Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ferrying up and down Pasig River

NOTE.  This photo-essay appeared in the 13-19 June 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, a weekly published in San Francisco, CA "for the Filipinos in mainstream America."  This author/blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent of the paper here in the Philippines.

A trip between Pagbuhatan or Guadalupe and Escolta or Plaza Mexico passes by the Pandacan oil depots.

We cross over the Pasig River each time we take the metro/light railway transits on EDSA and Taft but we’ve never taken a cruise along its 26-kilometer stretch from Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay until last week when we took the ferry boats from the Guadalupe in Makati to three destinations:   Escolta and Plaza Mexico in Manila, and Pinagbuhatan in Pasig City.

At this time, only five ferry terminals from Pasig to Manila are operational in the Pasig River Ferry Service re-launched by Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).  All the runs to Manila stop by the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) terminal in Sta. Mesa. The ferry service had its test-run with three bus-boats in March, and became fully operational on 28 April with free rides for one week.

The Philippine Postal Office at Plaza Lawton is an architectural landmark along the Pasig.

The ferry service is a joint project of the MMDA, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC).  MMDA looks at it as “an alternate mode of public transport for commuters who will be affected by traffic jams expected to be generated by the 15 major infrastructure projects across Metro Manila that will be completed by 2016” especially for residents near the river or for those whose work places are near the river.

The Escolta Ferry Terminal below the Jones Bridge.

This is not the first ferry service on the Pasig.

Magsaysay Lines had a brief operation from 1990 to 1991. Its Guadalupe-Escolta services closed down because of problems that arose from informal settlers along the river banks, garbage in the river and foul odor from the polluted water.

Starcraft Ferry also operated a service from Bambang, Pasig City to Escolta using 30-seater catamaran-type boats in 1996.  It folded up a year later due to the same problems that encumbered Magsaysay Lines.

In 2007, the government revived the ferry service. A private firm, SCC Nautical Transport Services, owned and operated six 150-seater air-conditioned boats serving the stretch from Intramuros to Pinagbuhatan. The service closed down in 2011 because of business losses.

The re-launch this year has a private company owning and operating the boats. A boat can accommodate 28 persons, running 12 knots at most, slowing down to 5 knots along the Malacañang area. From Guadalupe, it can run downstream to Plaza Mexico in about 40 minutes, and upstream to Pinagbuhatan in about the same time.

An old business building in Binondo from across the Plaza Mexico ferry terminal.

Passengers from Guadalupe pay Php 50 in going to any of three destination terminals: PUP, Escolta or Plaza Mexico.  The Guadalupe-Pinagbuhatan run costs Php 45.  The fare for the PUP-Escolta and Escolta-Plaza Mexico ride is Php 30. When we had our rides, the discounts for students, senior citizens, children and persons with disabilities were not in place yet.

When we took the ferry at Guadalupe, three giant billboards loomed over the river.  These feature a popular movie actress in her lingerie with a crown, and “Her Royal Beauty” is printed across two adjacent billboards.

The beautiful model reminds of the woman who appears at night during full moon, the Mutya ng Pasig of National Artist Nicanor Abelardo, which he composed in 1926.  At that time, Pasig must still have been the “lifeline” of Manila and other communities it ran through:  a clear flowing river teeming with fishes, clean for the bathing and the laundry washing on the river bank, the air cool and pleasant for the sailing from the lake to the bay.

Linear park colors from silos, concrete fence and fire trees.
The PRRC gives us this timeline in the river’s transformation from being lifeline to becoming the “sewer” of the metropolis:  increasing river pollution and diminishing fish migration from Laguna de Bay (1930s), decline of bathing by the river (1950s), further decrease of people bathing, washing clothes and using river water for cleaning (1960s), emanation of foul odor and deterioration of water quality to Class C (1970s), total disappearance of any fishing activity (1980s) and declaration of its being biologically dead (1990s).

It’s still summer when we rode the ferry.  Overall, the river is murky.  There is no indication whatsoever of any life in the water in going downstream to Plaza Mexico.  Upstream though at the approach to Pinagbuhatan, we saw plenty of white birds flying low and peeking into the river, diving for fish fries, according to the helmsman.

The smell was initially a bit offensive but this disappeared during the cruise.  The boats are not air-conditioned. What assailed us were garbage accumulations in many parts especially along populated river banks, and the bits and pieces of thrash floating all around.

The banks were cleaner along the commercial properties like oil depots and manufacturing companies and along the linear parks of  Carmona, Valenzuela, Poblacion and Guadalupe, all in Makati; PUP, South Nagtahan, Intramuros and Plaza Mexico, all in Manila.

Colorful houses near the Guadalupe terminal.
We learned that PRRC has joined hands with local government units and other public and private agencies in the relocation of informal settlers along the river banks and esteros, and in the rehabilitation of esteros like Paco (2009), Sañtibanez and Aviles (both in 2013). Esteros are the flowing sources of garbage to the Pasig when the rains come.  Unless ecological solid waste management is effectively implemented in the cities and towns comprising the Pasig River basin, the 47 tributaries carry their garbage as well into the river. 

Despite the smell and the ugly sights at this time, we still enjoyed the photo opportunities we found during the rides, and the prospect of easier access to historical and touristic sites from the ferry terminals.

New riders would gain an insights on the physical linkages of the Metro Manila:  first,  the 14 bridges along the stretch from Pinagbuhatan to Plaza Mexico, and second, the bancas ferrying passengers between river banks, a commuter service that has been going on in the history of the Pasig River.  The commuter bancas cost a passenger Php 5 for the short distance across the river.

Terminal of bank-to-bank commuter boats.
The Guadalupe ferry terminal on JP Rizal St. is a short walk east of the bridge on EDSA.  Going to Pinagbuhatan, the ferry goes under C-5 or Pasig-Makati Bridge, the Bambang and Arsenio Jimenez (Kalawaan) Bridges.   Of interest is passing by the Napindan Flood Control Center where one sees the gates to control floodwaters from the lake.  The destination terminal is several meters away from the Pinagbuhatan Bridge.

Going downstream to Plaza Mexico, the ferry goes under three bridges in the Makati span: Guadalupe,  Estrella Pantaleon and Makati-Mandaluyong Boundary.  Estrella Pantaleon leads to the Rockwell Center. 

Lambingan Bridge connects Sta. Ana, Manila and Mandaluyong where the Pasig makes its U bend.  This is followed by the Pandacan or Padre Zamora Bridge, which spans into Sta. Mesa, and is clearly visible from the PUP ferry terminal.

Before approaching Mabini or Nagtahan Bridge, we were reminded of the no-photography (camera or mobile camphones) rule during the slow-down along Malacañang.  A Coast Guard man comes on board PUP to enforce the ban.  We’ve been figuring out the ‘why’ behind this ban when any tourist can have his photo taken on the avenue behind the White House.

Skyview & Makati-Mandaluyong Bridge.
After Nagtahan, veteran Manila visitors would readily recognize the foursome of Ayala, Quezon, MacArthur and Jones Bridges.  There’s a parallel bridge to Quezon bridge, the LRT-1 bridge connecting Central Terminal and Carriedo Stations.  One would not miss the island whose tip seems to touch Ayala Bridge: the Isla de Convalescencia where Hospicio de San Jose is located.

The Escolta ferry terminal is at the foot of Jones Bridge, right side, while the Plaza Mexico terminal is about 300 meters away on the left side.

Thus, our ferry travel log on the Pasig includes historical notes on the Isla de Convalescencia where the Hospicio de San Jose took permanent residence since 1810.  We caught sight of the spires of the National Shrine of Saint Michael and the Archangels on Malacañang grounds.  We read that this is popular among Roman Catholic betrothed couples because they can have their pre-wedding confirmation and baptism, if needed, here all in the same day. 

Commuter boat loading passengers going to opposite bank.
From the Escolta terminal, this ferry traveller took a memory stroll down Escolta St. before proceeding to Sta. Cruz.  We could have walked to Binondo/Chinatown too.

Intramuros is accessible from Plaza Mexico where stand the commemorative monuments to the fourth centennial of maritime trade between Mexico and the Philippines and the galleon trade. 
Plaza Roma is a short walk away for a visit to the Cathedral, Fort Santiago and other historical places inside the walls of Old Manila.

It may take some more time before ferry service on the Pasig becomes as popular and busy as that on Chao Prya in Thailand or the Star Ferry in Hongkong.   From fellow riders, we gathered that one issue is the fare, which is more expensive than public land or train transport to students and ordinary folks.  Then there’s the problem of garbage, and we noted that the ferries we rode on stopped a few times because of garbage obstruction.

In Junto al Pasig (Along the Pasig), the national hero JP Rizal wrote of boys who, after a quarrel, decided to prepare for the procession of the Virgin of Antipolo along the river.  In this play, Rizal composed a chorus for the boys, which, according to the historian Wenceslao Retana, was last sung by the Ateneo de Manila students in 1904 when the fluvial procession passed by the banks at San Pedro Makati. 

It may take years before the river becomes a lifeline again, when everyone can sing Rizal’s chorus of “pretty Pasig, pretty river” in seeking “beauty, peace of heart and mind” and “happiness for the soul beset with duty.”

Another commuter boat terminal.

No comments:

Post a Comment