The Claim of Carlos A. Gothong Lines That They Were First Into ROPAXes Was Most Likely True (But There Was Controversy)

Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI), in their online published history claims they were first into ROROs. The more correct term is probably ROPAX or RORO-Passenger but many people just use the acronym “RORO” and that is what is commonly most understood by many. It was said that when new patriarch Alfredo (Alfred) Gothong went on self-imposed exile in Canada, he was able to observe how efficient were the ROROs there and he might have been talking of the short-distance ferry-ROROs including the double-ended ferries in the Vancouver area. It is in that area where Canada has many of those types.

The move to ROROs happened when the then-combined shipping companies Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation parted ways in 1979 (in actual although the agreement was from 1978) after some 7 years of combined operations which they did to better withstand the shocks of the split that created Sulpicio Lines and the downfall of their copra and oil trading (in strategic partnership with Ludo Do & Lu Ym of Cebu) when the Marcos henchmen moved in into the copra trade and oil refining. When Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Lorenzo Shipping were still combined the former’s ships were mainly doing the Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao routes while the latter’s ships were mainly doing the Southern Mindanao and Western Visayas routes.

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1979 Gothong + Lorenzo shipping schedule (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

The year 1979 was very significant for Philippine shipping in so many ways. First, it was the year when containerization went full blast when the leading shipping companies (Aboitiz Shipping, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines, Lorenzo Shipping plus the earlier Sea Transport) went into a race to acquire container ships. That also meant a lull in passenger-cargo ship acquisitions since more and more it was the container ships that were carrying the cargo to the major ports. Before the container ships, it was mainly the passenger-cargo ships that were carrying the inter-island cargoes. The shift to containerization resulted in passenger-cargo ships being laid up in 1980 and 1981 and later it accelerated the process of breaking up of the former “FS” ships.

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1979 container shipping ads (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

Second, it was the year that the road plus ship intermodal system truly started when a Cardinal Shipping ROPAX appeared in San Bernardino Strait to connect Luzon and Visayas by RORO. It was the first step but in the next years ROPAXes linking the islands within sight began to mushroom (this is not to negate the earlier intermittent LCTs that also tried to bridge major islands within sight of each other the RORO way).

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A 1980 ad of Cardinal Shipping (Credit to Gorio Belen)

In their split, Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Lorenzo Shipping had two completely different responses to the new paradigm of containerization. The latter tried to join the containerization bandwagon and aside from the acquisition of general cargo ships from Japan for refitting into container ships it also tried to retrofit their earlier general cargo ships into container ships. Maybe Lorenzo Shipping does not have the financial muscle of the others but it tried to make up for this by ingenuity (and maybe Aboitiz Shipping which first tried this approach was their model).

However, Carlos A. Gothong Lines had a different approach. They bypassed the acquisition of container ships and instead went headlong into the acquisition of small ROPAXES (but bigger than the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs). Most likely their situation as primarily an intra-Visayas and a Visayas-Mindanao shipping operator influenced this. In these routes, there was no need for containers ship as almost all cargoes there are either loose cargo or palletized cargo that are loaded mainly in overnight ships.

There is controversy which shipping company fielded the first RORO in the Philippines (setting aside the earlier LCTs). Negros Navigation claims their “Sta. Maria” was first in RORO liners. That ship came in 1980 and it was a RORO liner, obviously. But as far as ROROs or ROPAXes, there is indubitable proof that Cardinal Shipping fielded the “Cardinal Ferry 1” in 1979 in the San Bernardino Strait crossing.

To make the debate murkier still, the “Northern Star” (a double-ended ferry at first before she was converted and she became the latter “Northern Samar”) and “Badjao” of Newport Shipping arrived in 1978 but they were not doing RORO routes then. By the way, the San Bernardino RORO service became only feasible when the roads in Samar were already passable so it cannot come earlier.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines might win the debate, however, because in 1976 they already had the small RORO “Don Johnny” which they used as a passenger-cargo ship from Manila to Leyte but not as a RORO. This ship later became the “Cardinal Ferry 2” of Cardinal Shipping that was the first to bridge the Surigao Strait as a RORO (that was not an LCT) in 1980 with a fixed schedule and daily voyages. And even though the former vehicle carrier “Don Carlos” arrived for Sulpicio Lines in 1977, still Carlos A. Gothong Lines was technically ahead in ROROs.

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The Don Carlos (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

From 1980 and ahead of the other shipping companies, Carlos A. Gothong Lines already bet big on ROROs when they fielded such type one after the other. In 1980, the “Dona Lili” and “Don Calvino” arrived for Carlos A. Gothong Lines although there are those who say the former arrived earlier. Negros Navigation might have been right in stressing that their “Sta. Maria” was a RORO liner and was first because the two ROROs of Carlos A. Gothong Lines were just overnight ferries. Nevertheless, both were ROROs or ROPAXes.

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The Dona Lili (Credits to PNA, Daily Express and Gorio Belen)

The “Dona Lili” was a ship built as the “Seiran Maru” in 1967 by Taguma Zosen in Innoshima, Japan. The ferry measured 69.0 meters by 12.0 meters with an original 856 gross register tonnage, a net register tonnage of 448 tons and deadweight tonnage of 553 tons. She was powered by two Daihatsu engines totalling 2,600 horsepower with gave her a sustained speed of 15.5 knots. The permanent ID of the ship was IMO 6713609.

In comparison, the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation was not much bigger at 72.0 meters by 12.6 meters and 1,110 gross register tonnage. Their speed was just about the same since “Sta. Maria” has a design speed of just 15 knots. So one ship was not clearly superior to the other. It just so happened that the routes of the companies dictated the particular role of the ships. By the way the “Sta. Maria” is still existing as the “Lite Ferry 8” so shipping observers still can benchmark her size, visually.

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The Don Calvino (Credits to PAL, George Tappan and Gorio Belen)

The “Don Calvino” was built as the “Shunan Maru” by Naikai Zosen in Onomichi, Japan in 1968. The ship measured 62.6 meters by 13.4 meters with an original gross register tonnage of 881 tons. She was powered by twin Hitachi engines of 2,660 horsepower total and a design speed of 14.5 knots. Her ID was IMO 6829484. As a note, the “Dona Lili” and the “Don Calvino” had long lives and they even outlived their company Carlos A. Gothong Lines which disappeared as a separate company when it joined the merger which created the giant shipping company WG&A.

Another RORO also arrived for Carlos A. Gothong Lines in the same year 1980. However, the ship did not live long. This ferry was the “Dona Josefina” which was built as “Kamishiho Maru” in 1968 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Shimonoseki, Japan. This ship had the external dimensions 71.6 meters by 13.0 meters and her gross register tonnage was 1,067 tons which means she was slightly the biggest of the three that came to Carlos A. Gothong Lines in 1980 and almost a match to the “Sta. Maria” of Navigation in size (incidentally the two ships both came in 1980). This ship was powered by twin Daihatsu engines of 2,600 combined like the “Dona Lili” and her sustained top speed was 15 knots. Her permanent ID was IMO 6823399.

Acquiring three medium-sized ROROs in a year showed the bet of Carlos A. Gothong Lines on ROROs or ROPAXes instead of container ships. Actually in overnight routes, it is ROROs that is needed more because it simplified cargo handling especially with the employment of forklifts which is several times more efficient than a porter and does not get tired. When Carlos A. Gothong Lines acquired RORO cargo ships starting in 1987 with the “Our Lady of Hope” , it was when they had Manila routes already and those cargo ships were used in that route.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines then had a short pause but in 1982 they purchased the ROPAX “Don Benjamin”. This ship was the former “Shin Kanaya Maru” and she was built in 1967 by Shimoda Dockyard Company in Shimoda, Japan. This ship measured 61.0 meters by 13.7 meters and the gross register tonnage was 685 tons and her permanent ID was IMO 7022875. She was powered by a single Nippon Hatsudoki engine of 2,550 horsepower and her design speed was 15 knots. Her engine was the reason the ship did not have a very long career here.

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The Don Benjamin partially scrapped (Photo by Edison Sy)

In 1983, Carlos A. Gothong Lines acquired two more ROROs, the “Dona Casandra” and the “Dona Conchita” which were both ill-fated here. The “Dona Casandra” was the former “Mishima Maru” and built by Hashihama Zosen in Hashihama, Japan. She was smaller than the other ROROs of Carlos A. Gothong Lines at 53.8 meters by 11 meters but her register tonnage was 682 tons. Her engines were twin Daihatsus at 2,000 horsepower total and that gave her a top speed of 14 knots, sustained. She possessed the IMO Number 6729476.

The other ship, the “Dona Conchita” was significantly bigger than the others as she had the external dimensions 82.0 meters by 13.4 meters and Japan gross register tonnage of 1,864 tons. This ship was the former “Osado Maru” and she was built in 1969 by Ishikawajima Heavy Industries (IHI) in Tokyo, Japan with the IMO Number 6908187. This bigger ship with a design speed of 16.5 knots was supposedly what will bring Carlos A. Gothong Lines back in the Manila route. However, both “Dona Casandra” and “Dona Conchita” sank before the decade was out.

While Carlos A. Gothong Lines was acquiring these ships, they were also disposing of their old ferries including ex-”FS” ships they inherited from their mother company Go Thong & Company before the split in 1972. What they did, the selling of old ships to acquire new was actually the pattern too in the other national shipping companies. The war-vintage ships then were already four decades old and were already in its last legs and its equipment and accommodations were already outdated compared to the newer ships that were already beginning to dominate the local waters.

After 1983, Carlos A. Gothong Lines’ ship acquisitions went into a hiatus for three years (but they already acquired six ROROs, much more than the total of the other shipping companies). Well, almost all ship acquisitions stopped then. The crisis that hit the Philippines was really bad and nobody knew then where the country was heading. But in 1986 when the crisis began to ebb and more so in 1987 and 1988 they acquired another bunch of RORO ships, bigger this time including RORO Cargo ships. That was the time that they attempted to become a national liner shipping company again after they became one of the Big Three in Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao shipping (the other two were Sweet Lines and Trans-Asia Shipping).

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The Our Lady of Guadalupe (Credits to Manila Times, Rudy Santos and Gorio Belen)

But then, the return of Carlos A. Gothong Lines as a national liner shipping company is worth another story, as they say.

Abangan.

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The Matnog Ferry Terminal

The government ports that were built in the 1980’s to connect Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao through the eastern seaboard of the country were not called “ports” but instead were called “ferry terminals”. And so it became Matnog Ferry Terminal, San Isidro Ferry Terminal, Liloan Ferry Terminal and Lipata Ferry Terminal. The four actually had a common design in their port terminal buildings and general lay-outs. The paint schemes are also the same.

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Matnog town had been the connection of Sorsogon and Luzon to Samar even before World War II and it might even been before the Americans came. That situation and importance was simply dictated by location and distance as in Matnog is the closest point of Luzon to Samar. In the old past, that connection to Samar crossing the San Bernardino Strait was done by wooden motor boats or what is called as lancha in the locality.

These lanchas existed until the early 1980’s. Their fate and phase-out was forced by the arrival of the pioneering Cardinal Shipping RORO in 1979, the Cardinal Ferry 1. With the arrival of other ROROs and especially the government-owned and promoted Maharlika I, the fate of the lanchas were slowly sealed until they were completely gone. By this time the new Matnog Ferry Terminal which was a replacement for the old wooden wharf was already completed.

Maharlika I

The Matnog Ferry Terminal is a RORO port with a back-up area for vehicles waiting to be loaded. At the start when there were few vehicles yet crossing and there were only a few ROROs in San Bernardino Strait that back-up area was sufficient. But over time it became insufficient and so additional back-up areas were built twice. Before that the queue of vehicles sometimes went beyond the gate and even up to the Matnog bus terminal/public market. Worst was when there were trip suspensions and vehicles especially trucks snaked through the main streets of of the small town of Matnog.

The Matnog Ferry Terminal is one of the more successful ports of the government. Actually most ports owned by the government do not have enough revenue to pay for the operational expenses like salaries, security, electricity, transportation and communication and for maintenance. The performance and success of Matnog Ferry Terminal is dictated not by the quality of port management but simply by the growth of the intermodal system. From Luzon there is no other way to Eastern Visayas except via Matnog. The intermodal system began to assert itself in the 1980’s until it became the dominant mode of connection to most of the islands in the country.

The Matnog Ferry Terminal has a total of four corresponding ports in Samar, amazingly. These are the BALWHARTECO port, the Jubasan port of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, the Dapdap port of Philharbor Ferries, all in Allen town and the San Isidro Ferry Terminal. The first three are privately-owned ports. The government-owned San Isidro Ferry Terminal lost out early to the privately-owned ports because it has the longest distance at 15 nautical miles while BALWHARTECO port is only 11 nautical miles from Matnog. A shipping company using San Isidro Ferry Terminal will simply consume more fuel and it cannot easily pass on the difference to the vehicles and passengers.

The existence of those many ports in Samar showed the increase over the years of the number of ROROs crossing San Bernardino Strait and also the number of vessel arrivals and departures. Currently, on the average, a dozen ferries and Cargo RORO LCTs serve the routes here with the companies Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation/Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, Montenegro Shipping Lines Incorporated, 168 Shipping Lines, Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corporation, SulitFerry and NN+ATS involved. The last two mentioned are operations of the liner company 2GO.

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In Samar, all those ferries can be docked simultaneously thereby showing enough docking capacity. In Matnog Ferry Terminal only about five ferries can be docked simultaneously especially since the two new RORO ramps there seems not to be in use. When they built that it was by means of bulldozing rocks into the sea to build a back-up area and those rocks seem to be dangerous to the ferries and their propellers and rudders which means a possible wrong design or construction.

When the government built a back-up area near the Matnog terminal/market, I assumed a true expansion of Matnog Ferry Terminal there. A causeway-type wharf could have been developed there and the docking ferries could have been separated there so there would be less mix-up of the departing and arriving vehicles. Causeway-type wharves like what was successfully deployed by the BALWHARTECO and Dapdap ports. This type of wharf is very efficient in using limited wharf space and it is very good in handling ROROs and LCTs.

Until now the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) insists on using pile-type wharves which is more costly but less efficient. A pile-type wharf is good if freighters and container ships are using the port but freighters do not dock in Matnog but in nearby Bulan port and there are no container ships hereabouts. If there are container vans passing here it is those that are aboard truck-trailers. But many know that if there are “percentages”, the less efficient pile-type wharves will guarantee more pie than can be “shared” by many. And I am not talking of the pie that comes from bakeshops.

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In a causeway-type of wharf the ferries can dock adjacent each other

Matnog Ferry Terminal by its evolution is actually a little bit different now from its sister ports because its wharf has an extention through a short “bridge” like what was done in Cataingan port although this is less obvious in the case of Matnog. The three other Ferry Terminals have no such extensions which is done if the water is shallow and there is enough money like in Ubay port which has an extension that is long and wide enough to land a private plane already (and yet it handles far less traffic than the Ferry Terminals). Almost always the priorities of government in disbursing funds is questionable at best. The budget used in Ubay port would have been more worthwhile if it was used in the shallow Pilar port which has far more traffic and is of much greater importance.

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With lack of RORO ramps it is normal that ferries in Matnog will dock offshore. It is also usual that a ferry will wait a little for a ferry loading to depart before they can dock especially at peak hours. Again, the docking of ferries askew to the port in high tide where there is no RORO ramp still goes on. Matnog Ferry Terminal and the Philippine Ports Authority is really very poor in planning that one will question what kind of data do they input in planning. I even doubt if the idea of a breakwater ever crossed their minds. Matnog is one place where swells are strong especially both in habagat and amihan (it has that rare distinction) or if there are storm signals (and Bicol is so famous for that) or when there is what is called as “gale” warning by the anachronistic weather agency PAGASA (they issue a “gale warning” even if there is no gale; they could have just issued a “strong swell “ warning because it is actually what they are warning about).

In Bicol, Matnog Ferry Terminal has the most number of vessel departures per day if motor bancas are excluded. Matnog’s vessel departures can reach up to 20 daily in peak season with a corresponding equal number in arrivals. In this regard, Matnog Ferry Terminal is even ahead of the likes of Legazpi, Tabaco and Masbate ports and such it is Number 1 in the whole of Bicol. That will just show how dominant is the intermodal system now. And how strategic is the location of Matnog.

A few years ago there was a change in Matnog Ferry Terminal that I was bothered about. Matnog is one port that has a very strong traffic and traffic is what drives income up. But before her term was up Gloria gave the operation of Matnog Ferry Terminal passenger building to Philharbor Ferries. This was also about the same time she wanted to privatize the regional ports of the country with strong traffics like Davao, Gensan and Zamboanga.

Now what is the point of giving the control of a passenger terminal building of a very strong port to a private entity? That port terminal building is actually a cash machine. Imagine about 2,000-3,000 passengers passing there daily in just one direction. Of course Gloria has some debt to the true owner of Philharbor in terms of executive jet services during her term and for providing escape to Garci. Was the deal a payback?

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No covered passenger walkway in Matnog

After years of private operation I have seen no improvement in Matnog Ferry Terminal. From what I know the construction of the two new back-up areas were funded by government. So what was the transfer of control of the passenger terminal building all about? They cannot even build a covered walkway from the passenger terminal to the ferries when BALWHARTECO port was able to do that (and both have long walks to the ferry). Does it mean that BALWHARTECO port cares more about its passengers?

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BALWHARTECO covered walk for passengers

Matnog Ferry Terminal could have been a greater port if properly managed and it should have been properly managed and programmed because it is one of the critical ports of the country. It is actually the strongest of the four Ferry Terminals and by a wide margin at that. Now, if only they will plow some of the profits of the port back into improvements of the port. Or shell out money like what they did to Ubay and Pulupandan ports which severely lacks traffic until now even after spending three-quarters of a billion pesos each. Again one will wonder what kind of data PPA used. Did the “figures” come from whispers of powerful politicians? And did they twist the moustache of NEDA Director-General Neri?

Quo vadis, Matnog Ferry Terminal? You should have been greater than your current state.

Allen is the King of Samar Shipping

Allen, a small town in the northwest tip of Samar island is the king of Samar shipping if measured by the number of ports existing and by the number of vessel arrivals and departures and even in the passenger throughput. This has not always been so because in the past Calbayog and Catbalogan have been the kings of Samar shipping. That was the time of cruiser liners and when the intermodal system did not yet exist.

Allen has been the connection of Samar to Sorsogon even before World War II when motor boat (lanchas) was the king of connections between near major islands. That was simply because Allen is the nearest town of Samar to the Sorsogon landmass. Additionally, Allen was also the connection then of the northwestern part of Samar to Calbayog when there was still no road connecting those two parts of Samar.

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Credit to Gorio Belen and Times Journal

The BALWHARTECO (Balicuatro Wharfage and Terminal Corporation) port was THE port of Allen even then. This port is a private port and founded by the father of the current owning Suan family. From a port handlings lanchas, BALWHARTECO port evolved into a RORO port with the coming of the ROROS. When it did, the Matnog-Allen lanchas gave way to the ROROs until they became extinct. With that, gone too was the cumbersome mano-mano cargo handling system done by the porters.

In the past, liners from Manila docked in Calbayog and Catbalogan mainly and also in Laoang, Caraingan, Allen and Victoria. But with the finishing of the Maharlika Highway, the buses and also the trucks came to Bicol and suddenly there was a need for a RORO to cross them across San Bernardino Strait to Samar which Cardinal Shipping through Cardinal Ferry 1 provided in 1979. This was followed by other companies with ROROs like Newport Shipping whose owner is from Laoang town. Other companies followed such as the Philippine Government through Maharlika Uno in 1982 and by the Bicolandia Shipping of Eugenia Tabinas.

When the intermodal buses and trucks came, the bottom suddenly fell out of Northern Samar ports and ships and in a few years they were gone. Calbayog and Catbalogan proved more resilient but the BALWHARTECO private port in Allen grew by leaps and bounds as the years showed consistent annual increase of trucks, buses and passengers crossing the San Bernardino Strait. From a wooden wharf BALWHARTECO port was converted in a concrete causeway-type wharf. Moreover, additional buildings were added to BALWHARTECO port and it housed pasalubong shops, eateries and various offices plus a lodge and a disco above.

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BALWHARTECO in earlier days. Photo by Lindsay Bridge.

When BALWHARTECO and the San Bernardino connection grew, others were tempted to also have their own like the Dapdap and Jubasan ports. Dapdap is owned by Philharbor Ferries and the new Jubasan port is owned by Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation. So now Allen has three ports and very rare is a town that has three private ports catering to ROROs.

Meanwhile, the old dominant ports of Calbayog and Catbalogan no longer have liners from Manila nor overnight ferries from Cebu with the exception of the new Manguino-o port in Calbayog which hosts Cokaliong Shipping Lines. In the main they have already lost to the intermodal trucks from Cebu which use ports in the western seaboard of Leyte as entry like Palompon, Isabel, Ormoc including GGC, Albuera and Baybay.

These changes only showed the complete triumph of the new paradigm, the intermodal system where vehicles (buses, trucks, cars, etc.) are now just rolled into ROROs including LCTs and the traditional way of shipping cargo has already been superseded.

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BALWHARTECO port

In a day, Allen has nearly 20 ROROs dockings and an equivalent number of departures for a total of about 200 vehicles of at least four wheels either way so not counted here are the likes of motorcycles. Near ports of cities like Tacloban, Masbate, Legazpi and Tabaco do not even have such volume. It actually exceeds even the port of Ormoc, the greatest port in the western shores of Leyte. So that is how big is the traffic of Allen and probably many do not realize that. Additional some 2,000 passengers a day pass each way in Allen for a total of about 4,000 passengers. North Harbor of Manila doesn’t even have such passenger volume.

However and sadly, such growth, such traffic are not transferred in the locality. Where before a port confers prosperity because the big bodegas and trading houses will be there, this is not in the case of the intermodal system because the cargo, which is rolling cargo at that, just passes through. There are no bodegas or trading houses in Allen. And that is the case of all the short-distance ports in the eastern seaboard from Matnog to Allen to Liloan to San Ricardo and Lipata.

Maybe it is not right to expect to have bodegas in Allen. That is impossible as the cargo trucks will simply roll on. But there must be a way to grab some business from all those passing vehicles. Like fuel sales if the pump price is right. Or restaurants like Jollibee. There are passengers like me who desire such kind of restaurant which serve a standardized quality of food in an air-conditioned accommodation.

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BALWHARTECO offices and eateries. The lodge and disco are located above.

Well, maybe even hotels or lodging houses. But the price should be right otherwise the travelers will just continue on (Allen is known to travelers as having high lodging rates). BALWHARTECO port has a lodge and that shows this is possible. The best type will be a SOGO-type of hotel that offers 12-hour accommodation for half the price.

Pasalubongs and novelty items like T-shirts are also possible. Like in lodgings the price should be right. Novelties must have the reputation of being cheaply-priced. Tourism? Maybe not. The transients did not come to Allen for that.

Allen is king of Samar shipping but it is poor. As of today it is just a fourth-class municipality which means an income of just P25-35 million yearly. Its population is still small. So it means people are not moving in for maybe there is really no growth and progress.

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Jubasan port of Sta. Clara Shipping Corp.

What Allen is famous for is its illegal exactions (illegal because the Supreme Court has twice declared it is so and that is the final authority on legalities) on the vehicles and passengers. They will charge the vehicles when arriving and when departing. At P75 per truck (their rate) and and about 300 trucks and buses passing daily both ways that would have been an easy P20,000 per day net or P7 million a year. Add to that the P5 per departing passenger. That would be about another P10,000 per day or P3.5 million a year. It seems these collections are not reflected properly in Allen’s income. At P10 million a year times for 30 years there should already been an infra that Allen can be proud of but it seems there’s none as Allen still has the look of a small town.

Allen has ports that is doing good business except Dapdap. Truth is its ports are the best infra in the town. Its incomes should have been a good addition too.

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Dapdap port of Philharbor

But Allen is still poor. Like Matnog, Liloan and San Ricardo although all have illegal exactions. Me and Rey B. called that the curse of the illegal exactions.

Sometimes they say the king is poor. Maybe that is Allen.