Travel

TOURING MANILA FROM ANOTHER VIEW

0 Comments 07 May 2010

TOURING MANILA FROM ANOTHER VIEW

By Pepper Marcelo

Once upon a time, the Pasig River was a vibrant and vital waterway in Metro Manila. Historically, its importance was so essential that the Spaniards constructed the Walled City of Intramuros at its mouth.

But for the younger generation, the Pasig River has been known simply as a massive sewage system. Murky waters, an unbearable stench and decrepit shacks along its banks have characterized its continual decline. Many observers, losing hope for its renewal, have labeled the stream “biologically dead.”

There have been several efforts to revive the once-proud passage. A Pasig River Rehabilitation Program was established in 1989, but it wasn’t until former President Joseph Estrada signed Executive Order No. 54 in 1999 that the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC) was created. One of its tasks was to “ensure that the waterway is rehabilitated to its pristine conditions conducive to transport, recreation and tourism.”

PRRC’s collaboration with the Department of Environment and Natural resources (DENR) has resulted to noticeable improvements over time. A widespread crackdown on illegal dumping of garbage and other assorted wastes along the river, as well as unclogging and cleaning the various tributaries, esteros, and creeks leading up to it, has been instituted. The water is also being treated with catchments, filtration systems and bioremediation (helpful bacteria) to restore it to its original state.

In addition, almost 8,000 households along the riverbanks, which are blamed for up to 60 percent of the garbage dumped in the river, have been relocated to various sites in Rizal and Cavite. PRRC expects a total of 10,000 households will be removed from the riverbanks by the end of the year.

“It’s much better now than it used to be, but there are still problems hounding the river, such as pollution, both solid and chemical, and human excrements,” says University of Santo Tomas Professor and historian Manuel Noche. “Compared to the past when the river was declared biologically dead, the river today is in a better condition.”

With the continued rehabilitation of the Pasig River, a tourism component has been introduced to enhance its earning potential for the surrounding communities. The Philippine Tourism Authority (PHILTOA), an association of travel operators whose purpose is to promote in-bound and domestic tourism, has launched “Beyond the Usual” campaign, which encourages tourists to go beyond the typical sightseeing and vacation activities. One of its attractions is the Pasig River Ferry Tour.

“The potential of the river mirrors the potential of the country. It might take a generation to make it happen, but the river, and the country, can be transformed,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano during launch of “Beyond the Usual” last June 2009.

“The Philippines is one of the countries that don’t boast of a river tour. Bangkok, Malaysia, New York, Boston, Paris, Hamburg, Amsterdam – they have a river or canal tour,” says Cesar Cruz, head of PHILTOA who, in partnership with the DOT, devised “IT” Philippines as the greater, all-encompassing banner to promote a wholly unique alternative to experiencing the country in a different, more adventurous manner.

Currently, there are a total of 16 operational stations for the Pasig River Ferry Service, with 10 main, including: Plaza Mexico, Escolta, Lawton, Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), Sta. Ana, Lambingan, Valenzuela, Hulo, Guadalupe and San Joaquin and an additional 7 “satellite” stations: Pineda, Bambang, Kalawaan, Pinagbuhatan-Acasia, Nagpayong, with Napindan and a second Sta. Ana station currently in construction.

At present, there are six ferry boats. Although referred to as a ferry, the vehicle is more akin to a water bus. “Walang traffic, tuloy-tuloy at walang pollution,” says Amelita Gamay, Operations Manager for the Pasig River Ferry Service.

They are also convenient in terms of comfort, with a maximum seating capacity of more than 150 per boat, air-conditioning, flat-screen television, and a restroom. “Passengers can just relax for a while and not have to worry.”

At Php25, Php35 and Php45, the prices from point to point are slightly higher than a jeepney, bus or train, but way lower than a taxi (fares of which starts at Php30).

The speed is quite fast compared to most common transportation. From Intramuros to Taguig, for example, the ferry would take less than an hour and a half, whereas if one were to commute on the road, factoring in traffic, it would take more than two and a half hours.

On most weekdays and Saturdays (Sundays are closed), the ferry receives approximately 1,500 to 2,000 passengers, which approximately amounts to under 40,000 per month. “December was a peak season for us, inabot ng 3,000 per day,” Gamay says.

Of the total amount monthly, most comprise of regular passengers, or employees (28,000), followed by students (7-8,000), with seniors being the least (1,800-2,000). The amount does not include specialized, appointment tours for foreign visitors and company outings.

“It’s our hope we can increase the passenger volume of this Pasig Ferry, not just for tourists and foreigners, but for regular commuters,” says Cruz.

On the Pasig River Ferry Tour, visitors will be able to experience many sights of Metro Manila that many local residents haven’t seen. Aboard a comfortable, air-conditioned, 150-seater boat, tourists can explore historical sites such as Malacanang Palace, Sta. Ana, Intramuros and Binondo, from a different perspective, compared to run-of-the-mill bus and foot tours.

PHILTOA is developing other unique, “experiential” tours, including Sta. Ana, which hosts archeological finds, and Guadalupe, from where one can take a bus to the shopping meccas at Ayala Center in Makati and Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong and Pasig

To be sure, there is a lot of work to be done to fully rehabilitate the Pasig River and maximize its transport and tourism potentials. But Cruz points out that the launch of the river tour is “an all-encompassing symbol of the improvement of the Pasig River as a whole.”

“The river was beautiful, then it died. Now let’s see the end vision of what the river is about. We’re presenting [the tour] as the end result of the rehabilitation of the river,” he says.

(For more information, visit the PHILTOA website at www.philtoa.ph.)

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