Take a look at the Iloilo River. Now, what do you see? Gone almost are the days when floating rubbish, illegal structures and fish pens, and even slums were an eyesore.

Thanks to the regular cleanups and development projects initiated, conducted and implemented by the City Government, volunteer groups, environment advocates, partner organizations and donor agencies responding to the call of reviving the river.

Yes Iloilo, the river is not dead yet. In fact, it is breathing a life and is bringing in flourishing potentials, given our proper attention and preservation priorities.

Development plans have been put in place to bring back a vibrant life for Iloilo River. Ilonggos and visitors alike would surely like to see the waterway at the heart of the city oozing with promising tourism attractions and economic opportunities.

The Iloilo River is a home to water sports activities such as recreational boating and boat races. There have been prospects for giant dragon boat race event and everyone would want to experience such exciting adrenaline rush coming to reality.

Indeed, the Iloilo River is a sight to behold. Come sunset, the river sparkles a picturesque and romantic setting whether you are leisurely walking or sweating out in health and fitness time at the Treñas Boulevard or just driving along Drilon, Forbes, Jalandoni and Aquino bridges.

As darkness engulfs, the river reflects serenity from the glittering and lovely lights of a rising city. The smooth flow of a moving banca sends signal of fishing activity at night. Hook-line fishing activities for a hobby or for food on table of fisher folks come earlier at daytime.

The Iloilo River is actually a 15-kilometer long estuarine, deriving fresh water from rivers and creeks that are connected to it and saline water from the sea that feeds it.

The waterway maintains a high level of productive biological activities as it serves as nursery for many important fish species such as bangus and tilapia while the rise and fall of the tide makes it possible for nutrients (such as planktons and detritus) to circulate in and out of the estuary, according to studies.

Interestingly, the Iloilo River is home to 22 of the country’s 35 mangrove species.

Ilonggos are now becoming conscious of the significance of Iloilo River. And it is but high time that we take a closer look into its conservation to create and achieve productive results for the protection of the city’s natural wealth.

Of course, the collective efforts have paid off. Attest to it, the Iloilo River Development Project bagged Gold or excellent citation in the natural category of the 2010 International Awards for Liveable Communities (Livcom) that unfurled at the Hilton Hotel, Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois, USA on November 4-8, 2010.  It also got a Silver Award in last year’s LivCom in Songpa, Seoul, South Korea, October 27-31, 2011.

“The global awards for our Iloilo River is a manifestation that we the Ilonggos should take good care of our river. It has given our ancestors life, it is giving us life, it will give life to our children, and our children’s children,” stresses Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog who personally received the LivCom recognition.

“The city is blessed with the abundance of the river. All we have to do is to rehabilitate, preserve and protect it,” he enthuses.

The LivCom affirms the best practices for Iloilo River as an approach to sustainable development which encompasses enhancement of landscape, heritage management, environmentally-sensitive practices, community sustainability and planning for the future.

Endorsed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the LivCom awards annually brings together some of the world’s leading innovators in the field.

“This is an international distinction. We got this because it is our very dream to make our place a liveable city,” extols Mabilog.

The Mayor cited the city government’s political will and credited the people’s cooperation as major contributors to the success of various initiatives that seek to bring back the glory of Iloilo River.

The city’s chief executive noted that the LivCom awards international jury composed of environmental and landscape management professionals got an interest on Iloilo River as a source of life even as it was being used as a major port since way back.

He also hopes that the Iloilo River’s citations would serve as a tool in asking for grants from possible funding agencies for project implementation considering the LivCom is endorsed by UNEP.

Likewise, the Iloilo River Development Project earned praises from the Rivers of the World (ROW) Foundation, a global group dedicated to restoring and protecting rivers and streams around the globe.

The ROW expressed support and will share some best practices when the city hosts an international environmental summit on river protection here on May 30-June 1.

An active public-private partnership and wider stakeholders’ participation are seen to sustain the successful initiatives invested on Iloilo River over time.

Regular cleanup activities and river-watch advocacies, mangrove reforestation, and adoption and establishment of wastewater and sewerage/septage treatment program are expected to be further improved and strengthened for Iloilo River preservation.

The Iloilo River was once a witness to Iloilo City’s glorious past. Now, it is a thriving reflection of a vibrant future.

The Iloilo River has given pride to the city and made Ilonggos proud. Let’s not take the river for granted because it may be gone before we knew it. It’s about time for us to take a second look, and with one vision and goal of a vibrant Iloilo River.

This story first appeared in Mezzo Magazine January 2011