New DENR chief cites Iloilo LGU environmental program as a model for the rest of PH

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New Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu marvels at the efforts to transform the Iloilo River into what Cimatu says is the cleanest river in the country he has ever seen. —NESTOR P. BURGOS

ILOILO CITY — The project that turned the Iloilo River into what Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said was the cleanest he has ever seen could become a model for saving the country’s river systems from degradation, says the former general.

“I haven’t seen a river as clean as the Iloilo River,” Cimatu told reporters here after a visit to the Iloilo River Esplanade with Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog last week.

The provincial government’s continued tree-planting program is also worth emulating, said Cimatu, who took over the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) following the controversial rejection by the Nominations Commission of environmentalist Gina Lopez as head of the DENR.

Conservation course

Cimatu said the environmental protection programs implemented by local government units – municipal and provincial governments – and the DENR regional office impressed him.

Lessons from the Iloilo River Preservation Program could help in programs to save other major rivers and water bodies in the country like the Pasig River, Lake Laguna and Manila Bay, said Cimatu, a former head of the armed forces.

The Iloilo River Development Council, made up of government and private sector representatives, is a model of how river systems safeguard programs could be sustained, he said.

The 15-kilometer-long Iloilo River is the city’s main tributary, passing through 35 of the city’s 180 villages. At least 53,000 people live along its shores.

The river also serves as a source of livelihood for fishermen and habitat and nursery for fish species. It is home to 22 of the country’s 35 mangrove species.

Historians had cited the key role the river played in trade and navigation in pre-colonial times.

The quality of the river, however, has declined in the past due to illegal structures and reclamation work, congestion at Iloilo Wharf at the mouth of the river, overfishing and pollution. .

Esplanade

The campaign to save it has led to relentless dredging and cleanup, turning the river into a major tourist attraction.

A key part of the clean-up project, the Iloilo River Esplanade, has become a premier recreation area where city residents jog, dine in outdoor restaurants, or watch water sports on the river. . The esplanade stretches for 1.1 km on either side of the river.

The Ministry of Public Works and Roads would extend the esplanade to three kilometers on each side in a project worth 230 million pesos.

Before traveling to Antique, the home province of his wife Fe Aguillon-Cimatu, the environment chief also said he was looking for a mining company he could use as a model for responsible mining in the country.

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