The majestic Iloilo River at the heart of the metropolis speaks of magnificent, wonderful and colorful memories from Ilonggo leaders since decades ago.

The captivating waterway which serves as the city’s major asset stole spotlight and charmed audiences at the recently-concluded 1st Philippine International River Summit here.

“As a young boy, growing up along the banks of Iloilo River where my family lives, I remember then how people swam and fish in its waters,” recalled Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog.

“Our river was the source of livelihood and enjoyment for many Ilonggos. But time and tide change many things. As I got older, I begin to witness such changes – in our city, in our river,” he noted.

Not only Mabilog got shares of swimming escapades at Iloilo River long before but also Senator Franklin Drilon and Governor Arthur Defensor.

“By the river we sat down and swam.”

This might be the memories that moved Drilon who makes saving Iloilo River a crusade more than just as a public servant but himself.

“I have a personal confession to make. Being a lawyer, my platform and agenda is on justice system and rule of law. But after I have seen how the Iloilo River deteriorated – the river where I and Governor Defensor used to swim – I said I will adapt the agenda on climate change and environment protect – and I would start here in Iloilo,” stressed Drilon.

“That is why I began sitting down in the Iloilo River Development Council. I am committed to revive Iloilo River as centerpiece of economic development in Iloilo,” the legislator told over a thousand participants of the global forum.

Our river, our life

“Now we realize that life on this earth depends a lot on our rivers… if our rivers die, we die. We must learn how to take care of our rivers, we must learn how to preserve and continue the life of our rivers,” Defensor encouraged.

Colonies of informal settlers have started to mushroom along the river banks, building houses on stilts.  Fish pens that contribute to siltation are almost everywhere, and rundown boats and ships have used its banks, too, as the final resting place for their decrepit structures, said Mabilog.

Cleaning the river

“But all these have changed. Most of the informal settlers had been relocated to better and safer places. Those who remained are simply waiting to move to the government’s socialized housing projects during the last quarter of this year,” the mayor said.

Fish pen owners have voluntarily dismantled their structures and were provided with funds to pursue alternative livelihood. The derelicts had been removed.

“Commercial establishments along the river are beginning to put up wastewater facilities, and crews of cleaners are doing a daily sweep of the river for floating debris and waste materials,” Mabilog explained.

Eco-tourism

“We have also begun cleaning the formerly inhabited banks of the Iloilo River. We envision the river as a major eco-tourism zone and we are getting close to achieving this dream,” he promised.

“In some parts, we are establishing easements and environmental protection area along both banks of river for more effective abatement of dumping solid wastes into the river,” the city’s chief executive said.

“We are also proud to say that, as of latest report, the water quality of Iloilo River has vastly improved and endemic marine life is beginning to thrive again in its waters,” Mabilog exclaimed.

“We remain optimistic we can create a healthy and sustainable aquatic environment in the river before the year ends,” he assured.

Our river, our pride

“Our efforts to resuscitate our river earned distinctions from the International Liveable Communities Award where the Iloilo River Development Project won Gold in 2010 for Environmentally Sustainable Projects,” Mabilog said.

“The project again won the 2011 LivCom Special Project Award for Iloilo City – Post LivCom: Advancing the Iloilo River Development Initiatives for Integrated Sustainable Management. The reason we clinched this Special Award was because we manifested our intention that the city hosts an international river summit this year,” he enthused.

Sharing Iloilo River experience

“This is precisely what we want to share with you: our Iloilo River experience.  We’re happy to say we’re making progress and we have proven that nothing is impossible for a united and committed people,” said Mabilog.

“The task has never been easy. But we choose to walk the straight and righteous path by turning away from dumping garbage so conveniently into our river, by educating our people about the need to be more vigilant in conserving and rehabilitating our environment for future generations,” he urged.

“We’d like to praise and thank all delegates and speakers many of whom travelled great distances to join us in this summit. I know you too have river experiences and best practices you’re willing to share with everyone,” said Mabilog.

He also cited various local government units, local chief executives, non-government organizations and government agencies.

Clean river for healthy living

“Undoubtedly, this summit not only expressed the highest consideration in strengthening and expanding international cooperation for management and sustainable development of our respective water resources, but also indicated a strong commitment for cooperation starting today and hopefully for the coming generations,” Mabilog affirmed.

“For many of us, however, much remains to be done if we want our rivers to become rich ecosystems. We know that dreadful river conditions affect the health of our citizens and the quality of living in our respective spheres,” he added.

“Clean rivers mean safer water sources and better aquatic produce. Cleaner banks and waterways mean better, more attractive living and working conditions,” Mabilog asserted.

Good intentions, strong will for river

“Improving the quality of our rivers signify the heights we can reach when we work together. We can dream; we can strive; and we can achieve. With unity, I know we can do it,” he declared.

Mabilog quoted Barun Roy, columnist of India’s leading newspaper Business Standard, saying “he appropriately expressed our sentiments when he wrote: When good intentions are backed by strong will, even a dead river can be brought back to life.”

“The objective of this summit is for us to learn from each other through best practices and scientific approaches. Our purpose is to boost our knowledge, strengthen our coordination, collaboration, and cooperation to achieve our common goals of sustaining rivers free of pollution and creating environments our respective people can all enjoy and be proud of,” the mayor stated.

“That with good intentions and a strong singular will, we can bring our rivers to life,” Mabilog avowed.

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