The Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and the Penafrancia Shipping Corporation

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King Frederick by Britz Salih of PSSS.

On paper, the Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. and Penafrancia Shipping Corp. of Bicol are two different companies but in actuality like Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) and Marina Ferries the two are simply legal-fiction companies of each other. That means in operation and routes they cannot be distinguished except for some differences in the livery and in the name, of course. They share the same crew and schedules and the same port and they operate as one. Companies resort to this tactic to avoid wholesale suspensions of fleets in case of accidents and also to minimize the damage in case of a suit. But in the case I am discussing here there is a deeper reason than simple maneuvering.

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Nelvin Jules by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

Sta. Clara Shipping started with the clamor of travelers and shippers across the San Bernardino Strait for better services. What happened was that when the competition of the dominant Bicolandia Shipping Lines of Eugenia Tabinas, the Cardinal Shipping, Newport Shipping and Badjao Navigation collapsed and newcomer PSEI Transport Services was TKO’d in the courts and Luzvimin Ferry Services moved elsewhere, there was a swing from dog-eat-dog competition to lousy services that happens when a company is already in a dominant position and the government-owned Maharlika I which was operating a longer route to San Isidro, Northern Samar wasn’t able to offer a credible competition. There came always the complaint of “alas-puno” departures (that means the ferry only leaves when it is already full). I was surprised that in the petition submitted by Sta. Clara Shipping to be allowed to serve the route practically all the Mayors of Leyte signed there.

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Hansel Jobett by Orly Calles of PSSS.

Sta. Clara Shipping started with provisional authorities to sail and their first two vessels were the King Frederick which was named after the top dog Frederick Uy and the Nelvin Jules. [In Bicol, Frederick Uy is associated not with Sta. Clara Shipping but with the Partido Marketing Corp. (PMC) which is now the top trading firm in the region after it surpassed the old title holder Co Say.] The sister ships were fielded in 1999 and the two were joined by its “cousin” Hansel Jobett (“The Dragon”) in 2004. The King Frederick and Nelvin Jules were newer, faster and better-appointed than the ships of Eugenia Tabinas (this is my description here as she was also using legal-fiction companies) and in a short time after she lost in the courts for her claim of “pioneering” status (which she tried to equate to barring entry of other competitors) she was already crying “Uncle!”.

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Eugene Elson by Dominic San Juan of PSSS/

An amicable settlement was reached and Eugenia Tabinas sold out lock, stock and barrel to Frederick Uy and his partners and this happened in 2006 and the fleet and routes were thereby transferred not to Sta. Clara Shipping but to the newly-created Penafrancia Shipping Corp. and the reason for that that I heard was that the latter has similar but still a different set of owner-partners than the former. Well, there is such a thing that can be called the Bicol-type of partnership where the ownership and partnership varies from ship to ship (or bus to bus, if you will) and that was the reason why in the sale and dissolution of 168 Shipping two ships of the company went to Gov. Antonio Kho of Masbate and another went to Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) that is owned by another Governor.

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Don Benito Ambrosio II and LCT ST 888 by Ken Ledesma

In the transfer, the “flagship-by-name” Eugenia became the Eugene Elson, the “flagship-by-size” Princess of Mayon, the biggest ferry in Bicol that time became the Don Benito Ambrosio II and the Princess of Bicolandia became the Don Herculano. The transfer was marred by two strong typhoons and the second one was legendary Typhoon “Reming” which was the strongest in Bicol for three-and-a half decades. Lost in the first typhoon in Tabaco port was the venerable Northern Samar, a refitted ferry that initially came from Newport Shipping of Northern Samar and has been serving in the route since 1982. In Super-typhoon “Reming”, the Princess of Bicolandia which has no functioning engine because of an engine room fire was pulled by the storm surge from its dock in Mayon Docks in Tabaco City, Albay. No one thought she will be seen again but lo and behold! she was found the next day atop a sandbar in a neighboring town and from there she was towed to the Villono shipyard (now the Nagasaka Shipyard) in Tayud, Cebu where she would spend the next three years being repaired and when she came out she was already the Don Herculano. To refurbish the old fleet the newly-arrived Anthon Raphael was added to the fleet of Penafrancia Shipping in 2008.

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Don Herculano by Edsel Benavides of PSSS/

Before Anthon Raphael came, the Ever Queen of Pacific was bought by Sta. Clara Shipping from Ever Lines Inc. of Zamboanga in 2007. After refitting her from an overnight ferry with bunks to a short-distance ferry with seats she was then rolled out as the Mac Bryan. This brought the fleet of the twin companies to eight, a mixture of relatively big ones and three that were smaller, the Eugene Elson, Don Herculano and the Mac Bryan. By that time, the twin companies were basically serving two routes, the Matnog-Allen (BALWHARTECO) route and the Tabaco-Virac route. The Anthon Raphael first served the Pasacao-Masbate route, a missionary route offered by MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency but they soon withdrew from that after realizing that the habagat (Southwest monsoon) will broadside the ship there and that it is not a competitive route due to the long sea distance. She was transferred to the Bulan-Masbate route but geography still said she cannot compete with the Pilar-Masbate ferries and this is similar to the lesson taught to the Maharlika ferry of Archipelago Philippine Ferries which plied that route before. Bulan is still a long drive to Pilar junction where the truck from Bulan and Pilar will meet. The difference is approximately 100 kilometers which is roughly equivalent to 25 liters of diesel fuel and that is no small deal.

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Anthon Raphael by Orly Calles of PSSS.

In 2012, Sta. Clara Shipping acquired the Strong Heart 1 of Keywest Shipping. This was the former second Asia Japan of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) and was acquired through dacion en pago for fuel advances when a syndicate hit the company (they thought then that the Trans-Asia 3 was a fuel guzzler; I don’t know if this was the reason why the sister ships Trans-Asia and Asia China was disposed  to the breakers). However, she was not immediately refitted and repaired and she languished long in Strong Heart 1just serving as crew quarters and office. That was a boon for PSSS as she became the reason of the group to visit the shipyard (and visit the other ships there too). But when she was rolled out she already have the new name Nathan Matthew. In the process she lost part of her superstructure. Well, as a short-distance ferry, there is more passenger capacity with seats than with bunks.

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Jack Daniel by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

In 2015, the beautiful Azuki Maru was acquired from Olive Lines and after some refitting in Nagasaka Shipyard she became the Jack Daniel (no, there are no offerings of that drink aboard). This was about the same time that Sta. Clara was in a struggle to build their own port in Allen, Northern Samar and move out of their old home port BALWHARTECO in the same town. The difficulty was not in the technical or financial sense. It just so happened that the owner of BALWHARTECO (an old private port that dissolved the old municipal port of Allen) is actually the Mayor of the town and he refused to give a Mayor’s permit. That was no problem with Sta. Clara Shipping which had been in legal bruises before and any good lawyer will easily tell that the Mayor will lose in court through a Mandamus and his act will probably earn him a graft case easy. And so the construction of the port continued and it was not delayed because although padlocked the construction equipment were already inside the port.

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Mac Bryan and Nathan Matthew in Jubasan Port. Photo by Ken Ledesma of PSSS.

This new port was in Jubasan in Allen when finished was a notch higher than their old home port as the entire compound was already completely concreted right from the start. The only problem was strong current (maybe because of the proximity of Capul Island) so much so that they withdrew the Jack Daniel here as they feared its beautiful glass windows could shatter. Aboard a moored ship here one can feel it shudder and the dents on the sides of the ship is proof of the strong current. Whatever, Jubasan Port is so clean and organized and an urban-bred passenger will not be turned off by its restaurants (they have nice tables and chairs to lounge in and appreciate the ships and views and that is not easy in an enclosed passenger terminal building).

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Adrian Jude by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

In 2017, Sta. Clara Shipping purchased the last two Tamataka Maru ships still remaining in Japan in a “buy one, take one” manner and this ended that line there and it is a little sad because a lot of Tamataka Maru ferries went to the Philippines starting with the very first in the series which was the Tamataka Maru No. 21 which became the Cardinal Ferry 1 in 1979 and became the country’s first ever short-distance RORO (two ROROs anteceded her but both were first used as liners) and she also served the San Bernardino Strait crossing. The two were sister ships and after refitting in Nagasaka Shipyard, Tamataka Maru No. 85 became the Adrian Jude and Tamataka Maru No. 87 became the Almirante Federico, again a play on the name of the top honcho of Sta. Clara Shipping. The two then became the biggest ships in the combined fleet though not necessarily in the official Gross Tonnage as MARINA oftentimes play quirks with this measure.

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Almirante Federico by Naval Arch. Rey Bobiles of PSSS.

After the sister ships Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. joined the new paradigm, that of the Cargo RORO LCTs which cater to trucks and which do not carry passengers unless those are the crews of the trucks. The San Bernardino St. crossing really needs this type of ship as before there were plenty of complaints about the kilometers-long truck queues in peak season and after the usual weather disturbances. The intermodal trucks which were second-priority to buses before (because it has passengers and they will complain of delays) now have their dedicated transport.

Sta. Clara Shipping’s first Cargo RORO LCT was the LCT Aldain Dowey which was acquired in 2017 and actually this was formerly the locally-built LCT Ongpin but was lengthened. The next year they acquired the LCT ST888 from China and this was assigned to Penafrancia Shipping. Both crafts are slow by ferry standards but that is the characteristic of LCTs. They were not built for speed and buses and sedans are not fit for them as they were not really built for comfort especially with their limited passenger accommodations.

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LCT Aldain Dowey by Anthon Briton of PSSS.

Right now, Sta. Clara Shipping is (…censored…) like the other shipping companies of note and that is just a reflection on how intermodal shipping is booming across the country. But in the Bicol region there is no doubt that the combined Sta. Clara Shipping and Penafrancia Shipping is the tops not only in ships because remember they also have their own port and the worth of that will approach that of a good and big overnight ferry that is still in a good condition. Now they are also operating in the Liloan-Lipata route across Surigao Strait.

Over-all, Sta. Clara Shipping is one good success story that is nice to tell and I wish them more successes in the future.

 

Philippine Ferries That Are Celebrating Their Golden Anniversaries In 2017

There are a few ferries in the Philippines which will be having their golden anniversaries this year because they have already reached 50 years of existence and sailing. That means these were built exactly in the year 1967 and all of these ferries are testaments to their design and engineering. It is also a testament to the Philippine side from the owners to the engineers for their loyalty and belief in their ships.

Not all of these ships are in the pink of health now, of course. In humans they might be the equivalent of our centenarians. But unlike our centenarians these are not exactly laid-up vessels and if not sailing they are being held in reserve. Some of these have hiccups at times but those episodes are not something that cannot be repaired. And unlike planes where there is always an emergency when an engine conks out, in ships even though it loses main engine power they simply become the equivalent of unpowered barges and barges sail day in and day out in all waters of the world.

Here then are our “golden” ferries this year:

Maybe we should start with the Maria Gloria of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI). This is a notable ship because she was the first steel-hulled ferry of Montenegro Lines. She came to our country in 1994 when she was already 27 years old and she has been a good ship from the time she arrived and is still a very reliable ship until now. It looks like Montenegro Lines is taking care of her very well.

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Maria Gloria by Raymond Lapus

The Maria Gloria is a short-distance ferry-RORO and for a long time served the Mindoro routes although at times she can also be found in the route to Siquijor. She was built as the Tenyo Maru for the Shimabara Tetsudo by Kanda Shipbuilding in Kure, Japan. She measures 42.9 meters by 11.0 meters and she has a passenger capacity of 413 persons. She is powered by twin Daihatsu engines with a total of 1,400 horsepower which is still good enough for some 10 knots today.

Another 50-year old ship in the fleet of Montenegro Lines is the ferry Maria Isabel which holds for the company their Iloilo-Cuyo-Puerto Princesa route across the wide Sulu Sea. Now if she is not a reliable ship Montenegro Lines won’t assign her to that route especially since swells can be powerful in her route when the monsoons are acting up.

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Maria Isabel by Carl Jakosalem

The Maria Isabel was originally the Shirakawa Maru in Japan and she was built by Taguma Zosen in Innoshima, Japan. Her external dimensions are 49.0 meters by 13.2 meters and she has a passenger capacity of 427 persons. A two-deck overnight ferry, her Gross Tonnage is rather high for her Length at 836 (this figure has no unit). She is powered by twin Hanshin engines of 1,700 horsepower and her design speed is high at 14.5 knots and maybe this was the reason she was assigned the long Sulu Sea route.

The Maria Isabel arrived in the country in 1997 when she was already 30 years old. Now who said imported surplus ferries should be no more than 20 years old? I say it depends on the condition of the ship. Maria Isabel has two sister ships in the Philippines and both are in the fleet also of Montenegro Lines. These are the Maria Erlinda and Maria Rebecca.

Another “golden” ship in the Philippines is one that has a complicated history and is a survivor. She first arrived in the country in 1982 as the first RORO ferry of Viva Shipping Lines which were formerly operators of motor boats like Montenegro Lines. The ship was 15 years old then, a relatively young age and she was named as the Viva Santo Nino.

The Viva Santo Nino was formerly the Bisan Maru of Sanyo Kisen of Japan. She was built by Kanda Shipbuilding in Kure, Japan and she measures 50.0 meters by 11.8 meters. Originally 665 GRT in Japan but here her GT was deflated. I am not sure of her original engines but later it were two Yanmar engines totaling 1,800 horsepower which was good for 13 knots.

The Viva Santo Nino sailed well for Viva Shipping Lines whose ships were rusty and lacked cleanliness but they don’t sink or conk out because tale says the Captain is under the pain of death if his ship sinks. But when the company stopped operations because of the tightness of competition in the Verde Island Passage and of some family troubles this ship was one of those which was laid up.

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Streamer of Joy-Ruby by Masahiro Homma

In 2003, the ship was sold to Silverio Atienza who was an operator of motor boats called batel in the area. With some modifications and repair, she became the Joy-Ruby, the first steel-hulled ferry of Silverio Atienza which later evolved into the Atienza Shipping Lines. However, once on a voyage to Puerto Princesa she developed a hull in the stern when she was already nearing the port. She continued sailing until she ended up sitting on her stern near the quay with her bow pointing to the sky.

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The Joy-Ruby was subsequently salvaged and sold to Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) in 2008 where she became the Super Shuttle Ferry 15. For many years she plied the various routes of the company in the Visayas and mainly Ormoc but at times she also experienced some minor problems. This might not really be due to age but to the weakness of her company in maintaining ships. However, her Captain admitted that her engines were not that robust anymore but this is something that could be remedied by re-engining.

Another ship that was also built in 1967 was the Island Express II of Island Shipping Corporation. This ship is a short-distance ferry-cruiser that runs the Bantayan island route although not recently when Island Shipping was already able to build enough passenger-cargo LCTs and the cruisers of the company were already on the way out as cruisers can no longer compete against ROROs except in Zamboanga.

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Island Express II by Masahiro Homma

The Island Express II was built as the Yuzuru by the Sanriku Shipbuilding & Iron Works in Shiogama, Japan. The ship’s external dimensions are 28.5 meters by 7.0 meters and she is equipped by a single Daihatsu engine of 300 horsepower which means she is a slow craft. This ship came to the Philippines in 1994 when she was already 27 years old. The Island Express II has a passenger capacity of 354 persons all in benches.

Another cruiser ship that was built in 1967 but is an overnight ferry is the Gloria Two of Gabisan Shipping which has fishing vessel origin and was just converted in Leyte. This ferry measures 46.3 meters by 7.7 meters and is now equipped by a single Isuzu Marine engine of 960 horsepower which gives her a cruising speed of 11.5 knots.

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The Gloria Two is a very reliable ship although she suffers now in competition versus RORO ships. She has a passenger capacity of 386 and she has no other route except the route to Hilongos, Leyte. This ferry is declared to have a Gross Tonnage of 246 with a passenger capacity of 386 person in bunks.

There is another highly-recognizable ship that is well-known in Cebu which is the Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 of Lapu-lapu Shipping. This ship was built by Okayama Shipyard in Hinase, Japan in 1967 and she came to Sweet Lines of the Philippines in 1978. In Sweet Lines she was known as the second Sweet Time doing the Cebu-Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro and Cebu-Tagbilaran-Larena-Plaridel routes. Her IMO Number is 7315753.

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Sweet Time by Edison Sy

When Sweet Lines collapsed in 1994, she was laid up for a while until she became the Carmelita. Then she came to Lapu-lapu Shipping which renovated her extensively in 2002 in Villono shipyard until she no longer looked like the old Sweet Time, the reason why people can’t connect her to her origin. But IMO Numbers don’t lie and she was traced.

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Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 by Mike Baylon

As Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 her dimensions are 52.2 meters by 8.0 meters by 4.1 meters and she is an overnight ferry-cruiser. Her passenger capacity is 509 and her primary route is Cebu to Cataingan, Masbate. She still has her original Hanshin engine with 1,100 horsepower which is now just good for 8 to 9 knots. To keep up with competition, the ship has an air-conditioned Tourist section.

Another ship built in 1967 is an LCT of E.B. Aznar Shipping of
Danao, the LCT Melrivic 1 which at one time was rumored to be gone but actually was  just hiding in Republic Drydock in Danao City and being re-engined prior to re-fielding. A PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) tour group found her being refitted in that shipyard. This passenger-cargo LCT is a local-build in Manila.

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LCT Melrivic 1 by John Carlos Cabanillas

This vessel’s measurements are 37.4 meters by 8.0 meters which means she is a small LCT and her Gross Tonnage is 321. Originally powered by a single Yanmar Marine engine of 430 horsepower, she is now powered by a Weichai engine of 460 horsepower and her speed increased from 9.5 knots to 11 knots while being more fuel-efficient.

The next ship which is 50 years old now is a respected ship in Bicol but she was not originally a Bicol ferry. In Japan she was known as the Nangokutosa Maru of the Utaka Kokudo Ferry and she was built by Hashihama Zosen in Imabari, Japan. The ship measures 64.0 meters by 11.3 meters with an original Gross Register Tonnage of 904 tons and equipped with twin Daihatsu engines with a total of 2,200 horsepower.

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Princess of Mayon (parsed from a PPA photo)

In 1990, this ship came to United Towage & Salvage of the Philippines when she was already 23 years old. In this company she was known as Horizon but United Towage & Salvage was actually not into passenger shipping. The ship underwent modifications and she was sold to Bicolandia Shipping Lines where she became known as the Princess of Mayon. For a very long time as in two decades, she was the biggest ferry in Bicol and she was always in the strongest route there, the Matnog to Samar route.

When Bicolandia Shipping Lines was sold lock, stock and barrel to Penafrancia Shipping Lines in 2006, the Princess of Mayon became part of the deal and in the new company she was known as the Don Benito Ambrosio II. She had periods of unreliability soon after. The company’s solution was to build one reliable Daihatsu engine from her two Daihatsu engines and a Yanmar engine was mounted as the second engine.

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Now Don Benito Ambrosio II is running well again and she is still in the same route again. The PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) touring group was able to ride her free last December, “Bridge Class” and know what? Her bridge is air-conditioned! Now, tell me, how many short-distance ferries locally can claim that kind of accoutrement?

The last two vessels that were built in 1967 are both local-builds. Both are small because they were ferries of their companies when they was still young. These two are obsolete now being slow, small cruisers and most of the time they no longer sail. The two are the Ever Transport of Ever Lines and the Magnolia of Magnolia Shipping Corporation, both of Zamboanga City.

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The Ever Transport was built in Cebu and just measures 19.2 meters by 5.1 meters with a Gross Tonnage of just 68 and a passenger capacity of just 87 persons. Her engine is an Isuzu diesel of just 135 horsepower but she can reach 7.5 knots when she was still new. I thought then she was already gone and then I saw her being refitted in Varadero de Cawit in Zamboanga City and they said she will sail again.

Meanwhile, the Magnolia was built by Rato Brothers in Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur. Her external dimensions are 26.6 meters by 5.4 meters with a Gross Tonnage of 81 and a passenger capacity of 122 persons. The upper half of her hull is wood and the lower half is steel. The Magnolia is powered by a single Caterpillar engine of 120 horsepower. The last time I saw her was she was laid up in Varadero de Recodo in Zamboanga City.

Both the Ever Transport and Magnolia are clearly obsolete now. In passenger capacity they are not even higher than the big passenger-cargo motor bancas which have the same horsepower as them or even more. However, the two can carry more cargo especially since they have high prows and freeboards so they can deal with the sometimes big swells of the seas near Zamboanga.

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Magnolia by Mike Baylon

So that’s it, folks. A total of eight ferries that will be celebrating their 50 years now. Some are already obsolete especially the cruisers because as they say times and modalities change but they are still alive. Do I hear the tune of the BeeGees, “Stayin’ Alive”?

Not all the ferries mentioned have IMO Numbers and some were not traced initially but the cooperation with Angelo Blasutta of the former Grosstonnage.com bore fruit and so the Don Benito Ambrosio II and Lapu-lapu Ferry 1’s origins were traced and both were actually clear surprises.

I always joke that ferries 50 years old should give a discount of 50%, a celebration for being still alive. Oh, it can be not the whole year. Maybe on the month that they were built, at least. And the crew might even be surprised because I found out over the years that many crewmen cannot trace the history of their vessels because they were not trained to look for the IMO Number.

On a future article I will deal with our our ferries built in 1967 that are no longer around and what has happened to them so the people including the haters of old ships will be more educated.

The Developments in the San Bernardino Strait Routes When the PSSS Visited in December of 2016

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Photo of Jubasan port by James Gabriel Verallo

I was able to visit the area twice, actually, the first one with the official PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) tour-meet and the second one in my private tour with Joe Cardenas, the PSSS member from Catarman (so he was a native of the area). I stayed longer the second time because I wanted to do some interviews in the ports of Allen and in the ships there (which I was able to do).

My first visit to the San Bernardino Strait area happened with the big group of the PSSS (the Philippine Ship Spotters Society). Joe Cardenas provided the car, a very good one and James Verallo provided the gas money. We were eight in the group including an American guest of Chimmy Ramos. He was Tim Alentiev, a retired B747 pilot from Seattle. Others in the group were Raymond Lapus from Los Banos, Nowell Alcancia from Manila. Mark Ocul from Ozamis and yours truly.

On the first day on the way to Allen, the first port of Northern Samar we visited was the San Isidro Ferry Terminal. It was already getting late in the afternoon when we reached the port as we came all the way from Tacloban and have visited already the ports of Catbalogan, Calbayog and Manguino-o. We were not able to start early because me and Mark’s ship from Cebu, the Oroquieta Stars of Roble Shipping departed four hours late because of the company’s Christmas party.

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The FastCat M9

Though late, it was just perfect as the FastCat M9 of Archipelago Ferries has just docked and was beginning to disembark passengers and vehicles. This catamaran RORO is the only regular user of the government-owned port and without it it would have been an empty visit save for the lone regular beer carrier which happened to be also docked and unloading that day. For some in the group it was a first experience to see short-distance ferry-ROROs in action.

We did not stay long and we hied off fast to the next port which was the Jubasan port of Sta. Clara Shipping. This port is a new development of the company and was built against the opposition of the Mayor then of Allen, Northern Samar which happened to be the owner of BALWHARTECO, the old dominant port in the area. It is a modern port, very clean and orderly, spacious and with lots of eateries that is more decent than the usual carinderia. There is not that mell of vendors and the hubbub one usually associates with ports that are not ISPS (International System of Port Security).

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From Jubasan, we passed by the Dapdap port of Philharbor. We did not enter the port any more and just viewed it from outside as we knew there were no more operations there as related company Archipelago Ferries was using San Isidro Ferry Terminal instead of their own port and the Montenegro Lines vessels transferred to BALWHARTECO when Sta. Clara Shipping and sister company Penafrancia Shipping left it for their own port.

We next visited BALWHARTECO port when dusk was setting in. We did not tour the port any longer as we decided it will be more worthwhile the next day when there is light. In the original plan, we should have stayed for the night in the lodge of BALWHARTECO (and do some night shipspotting for those still interested) but Chimmy suggested that it might be better to stay in Catarman where there might be better accommodations and food. The group agreed as anyway Joe and Nowell are headed for Catarman as the latter has an early morning flight back to Manila.

The bonus of the Catarman sleep-over was we were able to see Catarman, the town, and see off Nowell to the airport. Maybe except for me and Joe, nobody in the group has been to Catarman before and visiting it was an added treat. On the way back there a bonus shipspotting too because we made short tours of Caraingan and Lavezares ports. The first is the main inter-island port of Northern Samar and the second is the gateway to the destination being slowly discovered which is Biri, an archipelago offshore Northern Samar.

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Star Ferry II

Because of these extra tours and the need to secure first in Catarman a good bus ride for the members heading back to Manila, we were not able to cross early to Matnog. Even our tour of BALWHARTECO was peremptory and it was mainly just part of the effort to cross to Matnog. Still, it was enough as a ferry not yet leaving is a very good vantage point for shipspotting and the Reina Olimpia of Montenegro Lines proved to be that. The encounters with other ships in San Bernardino Strait added to the shipspotting prize.

We were not able to cross ahead of the bus and so the Manila-bound members have to board the bus immediately in Matnog. That in itself already shortened the Luzon part of the tour. When the bus rolled off, a member shouted to me (seems it was James) that the ramp of the Don Benito Ambrosio II of Penafrancia Shipping was already being raised. I looked at the bridge and I saw Capt. Sacayan, a friend of PSSS and I don’t know what reflex pushed me that I blurted out, “Capt, pasakay” and Capt. Sacayan immediately ordered the lowering of the ramp to the surprise of his deck hands. The Sta. Clara “Angels” (the three beautiful ladies in charge of arranging the passages of company-account trucks and buses) asked if we have a ticket and I pointed to Capt. Sacayan and from lip reading I think Capt. Sacayan said, “Oo, sa akin.”

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The Don Benito Ambrosio II by James Gabriel Verallo

I told my remaining tour mates not to wait for the ramp to land as I don’t think it would lest the ship incur the penalty of another docking and so we hopped on the ramp that was still a foot above the wharf. And from there we went straight to the bridge where Capt. Sacayan warmly welcomed us and turned on the airconditioners to full. We were sailing “Bridge Class” like in the Reina Olimpia on the crossing to Matnog. But the letdown was Mark failed to taste the “Bicol Express”. However, the free ride on the bridge with its unmatched viewpoint more than made up for that.

We disembarked in the new Jubasan port where we took our dinner and whiled some time trying to soak the atmosphere of the port. Funny, but our car was parked in BALWHARTECO, our point of departure earlier where our group had an incident with the LGU collectors of “illegal exactions” as we call it in PSSS for it is actually against Supreme Court decisions and DILG memorandum circulars. I wondered if Joe was worrying then for his car.

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The Nathan Matthew in Jubasan port (by James Gabriel Verallo)

After getting the car in BALWHARTECO we tracked back to Tacloban. It was uneventful as it was already night and it was just me and Joe keeping on the conversation.

I visited again the San Bernardino Strait area after the trip to Surigao del Sur where I accompanied Joe. This time my focus was BALWHARTECO and it is there where me and Joe separated, he headed back to Catarman and me on the way to Bicol but with an Allen stop-over. Night has set in when we parted ways and I stayed in the lodge of BALWHARTECO as I planned to do interviews the next day.

If there was still sunlight on our first visit to Allen, my second one was all rain and it was heavy with winds and so the swells were up, of course. But as Joe noted it was just the usual amihan (northeast monsoon) weather (with regards to this kind of weather, Joe and me are pretty much in agreement and so with typhoons). Good the Coast Guard in the area were not as praning (kneejerkish) as their counterparts in Cebu so they were not as trigger-happy in voyage suspensions. And to think the ferries that time in BALWHARTECO were barely able to hold position while docked even while ropes were already doubled. Some even anchor offshore to avoid damage to their hull.

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The Star Ferry 7 in the rain

In the next morning when the rain was still light I managed to find the oldest living porter of Allen who was in his 80’s and who had been a porter since 1943. He is the father of the caretaker of the lodge and from him I was able to get the history of the private port of Allen owned by the Suan family which owns the present BALWHARTECO. I was also able to get the ships of the past in the area from the time of the motor boats (lancha) including the motor bancas which then connected Allen and Calbayog for then there was no road connecting the two localities.

It was a funny interview as the old man was speaking in Allen Waray which I found I can understand 95% by using my knowledge of the different dialects of Bicol including what was then known as Bicol Gubat and Bicol Costa which are now no longer classified as part of the Bicol language. The Bicolanos and the Pintados share the same seafaring history in the past and maybe this was the reason of the close association of the languages of Bicol, Masbate and Samar including the Balicuatro area of Samar where Allen is located.

From the father and son pair, I was able to get referrals to old mariners in the area and I visited one in his home and the other one in his ship. Both came from Virac and first became crewmen of the Trans-Bicol Shipping Lines, the predecessor of Bicolandia Shipping Lines in operating motor boats (lancha) which connected the Bicol island-provinces and Samar to the Bicol mainland. The latter is actually the Chief Engineer of the Star Ferry II of 168 Shipping and this provided a bonus because we were able to have a discussion about the oldest RORO sailing in Philippine waters that is not a Navy ship and is not an LCT.

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I stayed a day more in BALWHARTECO because peak season caught me suddenly on a Friday afternoon and it was very difficult to get a ride with the sustained strong rains which produced landslides in Victoria town thus throwing the bus schedules into disarray (few were really coming). It was a nice courtesy stay which afforded me more opportunities to shipspot (and also do bus spotting) and to observe in general.

I absorb things fast even on limited time and even without asking too many questions. I just retrieve files in my head and add what I saw new, what changed and other observations. And from that I have a new mental picture of the port and area I visited. A two-day stay in Allen is a boon for observation and absorption of the movements and patterns in the area.

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After two nights, I tried to wangle a trip to Matnog where I planned to take a local bus to Naga. There was no hope in hitching a ride with the buses from the south because of the landslides and anyway all that arrive in Allen were full and it was sellers’ market and even the colorum vans to Manila were having a field day (they were charging fares from Catarman while waiting for passengers in Allen).

It wasn’t easy booking a crossing as the combination of rough swells and high tide plus the strong wind delayed dockings. Even with tickets, we passengers feared cancellation of voyages by the Coast Guard anytime given the wind and seas prevailing. After a long wait onboard, we finally all heaved a sigh of relief when we were given clearance to sail.

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The LCT Poseidon 26 of might have been the first to sail after the lull of sailings from Allen but she takes 2 hours for the 11-nautical mile route since her cruising speed is only 5-6 knots. She is a new ROPAX Cargo LCT and although her accommodations are all-Economy it is good, spacious and the seats are individualized with a row of industrial fans at the sides. Passengers are also allowed to visit the bridge which is a boon. She is sailing for NN+ATS or 2GO under the name SulitFerry.

We landed in Matnog at past mid-afternoon and the port was crawling with passengers and vehicles when normally such hour was already dead hour for the Matnog to Allen sailing. That is what usually results from voyage suspensions even though it is only for a few hours because everything piles up. I did not tarry at the port because I feared that I will be left  by local buses leaving Matnog if I did not hurry up. Being left by the last trip would probably mean staying the night in Matnog. But like Mark, I ended up not being able to tour Matnog port. I tried to make up for this by touring the market and terminal area of Matnog and trying to take shots of the port from there.

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What did I learn new in the San Bernardino Strait routes? Well, maybe the biggest development was the opening of the Jubasan port of Sta. Clara Shipping. That meant the break of Sta. Clara Shipping (and its sister company Penafrancia Shipping) and BALWHARTECO, a long partnership that benefited both greatly. Well, maybe some things really have to end but I feared the parting of ways weakened both but only time can tell that.

With the break, BALWHARTECO which was crowded and very busy in the past suddenly had a slack and maybe that is the reason why they invited Montenegro Lines to concentrate all their ships there thereby emptying the Dapdap port of Philharbor. Meanwhile, Jubasan port is just serving Sta. Clara Shipping and Penafrancia Shipping. One advantage of that is they have full control and so everything is orderly.

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A Cargo RORO LCT

The second biggest development in the strait crossing might be the emergence of Cargo RORO LCTs that takes on only trucks. One or two of them sail depending on the season plus there is a ROPAX Cargo LCT, the LCT Poseidon 26. These are operated by NN+ATS or 2GO and the LCTs are chartered from Primary Trident Solutions. The ferry is being billed as SulitFerry. Though brand-new and nice, it is cheaper than the rest. The drawback is its cruising speed is slow. Their ticketing office hands, however, are nicer than the rest and are better trained. It showed.

With the fielding of the Cargo RORO LCT and the ROPAX Cargo LCT, the long queues of trucks which were legend in the past seemed to have disappeared. These trucks are actually the “non-priority” ones which means they are not priority because they has no prior arrangements with the shipping companies. Trucks were singled out because buses which have passengers and fixed schedules always had the higher priority and so these trucks get shunted out.

The LCTs of NN+ATS definitely took rolling cargo from the other companies. Some seem to overstate it but hard figures will show there are usually ten short-distance ferry-ROROs by Sta. Clara Shipping, Penafrancia Shipping, Montenegro Lines, 168 Shipping, Regina Shipping Lines in the strait plus the catamaran RORO of Archipelago Ferries. Two or three LCTs were added in the route so it was a significant increase but not by much.

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Dapdap port

Another notable development in the strait was the closing of the Dapdap port of Philharbor. It seems it was not able to weather the rearrangements brought about by the opening of Jubasan port. It is ironic that its sister company Archipelago Ferries is instead using the San Isidro Ferry Terminal (but maybe that is what their franchise demanded). Maybe if the Grand Star ROROs were not disposed off it might still be operating. However, the motor bancas to the island off it are still there.

Meanwhile, Matnog Ferry Terminal has added two ramps plus an expansion of the back-up area but one of its ramps is now just for the use of FastCat which need a specific mechanism wherein to attach their catamaran ROROs. With four ramps available (and I doubt if all are usable) plus a docking area without ramp (which is only good if the tide is not low), one would wonder how it can possibly cope with the twelve vessels or so operating in the strait especially in the hours that the buses and trucks are concentrated in Matnog.

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Reina Emperatriz and BALWHARTECO port by James Gabriel Verallo

Me, I always have questions and doubts about the ability of the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) regarding port planning and design. BALWHARTECO and Jubasan ports are clearly better than Matnog Ferry Terminal in its capacity to absorb ships. Imagine there are four ports on Samar side while there is only one in Sorsogon side. Maybe the town of Matnog should just develop their own port so capacity will be increased and they will have revenues at the same time.

San Bernardino Strait is one of the most important crossings in the country as it is the main connection between Luzon and the Visayas on the eastern side. It is used by a lot of buses and trucks plus private vehicles 24/7 and a lot of people move through it. In that way alone it is already fascinating to me.

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The Nathan Matthew and ship spotters of PSSS (by James Gabriel Verallo)

My Samar-Leyte Ship Spotting With Jun Marquez

(Sequel to “On The Way To Leyte To Meet Jun Marquez”)

https://psssonline.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/on-my-way-to-leyte-to-meet-jun-marquez/

After leaving the town of Pintuyan, Leyte and the hospitality of Mayor Rusty Estrella, me and Jun settled down for a ride which was actually touring. It was a thrill for me as we were only two and it would be a tete-a-tete between friends in a locale we both know. It will be an intersection of parts he knows well with the parts that I know well. Leyte and Samar in all my years of travel there feels to me like I know the place or at least the highways. The two islands were my connection to my birth place of Bicol and I came to appreciate her well in my nearly two decades of passing through her. Now, I have a front seat ride with a ride pace I can control and view things or places I was not able to see well inside a bus.

The first order of business was the ascent and descent through was is called “The Saddle”, a peak dividing Pintuyan and the next town of San Francisco which indeed looks like a horse saddle from the sea. This road is a mountain pass feared especially by the truckers. I told Jun it does not even begin to compare with the “Tatlong Eme” in Quezon. My analysis is with the disuse of that legendary mountain pass the drivers of today have no good idea how to handle their horses in challenging ascents and descents (when to think their mounts are overpowered now and has power steering). Moreover, I have observed they no longer know the rules of the roads in the mountain passes, i.e., the one going up will always have the right of way, trucks can use the other side of the lane in the hairpins and tight curves and the descending trucks should not stop on that side but on the other side as they will block the truck or trailer going up and horns should always be used as query and reply. Me and Jun began to connect. We were two oldtimers talking.

Next in the order was to look for the old, abandoned San Francisco port which even became a topic in our talk with Mayor Rusty Estrella and which he confirms still exists and to which he answered some of my questions. I was surprised to know the Go Thong ship then there was passenger-cargo. I thought she just carried copra during the heyday of copra and of course Lu Do & Lu Ym and Go Thong (the first was the biggest copra dealer then before Enrile, Cojuangco and company muscled their way in and the latter was the biggest carrier of copra). Yes, it was still there. The wharf was still intact but lonely and the surf was really strong.

I was also getting a kick seeing the buses of Panaon island (they have their own uniqueness) and soon the next order was the Panaon bridge (or is it Liloan bridge?), the short bridge connecting Panaon island and Leyte island as if it is just crossing a river. Approaching this I sensed there is a sense of hurry in Jun as we did not take the opportunity to pass by Liloan town and its port or visit Liloan Ferry Terminal. I thought there should have been enough time if we were just going straight to Baybay City (his hometown) via Mahaplag junction (it’s actually not a “crossing” but most wrongly call it as such). In the past I always enjoyed the ride through the mountains to Mahaplag and passing by Agas-agas where water flowed naturally (and wrecks the road). Now a bridge has been built instead of repairing the road again and again (it was built according to Japanese design). There was a sign of hurry in Jun and we did not stop by the bridge that is now becoming a tourist site.

Then I learned he wants me to view the Typhoon “Yolanda” devastation (so that means turning right in Mahaplag junction instead of turning left) but leaving Pintuyan at 3pm means we didn’t have much time really as the drive is at least 3 hours (the late departure from Pintuyan also precluded a ride through the new Silago road and the sea landscapes of Cabalian Bay). One might want to speed up but that also defeats viewing the scenes and besides lack of familiarity with the road means more use of the brakes too. In the straights after Abuyog town I commented that it seems the devastation was worse in the news compared to the actuality (seems when media takes photos they take the worst scenes and people react correspondingly). Having been born and raised in Bicol, a typhoon area, I knew a thing or two about typhoon damage.

Nearing Palo, Leyte it was beginning to get dark. The “curfew” of my cam was fast approaching and it was beginning to get difficult to take bus shots, one of my targets when I travel. Then it began to unravel that Jun is actually targeting a place much farther than Tacloban, an idea I have no inkling before. Jun, they Leyteno wants to go to Allen, Northern Samar! How could I have anticipated that?

I do not know if I sounded dissuasive to Jun but I told him that Allen is 250 kilometers from Tacloban. He told he is used to driving long distances in Australia. I told him it would take 5-6 hours at the rate he was driving (and our mount, a Ford Ranger is no longer the fast type). His response was, “Is is still open in BALWHARTECO at 12 midnight?”. I told him at that hour the disco there will still be furiously blasting and that sleeping (we planned to take a room) might actually be the problem (haha!). Now when did one hear of a disco inside a port? Well, there’s one in Polambato, Bogo but I can’t think yet of any other example.

Jun knew before that I was going to Allen after Leyte to take ship pics and here he was offering a free ride to me! I was flabbergasted. How can I refuse that? But I knew there should be a deeper reason. It turned out that when he was still a student during Martial Law days he had an experience riding a Manila-Baybay bus. He wants to relive that especially he wasn’t able to really know Samar then, his home region. And of course things and places change after 25 years. And so “two birds in one stone”, he was going with me since he knows I know Samar, I won’t lost my way and I can answer his questions! How could I have anticipated that? A Dabawenyo and a Bicolano at the same time will be the tourist guide in Samar! And we will take shot of ships! And well, ship spotting is always more enjoyable if there is a companion.

Since he told me it is there is traffic inside Tacloban especially at that hour and anyway it is already getting dark and Tacloban was dark after dark (no electricity in the lamp posts), I suggested to Jun that we bypass Tacloban, we use the diversion road and just visit Tacloban on our return trip. Anyway, we were still full after that hearty meal in Mayor Estrella’s house and I said we can eat in the Jollibee in Catbalogan or Calbayog at about 9pm when it will still be open as looking for decent food in Allen could be a little problematic at midnight. I estimated our arrival in BALWHARTECO or Balicuatro port will be 12 midnight.

It was already nearly dark when we reached San Juanico bridge so no shots were possible at that picturesque bridge. I warned Jun that Samar is dark at night, there are no street lights and it will be seldom that we will encounter another vehicle and I also told him repairs or looking for a vulcanizing shop is a problem while running in the Samar night. But like me Jun is not the frightful type. Soon our speed dropped as there was mist and there was fog on the road (this is not unusual in Samar). Then our companion and pace-setter vehicle also dropped out and we were all alone. I told Jun the buses for Manila were already well ahead of us and there is no more local bus and there will just be two or three buses that will be leaving Tacloban that night and two will probably do a night lay-over in Calbayog and we will reach Allen without encountering any Manila bus yet. Yes, night runs in Samar are lonely and difficult (I will not say dangerous) once you run into mechanical trouble.

From San Juanico bridge the road is mostly straights and well-paved and we had no incidents. Then we came to Buray, the old junction to Eastern Samar. I told Jun once I spent a few dawn hours there waiting for a bus and I didn’t knew then there was a rumor about poisoners there and I was happily eating (seems it’s not true as I am still alive; didn’t also know before Mahaplag junction also has that “reputation” and I also buy there and usually). I also told Jun my funny experience one morning aboard a local jeep in Wright town (now known as Paranas). When they told me they will be picking up passengers I easily assented to that. After all, is there a jeep that does not pick up passengers? Then they entered Wright town (it is not on the highway) and by golly, it was “free tourism”. Seems they have their clientele by the pattern they blow their horn. Then we stopped by a house to pick up “Ma’am” Well, she has just finished bathing and so we waited for her and the driver turned off the engine. Then came out a beautiful, young teacher and the conductor asked me if she can seat with me at the front (at the back there were some fish). Yes, my drive with Jun evoked some memories. That was 18 years ago!

Then the fishponds of Jiabong came into view in the soft moonlight and I always take pleasure when I pass through that place. I always remember the fries from tahong that they sell. It seems there is no product like that anywhere in the Philippines. Their area is known for tahong and they sell it far and wide up to Iligan, Bukidnon and Davao in Mindanao (yep, I came to know the trader and well, that is intermodal talk again). I am also attracted by the estuaries and navigable rivers not only in Samar but anywhere else (my eyes are actually easily attracted by waters and what navigates there).

Soon from the a cliff, the lights and city of Catbalogan appeared. The outlines of the bay were also apparent and it is actually a majestic view at night (well, even in the day). We then began the narrow descent to Catbalogan. It was a respite after a little over two hours of running in the dark highway of Samar. We were soon on the narrow roads of Catbalogan and we decided to find Jollibee Catbalogan. The city proper is a little of a maze and we had a little bit of hard time finding the fast-food restaurant. The people we asked didn’t seem to understand that we non-locals don’t have an idea of what they take to be commonly-understood references . It was not helped that the streets of Catbalogan are narrow and it was mostly dark as most enterprises have already closed. Anyway, we found Jollibee Catbalogan and we took our dinner.

We then proceeded on our way after our meal and we passed the new Catbalogan bridge. The road after Catbalogan is narrow with houses occupying what should have been the shoulders of the road. Then the roads became more challenging. What I mean is it is no longer as straight but it does not really climb. Anyway, I assured Jun we will veer off the wrong road as I know it very well (that is always the fear of a driver on a night drive in an unfamiliar road). I was trying to feel if Jun was already tired but he was keeping pace and since there is no traffic there was a big leeway for mistakes, if any. Actually I was the one more tired because except for the three hours we spent at Mayor Estrella’s house I had no rest since my trip started from Davao and it was already my second night on the road (and my bus ride from Davao was tiring as it was an ordinary bus).

We passed Calbayog City, the only other mecca of light on our trip (the towns of Samar are all small). It was bigger than Catbalogan and more lighted. After passing the city, I told Jun the dark won’t come for several kilometers as we will still pass through the municipal districts absorbed into Calbayog so it will meet the criteria of the late 1940’s. Then we passed the junction of the road leading to Lope de Vega and Catarman which was the old Samar road when the direct road to Allen does not yet exist. The road then began to have more curves and climbs and unfortunately some portions of the road were cracked and this ran for kilometers and so our mount have to “dance” trying to evade this. It would have been easier if it was light. After nearly two hours of dark and lonely driving we were already in Allen and we passed by Dapdap port before we turned round the town to go to Balicuatro port.

At 12:30am we entered the gates of BALWHARTECO (Balicuatro Wharfage and Terminal Corp.), the biggest and most progressive port in Allen. Allen is the Visayas connection to Luzon and its counterpart port there is Matnog. The guards thought we will board the RORO but we told them we are just touring. We also told them we are just looking to sleep in the lodging house of BALWHARTECO and in the morning we will take ship pics. BALWHARTECO is a private port, they have never heard of ISPS (International System of Port Security) there, the port is geared for hospitality and service and so one will never hear of the word “Bawal” (which means “It’s prohibited”) there whereas in government ports whose first guiding motto is “Be ‘praning’” one’s ears will be saturated by that word. In Balicuatro you can roam the port for all you want and take pictures and nobody will mind you.

After finding a good parking area (that means a slot away from the trucks to avoid damage) we went to the hotel or more properly the lodge. The hotel was a little full and there were no more airconditioned rooms. We also had another request which seemed a little odd to the front desk – we wanted the room to be farthest from the disco. It was a good decision as I found out in the next morning the disco stopped at 4am. We soon feel asleep. We were tired especially me.

I woke up at 6am and headed straight to the wharf. But the 6am ferry was no longer there. I was told it got full early. Soon Jun was around and I tried calling the Captain of the Don Benito Ambrosio II as I had a PSSS shirt for him. We were soon able to board the ship. In Balicuatro if one has the time and energy he can board all the ships that dock. There is really no hint of suspiciousness and I like that because that was the situation in the old past when they were even happy you are taking interest in their ship (nowadays if you take interest in a ship you are a potential terrorist). In Manila, Cebu or Davao, if you enter the port they will think you will take out of the port a container van all by your bare hands.

We talked to the Captain who was apologetic he was not able to answer immediately because he had the flu. We took some time to talk to the Captain of the Don Benito Ambrosio II and waited for the arrival of Star Ferry III. Then we had to disembark because the ferry was already leaving. And there went away my chance because of a conflict. In my plan, with my connections developed with Sta. Clara Shipping and sister company Penafrancia Shipping I planned to joyride their ships (and pay if needed) and take as much ship photos as I can and elicit as much data and history (with my base the BALWHARTECO hotel). Depending on my health I planned to go to Masbate and Cebu via Bulan or if my body was not strong enough then I will rest first in Naga.

Even before boarding Don Benito Ambrosio II, I was already able to locate and talk to the Allen LGU man who tracks the vehicles coming out of the ROROs for the purpose of their taxation. For the first time I had somebody who can tell me where located was the first Allen ports (that are no longer existing now) and he knew all the old ships from Cardinal Ferry I and the old Matnog-Allen motor boats (since those are things that happened in the 1970’s, it is hard now to find a first-hand, knowledgeable source). If I were able to stay, I would have squeezed him for all his knowledge.

But then Jun’s main reason for his vacation was to attend the 80th birthday of his father and he wants me to attend it! He in fact has already promised I will be present. And that birthday was that day we were in Allen. He promised we will be there that dinner. I immediately knew it was tough as were some 370 kilometers from Baybay City and we still have to do ship spotting along the way. We agreed a Balicuatro departure of 9am (later I realized we should have left earlier). My Allen-Matnog joy trips were gone. I just promised myself I will cover it on my Manila trip the same month (however, this no longer happened as along the way I developed a medical condition).

We took some time to prowl Balicuatro port, its eateries, the stalls and merchandise offered. I was actually looking for pilinut candies and not the dried fish and dried pusit (these are the common pasalubong items hawked in Balicuatro). Of course we did not forget to take bus photos. There at least Jun got a good idea what is the kind of movements in a short-distance RORO port where most of the load are trucks, buses and bus passengers (this was certainly different from his experience in the western Leyte ports). He then had an idea how many buses and bus passengers passes through there and I pointed out to him how much the Allen municipal LGU earns daily (and yet there is no infrastructure or development to show for it). The illegal exactions of the vehicles had actually long been deemed by the Supreme Court as illegal but of course illegal practices are very hard to stop in the Philippines because of the weak rule of law and even judges and lawyers will not stand up to what is patently illegal (of course, they all know that permanent checkpoints have long been declared illegal by the Supreme Court and yet they will not raise even a whimper).

We then took leave of BALWHARTECO after a late breakfast. Now came the tough part – how to ship spot along the way, visit the Tacloban devastation wrought by Typhoon “Yolanda” and still be able to reach Baybay at dinner time. But we were not the ones to worry about such conflict. Sometimes the Pinoy bahala na attitude comes in good stead too. What was more important was to maximize the situation, forget the pressure, take pleasure in what was there before you and enjoy what is a trip that might not be duplicated again.

From BALWHARTECO we first visited the Dapdap port of Philharbor Ports and Ferries Services. This is the other private port of Allen but less stronger in patronage than BALWHARTECO although most vehicles first reach it in Allen. The reason is it has less ferries and so departures are fewer and that might mean a longer waiting time for the vehicles. Philharbor is the sister company of Archipelago Ferries which is synonymous to the Maharlika ferries whose reputation is much less than stellar. The Grand Star RORO 3, a ship they have acquired to replace broken Maharlika Uno had just left and all we can take were long-distance shots (now if only we left BALWHARTECO earlier!). But the express jeeps that meet the passengers that disembarked from Matnog (they call that “door-to-door” because those will really deliver you by your gate; of course the fare is higher but what convenience especially if you have lots of pasalubong – rides are difficult in Samar because public utility vehicles are few and these jeeps specialize in the barrio route) were still there as well as the motor bancas for the island-municipalities off the western coast of Northern Samar (specifically Dalupiri, Capul [which speaks a Tausug language, the Inabaknon] and the Naranjo group of islands).

We next stopped at the private port of Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. that was then undergoing construction (it is operational now). We can’t enter as the gates were locked and there was a crude notice, “Closed by LGU”. Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. and its sister company Penafrancia Shipping Corp. were the biggest clients of BALWHARTECO and if they leave a lot of things will change and so the Mayor of Allen who owns that wanted it stopped by using the powers of his office (not issuing a Mayor’s permit). Talk about a self-serving action! I told Jun Sta. Clara Shipping will win as they are not lightweights and they have won before a maritime suit big time and the resistance by the Mayor can easily be challenged in the court by a plea for a mandamus order (Philippine jurisprudence is very clear on that).

The island of Samar, Southern Leyte and Agusan del Sur are among the places I noticed that sudden, heavy downpours will happen even in the peak of summer. It was raining cats and dogs when we reached San Isidro Ferry Terminal and we had difficulty getting out the car. This port is a government-owned and is the official connection to Matnog but lost since it is farther. They were surprised there were visitors since their port no longer has ROROs docking. But we were even in luck as there was a beer carrier from San Miguel Brewery in Mandaue, Cebu and so it was not so desolate. We were entertained at the office and we were surprised to learn that the Philippine Ports Authority office in San Isidro Ferry Terminal controls all the ports in that area of Samar. So that was one reason they still have not closed. (Note: The FastCats of Archipelago Ferries are now using San Isidro Ferry Terminal now.). This port has an islet just off it which acts as a protection for the port against big waves.

Driving south we spotted a port I did not notice before from the bus. It was a private port with copra ships. But all we can do is to take long-distance shots from two vantage points but then we can’t stay any longer as the rains pelted us again and we have to run to the car as there is no other shelter (it was a road cliff on our left and a sea cliff on our right and there are no houses). But the rain had a cooling effect, it made vegetation greener and fresher and it felt fine on a summer day. However, it was a bane in my taking photos of the buses. It should have been heaven for a bus spotter as I had a front seat and it was peak time of buses leaving Samar for Manila but so many of my shots were of poor quality because the windshield has drops of rains and smudges.

We entered the town of San Isidro in the hope we can get a better shot of the port we saw and maybe ask around around to flesh more data. But there were no openings as it is all barred by GI sheets. Jun reminded me to hurry as we were still far from Baybay. But I least we saw the municipal hall and poblacion of San Isidro. This was not visible from the buses as they don’t enter the town proper. That is actually the weakness of bus touring. There are so many poblacions that the bus don’t enter and so views and insights are lost and one can’t judge how big is the town or what is the activity. In Pintuyan, I commented to Mayor Estrella that I thought his town was very small. It turned out his town center is not by the main road….

[There will be a continuation in a future article.]