Manila Boat Club offers rowing experience along Pasig River

Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
Manila Boat Club offers rowing experience along Pasig River
Education Undersecretary Kris Ablan gives Bea Dolores a free sculling lesson in the Pasig River yesterday.
Marc Jayson Cayabyab

MANILA, Philippines — Bea Dolores, a heritage advocate, had always found herself too clumsy to even sit on a sculling boat without falling into the Pasig river.

On a quiet Sunday morning, however, she was surprised that while sitting in a small boat just inches from the water, she was able to row with a renewed relationship with the river, long seen as a polluted and dead waterway.

Dolores was among those who availed themselves of free boat rides and sculling lessons taught yesterday by members of the Manila Boat Club (MBC), the city’s oldest existing club that traces its history back to 1895 just before the end of the Spanish empire and into the 20th century during the US occupation.

It is along rivers where civilizations start – and in the case of Pasig River, where the foundations of Metro Manila were built.

“I felt like I was transported in time, as if seeing the river’s historical photos. May more people develop a relationship with Pasig River, which started our metropolis,” Dolores, a co-founder of the Renacimiento Manila advocating the rebirth of the metropolis by preserving its heritage sites, said.

She was taught boat rowing by Education Undersecretary Kris Ablan, a new member of the MBC who took time off from government duties yesterday to unwind on the river.

Ablan said this was the second time for the MBC to open its doors to the public. The first was on World Rivers’ Day last Sept. 25, as part of its support to promote Pasig River as a living body of water.

“The general public doesn’t have a deeper appreciation of the river. We only know it as a body of water we cross when we go to work or school, not noticing there’s a living thing underneath those bridges. I want to open this club so that people can have a different perspective of the river,” she explained.

“For me, I enjoy rowing here because it helps me escape the hustle and bustle of work and traffic. It’s very peaceful. I get to be by myself. It gets very zen, I get my senses back. If there’s a landscape, there’s also a riverscape,” Ablan said.

Based in Sta. Ana, Manila just by the river, the MBC is housed on a heritage building that dates back to the 1930s. The club hopes to open its doors more often to the public as it partnered with the advocacy group “Ilog Pasiglahin” to promote awareness and protection of the river amid moves to build an elevated expressway over the waterway.

The club has a dock in Sta. Ana, Manila that allows members access to Pasig River. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority also has access to the river under its ferry service, which has 13 stations cutting across the cities of Pasig, Makati, Manila and Mandaluyong.

The revive Pasig river movement is opposing the elevated expressway project because of its adverse effect on the marine life of the river and on its heat effect in the metropolis, already choked by concrete structures.

“Rivers help absorb heat. Just imagine what it would be like if you put a lid on the river. You mess up with the environment and disturb historical landmarks built on the river,” said Ira Cruz, director of the group AltMobility, which promotes biking and a reliable river ferry service as more sustainable forms of transportation.

Cruz, who also just started a hobby of rowing on the river, described being in the river as a “serene” experience to enjoy a view of the metro not accessible to many.

“Because of the way cities have been designed, a lot of people are preconditioned to view Pasig River as a dumpsite, a wasteland or something irrelevant to our lives,” he said.

“And yet we fail to realize that regardless of its state, the river has an important role in our overall climate and our environment as it supports marine life,” he added.

Pasig River also offers a view of heritage houses in Sta. Ana district, a heritage zone in Manila.

Heritage consultant Sylvia Lichauco-De Leon said her family’s ancestral house, the Lichauco heritage house built in 1859, was the oldest surviving house in the district and the only one standing near the river.

De Leon lamented the construction of buildings in Sta. Ana that dwarfs the view of heritage houses.

“There’s a place for everything in a heritage district. High rises don’t belong there,” she said.

“You can see our house from the river. There’s not many heritage houses left; ours is the last intact in this part of Pasig. That’s why it’s important to save what’s left,” she added.


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