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Manila Post Office at sunset

Manila Post Office at sunset

“A cruise down the Pasig River?” I asked myself when I was told that Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat had invited us to take a trip with her starting with a cruise down the Pasig River for the inaugural trip of the Pasig River Ferry Tourist Cruise, a joint project between the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Department of Tourism (DoT) to offer tourists and locals a new way of exploring the metro, and ending with a tour of the Walled City of Intramuros.

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The Pasig Ferry Tourist Cruise dry-run

Dr. Emilio C. Yap III, Lovely and Alberto Romulo

Dr. Emilio C. Yap III, Lovely and Alberto Romulo

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DOT Sec. Berna Romulo-Puyat, Ben Chan, AA Patawaran, and Anton San Diego

Growing up, Pasig River was, for me, “that river ‘they’ (the grownups) all too often talked about.” It never really captured my interest. All I knew then was that the river was formerly full of life, quite literally too, to add, and that it has since been on a steady decline. For a good part of my childhood, I never even knew where it was. Then I read Noli Me Tangere and El FilibusterismoRizal’s description of the river emptying out to Laguna Lake was nothing short of magnificent—“The beautiful lake, ringed by green banks and blue mountains, stretched out before them like an immense mirror in a frame of emeralds and sapphires where Heaven might look at itself.” Naturally, it piqued my imagination. I imagined what sailing down the river in those days must have been like. On board one of the river’s steamers, I imagined enjoying the cool breeze, taking in the views along the riverbanks, watching people go about their daily lives, and listening in on the latest gossip from members of high society and government officials onboard.

My experience sailing down the river wasn’t that much different, the only major difference being that, instead of a steamer, we took a 150-seater air-conditioned ferry. From its bow, I enjoyed the cool breeze (perfect this time of year and without the supposed foul smell of the river) and I also enjoyed seeing the metro from a different perspective, one that was entirely new to me. This was my first time to go on a river cruise after all. It was nice seeing people waving at us from the riverbanks. To complete all that, several prominent members of society and government officials were also on board, talking about the latest news and developments in the world, particularly the 2019-nCoV. Although it seems that none of what Rizal wrote about the river has lived on—I applaud the current government’s continuing efforts to clean up the river. With hope, it will lead to the restoration of the river to its former pristine glory. Being there at the moment, adrift on the gentle current, was a novel experience, something I won’t soon forget.

The cruise from the Guadalupe Pasig River Ferry Terminal to the Escolta ferry station took about an hour. Along the way, we passed by several landmarks, some of which I saw up close for the first time.

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A passenger takes a snapshot of Makati’s skyscraper

The Malacañan Palace was a sight to behold. With its imposing white and red facade facing the river, just as how the soon-to-be-obsolete P20 bill depicts it, this mix of neoclassical and bahay-na-bato architecture is the prime relic of a bygone era of stately colonial homes by the riverbanks. The palace was originally the casita (country house) of Spanish aristocrat Don Luis Rocha in 1750. Since 1863, it has served as the official residence of the head of state of the Philippines. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photographs of the palace and we were pretty much grounded to our seats as we passed by it.

The newly restored Jones Bridge was equally breathtaking. Efforts, led by Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno, to restore the bridge to its near-original design were something we should have done before. The Beaux-Arts lampposts and the return of at least one of four pre-war La Madre Filipinasculptures that, symbolizing motherhood and nationhood, once stood guard at the bridge’s entrances, have brought with them a sense of grandiosity and nostalgia.

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The best sight though, in my opinion, was the Manila Central Post Office. The Post Office Building, designed in neoclassical style, which exudes order and balance thanks to its symmetrical design, is considered to be renowned Filipino architect Juan M. Arellano’s obra maestra. With the sun slowly setting behind it, casting an orange hue in a tug-of-war between light and dark, it was a magical end to our voyage.

Old Manila projected on United Philippine Lines building

Old Manila projected on United Philippine Lines building

The cruise ended as we arrived at the Escolta ferry station at the foot of the Jones Bridge. Although the cruise was over, the trip was not. A tour of some of the treasures of Intramuros followed. Mayor Isko Moreno personally welcomed each of us to the City of Manila as we disembarked from the ferry. He served as our tour guide for this part of the trip. A fleet of e-trikes parked along Jones Bridge waited to take us to Intramuros. We passed through the Filipino Chinese Friendship Arch, which marked the entrance to Manila’s Chinatown (the world’s oldest), to come around to the other side of the bridge in order to cross over to Intramuros.

Our first stop was the Intramuros President’s Gallery. Found along Sta. Lucia Street in Intramuros, you won’t miss this quaint little garden where the sculpted portraits of our country’s past presidents form the centerpiece. The nighttime visit was made even more wonderful by the warm illumination that the capizbell lanterns, hung from the treetops, provided. Going up the section of the Intramuros wall behind the gallery, we were treated to a breathtaking view of the well-lit golf course (night golf at the Club Intramuros is soon to be opened).

Afterward, we headed to the Heroes’ Square, situated across Fort Santiago, where we were treated to a laser show, depicting Philippine history, projected onto the building enclosing the square. We crossed the Plaza de Armas via e-trikes over to Fort Santiago where the mayor led us to the just opened dungeons. It was surreal. There was an eerie sense of wonder inside and echoes of our colonial experience. As we headed out to our next, and final, stop, I caught a glimpse of the nighttime view of the Manila Cathedral, all lit up. From a certain vantage point, the trees with their capiz bell lanterns lining Plaza de Armas, converged at the sight of the dome of the Manila Cathedral in all its illuminated glory. Like a scene from a postcard of Europe, it was enchanting.

We capped off the night over dinner at the Ayuntamiento de Manila. Fronting the Plaza de Roma, at the corner of Andres Soriano Avenue and Cabildo Street, the Ayuntamiento was the former seat of the Manila City Council. The structure, destroyed during World War II, was reconstructed for the fourth time in 2013. It currently houses the offices of the Bureau of the Treasury. The building, as it stands now, is faithful to the third reconstruction’s neoclassical design. Both its exterior and interior are no less grand. From its doors, one is treated to a close up view of the Manila Cathedral, which—I cannot stress enough—is more elegant at night, to the left and the Palacio del Gobernador across. Upon entry to the building, guests are given a red carpet welcome by pairs of lions on both sides up a grand staircase. Behind the grand staircase, palatial doors lead up into the Marble Hall, a grand hall reminiscent of European palace halls. Dinner was hosted there. As part of the dinner festivities, dancers from the Nayong Pilipino Dance Troupe entertained us with a variety of the local cultural dances. Our tour of history officially ended with a speech from Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyatthanking everyone for their participation and announcing that the tours officially would commence this March.

Ayuntamiento de Manila

Ayuntamiento de Manila alight with colors

Dr. Emilio C. Yap III with Cristalle Belo and Mayor Isko Moreno at the President's Gallery

Dr. Emilio C. Yap III with Cristalle Belo and Mayor Isko Moreno at the President’s Gallery

Source: Manila Bulletin

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