042916 - The Urban Tracker (In Pasig River): Curtain Calls for Heritage and Tourism For Pasig River Preservation

The Pasig Ferry Heritage Cruise 
asig river is not dead, just waiting for its redemption. 

That's the looming revelation after an invitation for a test run aboard a river cruise on the stretch of Pasig River. Unraveling the river was like going to a big museum interconnecting key and old structures reminding of Manila’s rich historical past.
Inside the ferry, uniformity of seat colors
Once on the deck, our party excitedly entered the interiors of the one-story flat ferry. This project was a brainchild of Mr. Ed Bondad who curated the design since he started the project 10 years ago. “Pasig river is not yet degrading!” the retired naval enthusiast affirmed that Pasig River indicating its water contamination would soon improve and reverse it from further deterioration as what other countries did to recover their rivers. That said, there's still hope after all to preserve this living, the remaining frontier of Manila’s historical past and legacy. 

Binondo booms with sprouting condo projects.
Condo skyscraper towering over Escolta
Briefing from the captain and owner Mr. Ed Bondad
From Plaza Mexico station, our trip embarked facing the Binondo district with classic looking buildings struggling to get our attention amid skyscraping condominium projects. The ferry was not shaky at all once inside with seats meant to accommodate 150 people amid the air-conditioned enclosure. And it's smooth sailing gave it a light ambiance as if you were in a time capsule odyssey.

Hitting upon a passenger ship over Baseco district
The boat zoomed on its minimal speed going to Manila Bay as Mr. Bondad started explaining about his interest in reviving this project after finally getting the accreditations and permits of the ferry. This time he’s more confident, for it's high time that Filipinos must experience the beauty of our culture through a cruise in the viewpoint of Pasig River. He wanted to sell the idea of sightseeing with some cultural attribution but at the same time romanticize poverty as social tourism

The sight of Parola where the ruins of an old Ice plant still stood.
The mirror has two faces - the interior and the exterior
Past meets present: Fort Santiago facing Binondo
We already passed the district of Baseco and Parola revealing the poverty line setting a character when Mr. Bondad pointed us the old Ice plant that was introduced and built by Americans in the part of Parola. Then he instructed to retreat from our course as he explained that the ferry was not fit for navigation yet in the waters of Manila Bay and the force was getting stronger in the river delta. Nevertheless, the wind gently blew as we stood by the fore as we witnessed how the salt and fresh water collided as if there’s a life undoing something within. Perhaps, it was disintegrating the pollutants and pushing it into the bay. 

The view from Plaza Mexico with our party
The grandeur of Fort Santiago on Pasig river angle was indeed captivating before the ferry darted under Jones bridge capturing the picturesque Post office. Passing the LRT line after Jones and  Ayala bridge, you could immediately sense Quiapo's sizzling mood from the distance and Lawton’s old-timer Metropolitan Theater and the iconic Post officeMr. Bondad gave us the brochures containing the map of all the structures that ran along the river. The ferry could only travel as far as it’s last drop-off and pick-up point in Pinagbuhatan Pasig.

Panoramic, majestic Manila view aboard Pasig River ferry
Going further, we saw Hospicio de San Jose as Mr. Bondad revealed it used to be a hospital where an Ayala heir was born. And in the moment after a warning from coast guard to stop taking pictures for security reasons, we were passing the riverside view of Malacanang in all its glory. Traversing Nagtahan, we furthered our voyage towards another district of Manila’s rich in heritage story - Sta. Ana.  And from that stage, we took a cut due to time constraint and back to starting point for the final stretch.

The view to a delta of Pasig river leading to Manila Bay
Mr. Bondad generously gave us all the related documents we needed to know aboard his ferry which he’s planning to open for public as he called it Pasig River Ferry Cruise. He gave us the white flag after we were convinced that it was after all a fascinating, enlightening trip transporting to another realm. If Venice has gondolas, then this ferry could represent a trademark transport. And it’s time the public buys the idea by giving it a try.

A Batangas ferry over Baseco port
For our merienda break, our cravings were appeased when a Chinese hopia was served. It’s worth endorsing Mr. Bondad’s plea to give heritage its deserving conservation especially in matters of cultural consciousness. Pasig River has rather another if not a big story to tell apart from walking into the walls of Intramuros or promenading in Luneta Park. A Pasig river heritage walk cruise should be part of anyone’s agenda for after all it’s a journey to the soul of our cultural immortality. 

Other ferry boats grounded in Hulo.
What settled for the remainder of the ride was the worthiness in pursuing the crusade to revive interest in rehabilitating Pasig River and compel the proper agencies or concerned private sectors this time to include it in their long-term national agenda. If infrastructures were given the green light towards industrialization, a main city river artery would deserve the same attention. Joining the clamor to raise consciousness by reversing the river from its ill-fated consignment is our best option for now. Most importantly, let's remember that Pasig River is our portal to the past, the bearer of our history, or otherwise part of our cultural identity would be taken from us.