Metro tour

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - November 8, 2015 - 9:00am

Someone should package this as a reality tour. And personnel of development agencies may want to try it.

Last Friday I took the Pasig River ferry with three friends. The previous day, when our officemates realized we weren’t joking about taking the ride, we were warned about two things in particular. One: the river stinks. Two: we could get stranded if the ferry’s propellers got snagged by water lilies, trash and, horrors, the floating body of a “salvage” victim.

We were unfazed so we were given one final warning: if we fell into the murky water, either we would get the cooties for life or choke to death from toxic waste.

It sounded like fun. Also, the free ferry rides offered for one day by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to celebrate its 40th anniversary seemed irresistible.

So at past 11 a.m. we arrived at the westernmost ferry station, in a small park called Plaza Mexico behind the Bureau of Immigration. The station was clean. We were the only passengers and the ferry departed immediately.

The boat had no air conditioning and it had clearly seen better days. The metal hull and seats looked like they had been put together by trainees at welding school. But the boat had a coat of shiny paint and was clean. The crewmembers were polite and friendly. We chugged along at four knots (about 7.4 kilometers per hour).

From the outset we were pleasantly surprised that it was an enjoyable ride. In the bright noonday heat, a strong, refreshing breeze worked better than air conditioning, not only keeping us constantly cool but also blowing away any dust and unpleasant odors. No need for a mask.

The water was murky all right, but there was no floating garbage. Really. Someone must be collecting solid waste regularly. The water hyacinths were pushed near the banks, contained by ropes or floating rubber tires, so nothing got in the way of the ferry.

The numerous white terns were a delightful sight. Near a ferry station we spotted an egret, which ignored the approaching boat. We didn’t see any fish, but the seabirds must be feeding on river creatures.

The river ride can provide a good historical glimpse of Manila, with Malacañang as the highlight. The presidential palace looks much better from the Pasig, which was probably the intent of its builders. The original structure, built in 1750, was meant as a summerhouse facing a river. In the 19th century, Jose Rizal in his immortal novels mentioned crocodiles in the river – an indication that it was teeming with life.

Even Malacañang’s modern history is interesting. There is the dock where Joseph Estrada took a boat ride in 2001, waving goodbye to the presidency as People Power II kicked him out, and then crossing to the other side to Malacañang Park, where President Aquino now prefers to stay, surrounded by the Presidential Security Group.

Along the riverbanks there are several other old buildings, starting in Manila’s Chinatown in Binondo, that deserve to be preserved and restored.

*      *      *

From the river you can see the importance of efficient local government. Manila’s riverbanks are mostly squalid. Mandaluyong is clean and buildings along the riverbanks, including modest dwellings, are brightly painted. Makati is affluent including its ferry terminals.

At several points there are makeshift piers where people board outriggers to cross the river. It’s much faster than taking a jeepney or tricycle and getting stuck in traffic just to get to the other side of the river. Those piers and boats can be improved by local governments.

The river ride has great potential as a tourist attraction and alternative for daily commuters. It took us just about 40 minutes, with about six stops, to reach Guadalupe in Makati from Intramuros in Manila. You’ll never travel that quickly by land. The fare is P50.

Sadly, the ferry ride suffers from a bad rep about stink and floating bodies. At one spot we saw rows of the air-conditioned ferries, no longer plying the river because (we surmised) of low demand.

*      *      *

The ferry became full, with most of the passengers getting off at the last stop, Guadalupe in Makati. We were forced to return to Manila by land because, we learned belatedly, the ferry service ended at noon on that day due to the MMDA anniversary.

We took the Metro Rail Transit 3 to Cubao, transferred to the LRT 2 to Recto, got out of the Doroteo Jose station in Sta. Cruz, took a jeepney and got out of Escolta to walk to Chinatown for a very late lunch.

At least the light railways did not break down during our rides. It’s too bad that we can’t expand or improve the train service. People like commutes without traffic, with predictable speed and arrival times. But the light railway service is extremely inadequate for the ever-growing demand. Even at past noon, not a peak hour, the trains were SRO and the lines for tickets were long.

The jeepney ride was lumbering and uncomfortable as usual. Constant exposure to Manila’s air pollution in a jeepney ride can mean death from lung cancer before you reach 50.

Even on the MRT and LRT, the commute to Manila from Guadalupe took about an hour and a half. It was an exhausting commute. That was what we got for being such cheapskates and wanting a free ferry ride. Next time we’ll pay, going all the way to Marikina, and make sure there’s a return boat ride.

Yes, we intend to ride the ferry again. That was how much fun it was.

*      *      *

PULIS PATOLA: They don’t make cops like they used to. Yesterday afternoon I forgot my mobile phone at home and didn’t know where my driver had parked in the Mall of Asia complex. So I approached what I thought was the logical source of help in such emergencies, to borrow a cell phone: a cop with two companions standing across the street from Gerry’s Grill.

I told them my predicament and even offered to pay for their load to make my phone call. The uniformed cop, with “Lunag” on his nameplate, turned back to chatting with his companion. The third guy, who looked like a mall employee, said his provider could connect to the driver’s number only by text.

I walked to the far end of the mall for customer service, where the woman at the desk told me their phones could connect only within the complex. Fortunately, a kind woman overheard our conversation and offered me her cell phone. I made my call in about one minute and found my driver.

With cops like Lunag, you can understand why police service is in such a sorry state in this country.


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