To break from the monotony of chores in which my batchmates and I have found ourselves stuck after some four-odd months of bar review, we found ourselves floating down the Pasig River on the new Pasig River ferry looking at Manila the way our ancestors probably did two centuries prior.

After all, the Filibuster does open on a barge on the Pasig River.

Manila looks so different when viewed from the river. As far as I know (and I may be mistaken), Manila is a river-port city: the reason it developed was because merchants were able to use the river as a highway to reach the hinterlands of what are now the provinces of Rizal and Laguna and to trade the goods they obtained along this highway in what essentially is a gateway to the rest of the world. I imagine that in Rizal’s time, as he described the Tabo Barge, the mighty river was used in that way. Today, the underbellies of our bridges, dolphins and all, remain vast mysteries to the uninitiated such as myself.

Because it is the country’s first highway, industrial development followed along the banks of the mighty Pasig and to this day you can find signs of industry along the river, though many have become obsolete: the Noah’s Ark Sugar Mill in Mandaluyong is just one example. According to a family friend who attended San Carlos Seminary in the fifties, the urban lands that are now Makati, Taguig, and Pateros were nothing but rice paddies and sugar plantations. It would have made sense then for these gigantic processing plants to have made their home along those banks. Now, they sit waiting for the fall of the hammer – to be sold to some Indian or Chinese manufacturing concern.

Further downstream are rusted warehouses and other abandoned structures. I wondered what they once held as we motored past them. They oddly resemble some of the warehouses in industrial parks now gathering rust along the Carmona – Trece Martires Road in Cavite. These industries hopped on the information superhighway a bit too late, I gathered, and as with other industries that failed to latch on to new highways, they seem to be meeting the same fate.

In Escolta, where our boat journey ended, there was nary a sign to indicate that for the industries still making their home there that the river played any significance in their business day. It seemed that the river served as nothing more than an inconvenience separating that part of Manila from the rest of the city.

In fact, only the oil depots seemed to have any use for the river, and only because traffic regulations on Manila’s surface streets prevent the transfer of substances in bulk (read: we have a truck ban), never mind if the city depends on it to breathe. Even then, we face the prospect of losing the river’s relevance that way as more and more vigilant residents fight to move these depots out of the city and into the backyard of some neighboring suburb.

So much for friendly relations.


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