Press Release
May 31, 2012

Save our Rivers
Speech by Senator Franklin M. Drilon
at the 1st Philippine International River Summit
Iloilo City

I am very pleased to speak before you today on this very 1st Philippine International River Summit which gathers the best minds from local governments, river councils, civil society, academe and private sector.

This international gathering should raise public awareness about the value and benefits of our rivers and how we can ensure that they remain protected so that the generations yet unborn can still enjoy them.

Rivers have defined lives, carved communities and shaped a nation's landscape and most of all give life to civilization. Cities and towns have been built around them even during medieval times. Some of the world's major rivers are even shared by several countries. The Nile river in Africa, Danube river in Europe, the Amazon river in South America, and the Mekong river are among the major rivers in the world which have always been the lifeblood of communities and have constantly touched millions of lives for centuries. Today, most of the world's major cities are situated on or near river banks.

For centuries, rivers have been used for navigation, to transport people and goods and played a critical role in the development of cities all over the world.

My friends, we have become so caught up in our everyday routines that we have taken for granted some of the things that have so much bearing in our lives and in the lives of generations that would come after us.

I do not want to be called the Prophet of Doom, but it pays to listen to concerned quarters who have been warning us that one of the fiercest battles in the future is on water. Indeed, the possibility that there will be less water available for people and industries in the near future is not remote in view of the droughts and famines experienced by many countries in the world. Hence, we need to intensify the campaign to protect our rivers, creeks and streams.

Now, more than ever, we must do our share in preventing an unpleasant scenario to unfold, that of people ferociously fighting over water. The catastrophic consequences, I dare not imagine.

Today, our rivers are facing threats and challenges that we, as stewards of Mother Nature's assets, must address. Among them are urban growth and development, lack of concrete or sound land use policy, climate change, flood risk, agricultural activities, pollution and increasing poor water quality.

Since communities are built near rivers, it is not surprising that in many parts of the world, million dollars worth of properties are always at risk of being flooded. Hence, it is not an understatement to say that rivers which are not properly managed pose a grave threat to humanity.

Having said that, I would like to call on the participants in this assembly to seize this opportunity to gather as many ideas as possible on how we can improve development policies and practices. We in the Philippine Senate vigorously faces this challenge head-on by working on pieces of legislation that will more efficiently conserve and protect our river systems and waterways. Most significant is Senate Bill No. 3105.

SBN 3105 or the "Philippine River Basin System Administration Act of 2012" seeks to institutionalize a systematic framework for a more responsive river water management and development, especially in light of the hazards crated by climate change. It also aims to establish a coordinated river administration system for flood control, water use and environmental conservation.

I must underscore that local governments, business sector and civil society must consistently work as one in exploring ways to rehabilitate rivers and prevent further damage.

On a personal level, let us ask ourselves if we have been mindful of the trash that we throw away; if we have ever been concerned about the pollutants that have been dumped and are still being dumped down our rivers; and, if we have the strong resolve to care for our rivers which have been suffering from pollution and overuse.

At this juncture, I have a personal confession to make being a lawyer, my platform and agenda is on justice system and the 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. That is why I began sitting down in the Iloilo River Development Council. I am committed to revive the Iloilo River as the centerpiece of economic development in Iloilo.

I would like to tell you about the Iloilo River project and the Jalaur River Project which I initiated here in my beloved province and city of Iloilo.

What have we done so far? I directed the removal of 48 derelicts and idle vessels which were blocking the river for about a decade. We removed about 100 illegal fishpens and dikes.

I allocated P70 million from my Priority Development Assistance Fund for the construction of the 1.2 kilometer Iloilo Esplanade.

To prevent the loss of human lives and the destruction of properties should there be a major natural disaster such as massive flooding, I personally requested the President and the National Housing Authority to allocate P344 million for the relocation of about 3,500 families who are living along the danger zones of the Iloilo River and its tributaries.

Most important is the construction of the P11.2 billion Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project Stage II (JRMP II) which we initiated last year. Once completed, it will provide year-round irrigation to approximately 32,000 hectares of farm land and benefit more than 783,000 farmers, thus contributing substantially to sustaining the country's rice self-sufficiency level.

President Aquino will formally launch this project right here tomorrow, which is targeted to be completed by June 30, 2016.

Lastly, I would like to leave you with the words of Pope John Paul II to ponder on. He said and I quote: "the earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations."

I would like to throw this challenge to each and every delegate present here: think of ways on how to keep our rivers healthy so that the younger generations and the generations yet unborn can still enjoy them. Let us be good stewards of Mother Nature. Let us save our rivers.

Thank you very much. Have a pleasant morning and a fruitful day ahead.

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