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A leisurely cruise of the Pasig River on board air-conditioned, 150-seater ferry boats now affords both domestic passengers and foreign tourists alike a fresh view of Manila and its historic establishments and trading places, thanks to an Asian Development Bank-financed program to rehabilitate the 27-kilometer tributary and make it an alternative transport route.
The Pasig River Ferry Service, operated by the government's Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission and its private partner Nautical Transport Services Corp., now brings about 1,000 passengers daily to six air-conditioned stations in Makati City , Mandaluyong City and Manila .
In June this year, the five ferry boats carried a total of 31,242 passengers, significantly up from just 13,100 passengers who took the service in March, when the ferry service's commercial operation began.
Marisa Briones, project development officer of the commission, said among the passengers who had tried the ferry service were foreign tourists who were entertained by a new look of historic Manila and its calm ambiance.
"Tourism aspect is a part of the ferry service. Late last year, we brought the tourism officers of different local government units to try the ferry service, and their response has been quite positive," Briones said.
"Our goal is to move tourism along the Pasig River ," she said. "Only here can you get to see the facade of Malacanang Palace and other historic buildings."
Ferry boats, at present, sail along an 11-kilometer stretch of the river from Guadalupe station in Makati city to the famous Escolta district in Manila in less than an hour, and there are plans to increase the number of ferry stations from the present six to 14, including one in Intramuros, where tourists can go ashore to explore the walled city.
So far, six modern facilities have been established to serve as stations in Guadalupe in Makati City , Hulo in Mandaluyong City , Valenzuela in Makati City , Lambingan in Sta. Ana, Manila , Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Sta. Mesa, and Escolta in Manila .
In various stages of construction is the station at the Plaza Mexico in Intramuros, the tourist center of Manila .
"We target to carry a maximum of 46,000 passengers each day to 14 stations, once the project is completed," Briones said. "This will help unclog traffic congestion along major roads."
The ferry service is a part of the Pasig River Rehabilitation program, backed by a $176-million financing from the Asian Development Bank.
The program seeks to relocate 10,000 families living along the banks, improve the quality of water in the river to Class C standard, which is capable of sustaining aquatic life, and make the river itself a tourist attraction.
Of the targeted 10,000 families, the National Housing Authority has already relocated some 6,000 families from the bank's 10-meter wide environmental preservation areas, which are being developed into riverside parks and promenades.
Another 1,000 families from Punta in Sta. Ana, Manila will soon be relocated to Kasiglahan Village , a mass housing subdivision in Barangay San Isidro in Rodriguez, Rizal, where the ADB funded the construction of another 1,000 housing units.
Some 50,000 former informal settlers in Metro Manila are already housed in about 10,000 housing units at Kasiglahan Village , which has effectively doubled the population of Rodriguez (formerly Montalban) town. Roderick T. dela Cruz
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