipio from the Makati era; Guadalupe Bliss in Cembo, a suspected ICP as designed by national artist Francisco MaÃ±osa; Makati City Jail (formerly Fort McKinley Prison) already dwarfed by the Ortigas-BGC Link Bridge in Barangay Northside; and the late 18th century Chapel of San Nicolas de Tolentino in West Rembo and the old Pasig Capitol building in Barangay Sta. Pink.
In a series of posts on his Facebook account, the landscape architect and environmental planner Paulo Alcazaren complained about the failure of the Philippine government to understand that more roads mean more traffic.
“As advanced cities around the world tear down elevated roads, we are building more of them,” he said.
âWe all need to remember that transport is not the problem, it is a symptom of the problems of the lack of a comprehensive and inclusive transport system that focuses on moving people, not vehicles, and of the shortcomings in that Planning and building our cities, we prefer widespread templates that are now being abandoned by the rest of the world, âhe added.
Comparing Parex to the elevated road on the banks of the Han River in Seoul, Alcazaren said the impact of the former, a project under the government’s “build, build, build” program, is greater because the latter has many broad easement areas parks and public spaces have been converted.
âThe San Miguel motifs are presented as a project for the common good. However, it seems that the benefits are only going to specific sectors and the price everyone pays for the project outweighs what is, at best, a stopgap solution to our transportation problems, âhe said.
Alcazaren, recognized for its work on Iloilo City’s esplanade and bike paths, also asked if the project had a visual resource assessment to assess the impact on visual corridors and impacts on cultural / heritage sites, ecology of the river etc. as well as the property values ââon the river bank.
“The project’s environmental impact assessment should also have been carried out and had to go through a stakeholder consultation process,” he said, not being able to find any.
He suggested using the pesos 81 billion budget for the project instead for other community-oriented endeavors, such as building more public transportation, including non-motorized transport (pedestrians and bicycles), more pedestrian and vehicle bridges across the Pasig River, and transport ferries .
The Filipino Trustee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), Erik Akpedonu, meanwhile, said the construction of the elevated road will irrevocably destroy the sightlines of the historic structures along the Pasig River, as âthese important views in Manila are increasingly lost these days walk”.
“Just think of the recent disappearance of the old Paco Philippine National Railway Station behind the massive freeway in front of it, where Paco Station was originally the splendid terminus of a wide avenue (Quirino Avenue) approaching it,” he said.
Akpedonu said that the preservation of cultural heritage is not limited to the preservation of buildings, but also concerns the relationship between these buildings and the relationship between the buildings and the urban or natural landscape.
He also explained that current traffic planning in Metro Manila began in the 1940s, for example with the highways built by Robert Moses in New York at the time.
This reached its peak in Europe and North America in the 1950s and 1960s with the construction of massive highways that run through neighborhoods and city centers.
“However, beginning in the 1970s and particularly the 1980s, citizens became increasingly critical of myopic urban planning that focused on the car at the expense of townships, pedestrians, green spaces, heritage, views and public transport systems,” he said.
He also said that this “auto-centered planning” became unpopular in the developed areas of the world in the 1980s to 1990s due to its negative impact on the quality of life in cities.
Akpedonu said that the key to sustainable, heritage and nature-friendly development is the redevelopment of mass transport.
“There is a broad consensus among urban planners around the world that the solution to traffic and congestion does not lie in building ever wider motorways, but in the massive expansion of local public transport,” he said.
This has led to the closure, demolition and renaturation of these highways and elevated roads, such as the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway from 1954, the Nihonbashi Expressway in Tokyo (1964) and the renaturation of the Cheonggyecheon Expressway (1968) in Seoul into a river park.
“Instead of repeating the mistakes made elsewhere since the 1950s and 1960s, it would be better for Manila to adopt a future-oriented, modern, efficient and sustainable transport concept, i.e. an integrated public transport system based on LRT (Light Rail Transit) / MRT ( Metro Rail Transit) and subways, âhe said, becauseâ maintaining an auto-centered development model is ultimately unsustainable â.
Akpedonu also stated that building a six-lane elevated road on the Pasig River would reduce it to “a mere gully”. The Pasig River is the core, heart and soul of Manila, he said.
âWithout the Pasig River, there would be no Manila [and its environs] today, âhe added.
Both the national cultural authorities and the San Miguel Corp. have not yet published any statements on this subject
The project, which should start in February, is expected to be completed in 2023