When San Miguel Corporation’s Ramon Ang named-dropped the Palafox Architecture Group in the Pasig River Expressway (PAREX) project, the firm, known for its sustainable approach to design, said it had yet to formalize a contract with SMC.
It is still unclear if Palafox will be involved in the project, which has drawn criticism from urban planning and environment advocates. But as it turns out, architect and green urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. and his team had already drawn up plans for the major waterway.
In May 2020, the architecture design firm released “Postcards from the Future,” a series of urban revitalization plans for the country’s urban waterways. Alongside Pasig River, Palafox laid out designs for Marikina River, San Juan River, Laguna Lake, Pampanga River, Manila City, and Metro Davao.
Contrary to SMC’s plan to build a hybrid expressway that will span the length of the river and run across Manila to Mandaluyong, Palafox’s waterfront design for the Pasig River is more pedestrian-centric.
“We envision our waterfronts to have walkable and bikable linear parks and promenades that can be enjoyed by all, most especially by the communities nearby,” the firm wrote in a Facebook post back in May 2020. “Developing vibrant public spaces will encourage communities to be better guardians of our waterways.”
The firm also lamented the disregard for waterways, arguing that they are a source of livelihood and a part of our heritage and give our cities character and vibrance. “Unfortunately, in the Philippines, they are treated as back-of-the-house ‘basurahan’ rather than front doors to development and alternative water sources.”
PARES not PAREX
Critics of PAREX look to alternative developments that will honor the river system, like the Iloilo Esplanade. The riverside development welcomes foot and alternative mobility traffic such as bikes while protecting the river.
In lieu of PAREX, multi-sectoral groups are rooting for PARES, or Pasig River Esplanade that will serve the same purpose as Iloilo’s.
Palafox Associates, according to fellow urban planner and Iloilo Esplanade designer Paulo Alcazaren—an outspoken advocate against PAREX—was the principal consultant and environmental planner in the original first wave of improvements under the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) in the late 1990s. The PRRC would be dissolved in 2019, With President Rodrigo Duterte calling for its abolition, stating that the Pasig River could no longer be cleaned.
Alcazaren is also one of the supporters of the plan to build PARES instead of PAREX. “It would only cost P1.5 billion to develop both sides of the 25-kilometer-long Pasig River into an esplanade like Iloilo’s (9 kilometers so far),” he said in a post last Friday, Oct. 1. “The resulting green area would be larger than Rizal Park in area. The PAREX is projected to cost 95 billion. Which would you prefer?”