VERA FILES FACT CHECK: MISLEADING post on state of Pasig River under Aquino, Duterte resurfaces

Netizens are reviving a 15-month-old Facebook (FB) post which credits President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration for the rehabilitation of the Pasig River. This is misleading.

The post, published by a netizen on Aug. 15 last year, carried a two-photo collage supposedly comparing the ill condition of the river during late President Benigno Aquino III’s term with its cleaned up state under Duterte.

A reverse image search shows, however, that both photos were taken after Duterte assumed office in 2016. VERA Files Fact Check debunked a similar graphic in July last year. (See Viral ‘disente vs bastos time’ photos MISLEAD; all taken under Duterte administration)

The image showing a river filled with trash and had a photo of Aquino beside it, actually shows San Juan River, a smaller stream that leads to the Pasig River. It came from an album of photos published by the Philippine Star on FB in April 2018.

Meanwhile, the photo of a clean portion of the Pasig River edited with a photo of Duterte beside it was a post-rehabilitation image of the river from the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) — an agency Duterte abolished in 2019 while its functions were transferred to different agencies. One of the photo’s earliest copies on the web can be traced to an October 2018 Interaksyon article.

The PRRC was established in 1999 by former President Joseph Estrada, with the goal of rehabilitating the river to “its historically pristine condition conducive to transport, recreation and tourism.” The commission’s work from its founding until 2018 earned the river the 2018 Riverprize Award for the Asia region bestowed by the International River Foundation.

Pasig River clean up: an effort across administrations

It was in 1990 when the river was declared “biologically dead” by ecologists.

But efforts to revive the Pasig River started as early as 1973, during the administration of former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. In August 1973, Marcos signed Presidential Decrees No. 274 and 281. The former was directed towards the “preservation, beautification, improvement, and gainful utilization” of the river, while the latter sought the creation of the Pasig River Development Council mandated to supervise the river’s development and beautification.

In 1989, the Pasig River Rehabilitation Program was launched by former President Corazon Aquino’s administration in partnership with the Danish International Development Assistance, intended to consolidate all river rehabilitation efforts.

In 1993, then President Fidel Ramos established the Presidential Task Force on Pasig River Rehabilitation that would oversee the implementation of the government’s master plan on the rehabilitation of the river. Two years later, his wife, former first lady Amelita Martinez-Ramos, established the Clean and Green Foundation, Inc. which was responsible for the Piso para sa Pasig campaign, a well-acclaimed fundraising initiative which worked for the resuscitation of the river.

Other initiatives that significantly contributed to Pasig River’s revitalization include ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation’s Kapit Bisig Para sa Ilog Pasig, and a policy loan granted by the Asian Development Bank in 2000.

The misleading FB post recirculated on social media as groups continued to criticize the construction of the Pasig River Expressway, an elevated highway that would span through the entirety of the river. The project is a joint venture between the government and San Miguel Holdings Corporation.

The misleading post now has over 26,000 reactions, 7,600 comments, and 73,000 shares from netizens.

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(Editor’s Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)