When it was built in 1911, Paco Market was a bustling hub of commerce and culture. However, as the years passed, the structure was neglected. People began to throw their trash into Estero de Paco, heedless of the growing piles of garbage already clogging the once-sparkling waters. Shanties sprung up along its banks, further aggravating the problem. It came to a point when you could practically walk on top of the garbage that had built up in the estero; so much of it was in there that there was hardly any room for water.
Estero de Paco flowed (or used to flow, anyway) directly into the Pasig River, a once-mighty 27-kilometer body of water that flowed through Metro Manila and connected Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay. As one of the river’s main tributaries, the water from Estero de Paco brought whatever pollutants it could carry. Soon, the estero became one of the worst sources of the waste that slowly poisoned the Pasig River.
Gina Lopez“…We realized that if the market continued to dump its sewage and waste into the estero, and if the vendors continued to be undisciplined, we would never have the estero that we needed,” recalled AFI managing director Gina Lopez in a separate interview. Lopez now also heads the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC), the agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources tasked with cleaning and rehabilitating the Pasig River.
“The only way we can really clean up the river and keep it clean is if we clean the tributaries that flow into it,” asserts Kevin Harris, KBPIP’s resource mobilization manager. “We began with Estero de Paco because it’s the biggest among the tributaries, and one of the most polluted.”
Although the group knew that it would be a massive undertaking to clean the three-kilometer, century-old estero and its surrounding market, the organizers and volunteers were optimistic that it could be done with proper planning and the involvement of the local community.
A magical 10 months
Ten months was all it took to reward the faith of KBPIP. Local government units, NGOs, private organizations and volunteers came together to make a cleaner and greener Paco Market possible.
First, the transient population of 1,350 families was relocated to Calauan, Laguna, where they were given affordable housing options and livelihood training. Their shanties were dismantled and KBPIP proceeded to dig up and remove the tons of garbage left behind by over 80 years of abuse to the waterway.
When the time came to do the dirty work, slews of volunteers arrived to help clean up Estero de Paco, most of them students and military personnel. After the estero was clear of physical garbage, it was time to clear the pollutants left behind. This was to be done in the greenest, most eco-friendly way possible.
Coco coir wGina Lopezas imbued with a mix of helpful bacteria known to decompose garbage and is used to treat wastewater and sludge. The coir would act as a filter against larger contaminants and as a stabilizing material for the banks of the waterway, while the bacteria worked on eliminating harmful toxins from the water. To combat erosion, vetiver grass was also introduced. The grass would also help to clean the water, filtering it over time.
KBPIP hopes to be able to reintroduce local aquatic life into the river soon. “We’re trying to incorporate air into the water, making it more capable of supporting life,” Harris says. Educating the public and arming them with the ways and means to keep the river and its tributaries clean is a major part of the project.
Harris stresses, “It’s important to involve and educate the people who live nearby, and not only those people, but basically every Filipino. As Gina Lopez says, it’s not just your river or my river—it’s our river, everybody’s river.”
The organization has its River Warriors, volunteers who, aside from donating their time and effort to cleaning the river, are also on the watch for people who would seek to abuse it again. They alert local officials of eco-violators in their area and help disseminate information about what each and every person can do to help bring the river back to life. Furthermore, education centers were established to teach the people in the communities around Paco Market to manage their waste and maintain the river’s cleanliness.
Paco market in the future
The estero isn’t the only one getting a second lease on life. The construction of the new and improved Paco Market is also under way.
“I would love for a child to grow up and have Paco Market as part of his or her daily life,” says Paco Market Redevelopment project manager Maja Olivares-Co, the designer tasked to create a greener, ecoefficient market that will once again be the social and economic pulse of the community.
Olivares-Co is something of a market connoisseur, making it a point to visit one every time she travels. She believes that a market shows the depth and diversity of a culture, and it is this passion for the public market that she brings to the creation of the new structure that will house the Paco Market.
Paco MarketThe construction is massive— roughly 3,000 square meters— and will remain as faithful to the original architecture as possible while integrating new and eco-friendly designs. According to Olivares-Co, in keeping with ecological principles, the structure will make use of recycled material, and the new market will use less water and less power. The area is designed to require little to no lighting during the day, and no air conditioning, because an elevated roof and strategically placed windows regulate airflow and let in natural light. It would also be able to manage its water usage—wastewater would be collected, reused, and possibly treated, so that no more waste gets poured into the recovering estero.
Best of all, stalls in the market will be kept at a rent-controlled rate, enough to sustain the market, but not so much as to put a strain on the local vendors and push up the price of goods. They will also sell products made by the families that were relocated to Laguna, Olivares-Co said.
The heart of the new market will be an activity and education center where people can enjoy the music of local bands, a wide assortment of native delicacies, and some shopping. It will also serve as a place for training and learning for the locals. Livelihood education programs as well as eco-educational programs will be offered.
The group seeks to complete the work on the Paco Market and Estero de Paco in the last quarter of 2011—a fitting “gift” for a landmark on its 100th year. As Gina Lopez affirmed,
“If in this crucial time a market that was a den of thieves, drugs, stench and filth transforms into a world-class market which helps keep the estero clean, then a dramatic statement is being made.”