The Convergence, Parallels, Rivalry and Divergence of Sweet Lines and William Lines

For introduction, Sweet Lines is a shipping company that started in Tagbilaran, Bohol while William Lines is a shipping company started in Cebu City after the war while having earlier origins in Misamis Occidental before the war. And like many shipping lines whose founders are of Chinese extraction, the founders of both Sweet Lines and William Lines were first into copra trading before branching into shipping. And long after the two became national shipping lines Bol-anons and people of Misamisnons still have a close identification and affinity to the two shipping companies and in fact were the still the prides of their provinces.

1950 William Lines

1950 William Lines ad. Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

William Lines became a national liner company in 1945 just right after the end of the war and almost exactly 20 years before Sweet Lines which was just a Visayas-Mindanao shipping company after the war whose main base is Bohol. The company just became a national liner company when it was able to buy half of the ships and routes of General Shipping Corporation when that company decided to quit the inter-island routes in 1965 after a boardroom squabble among the partner families owning it. And so William Lines had quite a head start over Sweet Lines. Now, readers might be puzzled now where is the convergence.

People who are already old enough now might think the convergence of the two shipping companies, a rivalry in fact, started when Sweet Lines fielded the luxury liner Sweet Faith in the Manila-Cebu route in 1970. That ship raised a new bar in liner shipping then plus it started a new paradigm in Cebu, that of the fast cruiser liner which is more dedicated to passengers and their comfort than cargo and has the highest level of passenger accommodations and amenities. It was really hard to match the Sweet Faith then for she was really a luxury liner even when she was still in Europe. That fast cruiser liner was not just some converted passenger-cargo or cargo-passenger ship which was the origins of practically of all the liners of the postwar period until then.

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Credits to Manila Times and Gorio Belen

Actually, the rivalry of Sweet Lines and William Lines started from convergence. William Lines, in their first 20 years of existence, was basically concentrating on the Southern Mindanao routes but of course its ships which were all ex-”FS” ships then called on Cebu and Tagbilaran first before heading south. Aside from Southern Mindanao, the only other area where William Lines concentrated was the Iligan Bay routes, specifically Iligan and Ozamis, near where the founder and the business of William Lines originated. But in 1966, William Lines started its acquisition of cargo-passenger ships from Europe for conversion here like what Go Thong & Company earlier did and what Sweet Lines will soon follow into. It was actually an expansion as they were not disposing of their old ex-”FS” ships and naturally an expansion of the fleet will mean seeking of new routes or concentration. 

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

Sweet Lines, meanwhile, had an initial concentration of routes in the Eastern Visayas as a liner company which was dictated by the purchase of half of the fleet of General Shipping Corporation which consisted of five liners which were all ex-”FS” ships except for the new local-built General Roxas plus the Sea Belle of Royal Lines which was going out of business. But Sweet Lines immediately expanded and was also plying already the Cebu and Tagbilaran routes from Manila, naturally, because their main base was Tagbilaran. Then they also entered the Iligan Bay routes in 1967 and it was even using the good Sweet Rose (the former General Roxas) there which was a heavy challenge to all the shipping companies serving there that were just using ex-”FS” ships there previously. Of course, not to be outdone William Lines later brought there their brand-new Misamis Occidental, their flagship then, in 1970. If William Lines had two frequencies a week to the two ports of Iligan Bay in 1967, then that was the frequency of Sweet Lines too. And if William Lines had twice a week frequency to Cebu and Tagbilaran, then that was also the frequency of the expanding Sweet Lines. Their only difference in 1967 was William Lines had routes to Southern Mindanao while Sweet Lines had none there but the latter had routes to the strong shipping region then of Eastern Visayas while William Lines had no route then there.

Another area of confrontation of the two shipping companies was the Visayas-Mindanao regional routes. Sweet Lines was long a power then there especially since that was their place of origin. They then relegated there most of the ex-”FS” ships like the ones they acquired from General Shipping and thus in the late 1960’s they had the best ships sailing there. Meanwhile, William Lines which was also a player there also then used some of their ex-”FS” ships which were formerly in the liner routes (William Lines had a few ex-”FS” ships to spare since they bought five of those from other local shipping companies and they already were receiving former cargo-passenger ships from Europe starting in 1966). So by this time Sweet Lines and William Lines were not only competing in Cebu and Tagbilaran and in Iligan Bay but also in the Visayas-Mindanao regional routes.

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Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen 

In the late 1960’s the government provided a loan window for the purchase of brand-new liners and among the countries that provided the funds for that was what was known as West Germany then (this was before the German reunification). From that window, the new liner company Sweet Lines ordered the Sweet Grace from Weser Seebeck of Bremerhaven, West Germany in 1968. William Lines followed suit by ordering a brand-new liner not from West Germany but from Japan which turned out to be the Misamis Occidental and this seemed to be taking the path of the expansion of Negros Navigation Company which was ordering brand-new liners from Japan shipbuilders. 

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Credits to Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen

Imagine for William Lines fielding the brand-new Misamis Occidental in Cebu in 1970 only to be upset by the more luxurious and much faster Sweet Faith in the same year. And that was aside from the also-good Sweet Grace and Sweet Rose also calling in Cebu. Maybe that was the reason, that of not being too outgunned, that William Lines immediately ordered a new ship from Japan, a sister ship of the Don Juan, the flagship of Negros Navigation Company but with a more powerful engine so she can top or at least match the speed of the Sweet Faith and that turned out later to be the legendary liner Cebu City. From its fielding in 1972, the battle of Cebu City and Sweet Faith was the stuff of legends (was using blocks of ice to cool down the engine room of Sweet Faith at full trot a stuff of legend?)

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

As background to that, in 1970 with only the brand-new liner Misamis Occidental William Lines had to fend off Sweet Faith, Sweet Rose, also the first Sweet Sail which was a former liner of Southern Lines that was not an ex-”FS” ship but much faster and at times also the brand-new liner Sweet Grace . William Lines had a few converted cargo-passenger ships from Europe calling in Cebu already on the way to Southern Mindanao then but Sweet Lines had the same number of that also. If William Lines found aggressiveness in ship purchases from the mid-1960’s, Sweet Lines turned out to be more aggressive that in a short period of less than a decade it was already in the coattails of William Lines over-all and even beating it to Cebu, the backyard of William Lines. That was how aggressive was Sweet Lines in their initial ascent as a national liner company. And would anyone believe that in 1970 Sweet Lines was no longer using any ex-”FS” ship in its national liner routes, the first national liner company to do so (when other competitors were still using that type well in to the 1980’s)? So their ad their they were modern seems it was not a made-up stuff only.

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A former cargo-passenger ship from Europe using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao route. Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

But that was not even the end of the expansion of Sweet Lines which the company penetrated the Southern Mindanao, the bread and butter of William Lines (note: Compania Maritima, Gothong & Co. and Philippine Steam Navigation Co. were stronger there having more ships) using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao, a route that William Lines do not serve. It is actually a shortcut, as pointed out by Sweet Lines but there are not many intermediate ports that can be served there to increase the volume of the cargo and the passengers (and so Sweet Lines passed through more ports before heading to Surigao and Davao). Besides, the seas of the eastern seaboard are rough many months of the year and maybe that was the reason why Sweet Lines used their bigger former cargo-passenger ships from Europe rather than using their small ex-”FS” ships (in this period their competitors to Davao were still using that type).

And so, in 1972, William Lines entered the stronghold of Sweet Lines, which it dominated, the port of Tacloban which the company was not serving before. Was that to repay the compliments of Sweet Lines entering their Iligan Bay bastion and their ports of Cebu and Tagbilaran plus the foray of Sweet Lines in Davao? William Lines entered Tacloban alright but it was a tepid attempt at first by just using an ex-”FS” ship (maybe they just want to take away some cargo). Their main challenge in Tacloban will come three years later in 1975 with their fast cruiser liner Tacloban City, only the third of its type in William Lines after the liners Misamis Occidental and Cebu City and that maybe shows how itching was William Lines in returning the compliments. Or showing up Sweet Lines.

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Where were the other leading national liner companies in this battle of the two? Regarding Gothong & Company, I think their sights were more aimed at the leading shipping company Compania Maritima plus in filling the requirements of strategic partner Lu Do & Lu Ym which was scooping all the the copra that they can get. Actually, the Go Thong & Company and Compania Maritima both had overseas lines then. Meanwhile, the Philippine Steam Navigation Company (PSNC) and plus Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (revived as a separate entity in 1966 after the buy-out of the other half of General Shipping Corporation) and Cebu Bohol Ferry Company, a subsidiary of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which are operating as one is competing neither here or there as it seems they were just content on keeping what was theirs and that the interests of Everett Steamship, the American partner of Aboitiz in PSNC will be protected and later cornered when the Laurel-Langley Agreement lapses in 1974. Plus Aboitiz through the Cebu Shipyard & Engineering Works were raking it all in servicing the ships of the competition including the lengthening of the ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships of their competitors (plus of course their own). Their routes are so diverse and even quixotic that I cannot see their focal point. It is not Cebu for sure and whereas their rivals were already acquiring new ships they were moored in maintaining their so-many ex-”FS” ships (they had then the most in the country). Also in owning Cebu Shipyard & Engineering Works they were confident they can make these ships run forever as they had lots of spare parts in stock and maybe that was through their American connection (not only through Everett Steamship but the Aboitizes are also American citizens). Besides, in Everett Steamship they were also in overseas routes and having overseas routes plus domestic shipping was the hallmark of the first tier of shipping companies then aside from having more ships. In this first tier, the Philippine President Lines (PPL) was also in there but later they surrendered their domestic operations.

Meanwhile, the greatest thrust of Gothong & Company it seems was to serve the needs and interests of Lu Do & Lu Ym but it was a strategic partnership that brought Gothong a lot of dividends so much so that before their break-up in 1972 they might have already been ahead of Compania Maritima in the inter-island routes with all the small ships that they are sailing in the regional routes aside from the national routes. Gothong & Company as might not be realized by many is actually a major regional shipping company too and with a bigger area than that served by Sweet Lines and William Lines for they were operating a lot of small ferries whose primary role is to transport the copra of Lu Do & Lu Ym, the biggest copra and coconut oil concern then in the country and carrying passengers is just secondary. In the Visayas-Mindanao routes, the Top 3 were actually Go Thong & Company, Sweet Lines and William Lines, in that order maybe. From Cebu, Go Thong had small ships to as far as Tawi-tawi and the Moro Gulf plus the eastern seaboard of Mindanao and Samar. Sweet Lines, however was very strong in passenger department.

In the early 1970’s, many will be surprised if I will say that the fleets of William Lines and Sweet Lines were at near parity but the former had a slight pull. And that was really a mighty climb by Sweet Lines from just being a major regional shipping company, a result of their aggressiveness and ambition. Imagine nearly catching up William Lines, an established shipping company with loads of political connection (think of Ferdinand Marcos, a good friend of William Chiongbian, the founder) and topping the likes of whatever General Shipping Company, Southern Lines and Escano Lines have ever reached. Entering the late 1970’s, Sweet Lines (and William Lines) were already beginning to threaten the place of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (including the integrated Philippine Steam Navigation Corporation) which will drop off a lot subsequently after they stopped buying ships after 1974.

Where did the divergence of the two very comparable shipping companies began? It began from 1975 when William Lines started acquiring the next paradigm-changing type of ships, the surplus fast cruiser liners from Japan which Sweet Lines declined to match but which the rising successor-to-Gothong Sulpicio Lines did. At just the start of the 1980’s with the success from this type of ship William Lines and Sulpicio Lines were already jostling to replace the tottering Compania Maritima from its top perch. It seems Sweet Lines failed to realize the lesson that the former cargo-passenger ships from Europe and the brand-new Sweet Grace and the good Sweet Rose fueled their rise in the late 1960’s and that the acquired luxury liners Sweet Faith and Sweet Home continued their rise at the start of the 1970’s. And these former cargo-passenger ships from Europe also propelled Gothong & Company and William Lines in their ascent. Why did Sweet Lines stop acquiring good liners? Was there a financial reason behind their refusal to join the fast cruiser phenomenon? Well, they were not the only ones which did not join the fast cruiser liner bandwagon.

The biggest blunder of Sweet Lines was when they declared in 1978 that henceforth they will just acquire small RORO passenger ships. I do not know if they were imitating Sulpicio Lines which went for small ROROs first (but then that company had fast cruiser liners from Japan). That might have been good for their regional routes but not for the liner routes. And to think their luxury liners Sweet Faith and Sweet Home might already conk out anytime because of old age (yes, both were gone in two years). And so for a short period Sweet Lines have no good liners for Cebu, the time William Lines was fielding their Dona Virginia, the biggest and fastest liner when it was fielded and Sulpicio Lines was fielding the Philippine Princess. What a blasphemy and turn-around! In 1970, just ten years earlier, Sweet Lines was dominating William Lines in the Cebu route. That was a miscalculation from which Sweet Lines never seemed to recover. From fielding the best there, Sweet Lines suddenly had no horse. And so the next chapter of the luxury liner wars in the premier Manila-Cebu route was fought not by William Lines and Sweet Lines but by William Lines and the surging Sulpicio Lines. In just a decade’s time Sweet Lines forgot that it was modernity in ships and aggression in routes that brought them to where they were.

1980 Dona Virginia

Credits to Daily Express and Gorio Belen

When Sweet Lines acquired the Sweet RORO in 1982 to battle again in the Manila-Cebu route it was as if they imitated the strategy of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) to go direct into the RORO or ROPAX paradigm and bypass the fast cruiser liners altogether (but then where was CAGLI in the totem pole of liner companies even if they bypassed the fast cruiser liner stage?). But by then their former cargo-passenger ships from Europe were already failing and will very soon be gone. The net effect was the Sweet Lines liner total was regressing even though they acquired the Sweet RORO 2 in 1983 to pair the Sweet RORO. The reason for this is its former cargo-passenger ships from Europe were already in its last gasps and the small ROROs were never really suited for liner duty except for the direct routes to Tagbilaran and Tacloban. If studied it can be shown that when a liner company stops at some time to buy liners sufficient in numbers and size then they get left behind. This is also what happened to Compania Maritima, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Escano Lines, the reason the fell by the wayside in the 1980’s). And that is what happened to Sweet Lines just a little bit later and so its near-parity with Williams Lines which surged in the 1970’s and 1980’s was broken. And that completed their divergence.

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Credits to Philippine Daily Express and Gorio Belen

In the early 1990’s, Sweet Lines will completely fail and stop all shipping operations, in liners, regional shipping and cargo operations (through their Central Shipping Corporation) and sell their ships with some of the ships sadly being broken up (a few of their ships were also garnished by creditors). Meanwhile, William Lines was still trying then to catch up with Sulpicio Lines that had overtaken them through a big splash in big and fast ROPAXes in 1988.

Sweet Lines benefited in the middle of the 1960’s with the quitting of General Shipping and Royal Lines. Later, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines and Sweet Lines benefited with the retreat of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation in the late 1970’s. In the next decade, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines benefited from the collapse of Compania Maritima in the crisis years at the tailend of the Marcos dictatorship. Sweet Lines did not benefit from that because they were not poised to because of their grave error in 1978.

When Sweet Lines collapsed in the early 1990’s it seems among those which benefited was the revived Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which was helped in getting back to the liner business by Jebsens of Norway (think SuperFerry). Well, that’s just the way it is in competition. It is a rat race and one can never pause or stop competing as the others will simply swallow the weak.

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One of the Magic Elixirs of William Lines and Carlos A. Gothong & Co.

The term “magic elixir” refers to a potion that gives one powers and in modern usage it refers to a sort of magic that was the reason for an entity to rise. In this article I am not referring to something illegal but to one of the reasons for the rise of two of the most storied shipping companies of the Philippines where in their peak were contending for the bragging rights of being the biggest shipping company in the country.

Historically, the Chinese mestizo shipping companies were not as blessed as the Spanish mestizo shipping companies which antedated them in the business. The latter not only had a head start but they also possessed powerful political connections and that was very important then in getting loans from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) which dominated commercial banking then as there was almost no other commercial bank big enough in that time able to finance acquisition of ships. It was also crucial in getting ships from the National Development Corporation and earlier in getting surplus ex-”FS” ships from the Rehabilitation Finance Commission that was awarded as war compensation by the US Government.

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A 1950 ad of William Lines (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

Of the two companies, William Lines had an earlier start and it was also blessed by political connections – the founder of the company, William Chiongbian happened to be a powerful Congressman who in his run for the Senator missed by one just slot (and his brother was a Congressman too at the same time but in another province). Carlos A. Gothong & Co. had to start from the bottom as it began almost a decade later than William Lines in liner shipping. But later it was blessed by a good strategic relationship with Lu Do & Lu Ym, the biggest copra concern then when copra was skyrocketing to being the Number 1 cash commodity and export commodity of the country.

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The first liner of Gothong & Co. (Credits to Manila Bulletin and Gorio Belen)

In the national liner scene, after its restart right after the end of the Pacific War, the strongest after a generation were the shipping companies that had routes to Southern Mindanao. Left behind were the shipping companies that just concentrated in the Visayas routes like Southern Lines, General Shipping, Philippine President Lines/Philippine Pioneer Lines/Galaxy Lines and other smaller shipping companies to Eastern Visayas, Bicol and the near routes to Mindoro, northern Panay and Palawan. Actually, in my totem pole of national liner companies in 1972, the Top 5 — Compania Maritima, Gothong & Co., Aboitiz Shipping+PSNC, William Lines and Sweet Lines — all have routes to Southern Mindanao.

What made Southern Mindanao the “magic elixir” of William Lines and Gothong & Co. when the latter was not even a liner company in the latter half of the 1940’s and William Lines was behind many shipping companies that preceded them?

In business, there is nothing better barring the illegal than a customer base that simply keeps growing and growing. And that was what Mindanao then was to the shipping companies Southern Mindanao. Before the war the population of Southern Mindanao was small and was practically composed by natives. That was before the government encouraged and assisted the resettlement of people from other parts of the Philippines to resolve what was called then as the “population pressure” (rapidly growing population in an agricultural economy with not enough land anymore to be divided into the next generation and there were no contraceptives yet then and the average number of children was five).

Northern Mindanao after the war already had Visayan migrants as it was just near the Visayas and the Spaniards was able to establish a strong foothold there even in the 19th century. But Southern Mindanao almost had no transplanted population and it is this part of the Philippines that experienced the greatest population boom after the war with what was called by the Moro National Liberation Front as the “colonization” of Mindanao (well, even some politician used the word “colonization” before that became politically incorrect). Where before in the 1948 Census the transplanted population was just a minority in Mindanao, in the 1960 Census the natives suddenly realized they were already the new minority and in the 1970 Census they saw they were beginning to get marginalized (Sultans and Datus who were once Mayors were even beginning to lose the elections).

This population boom, the opening of land for cultivation and the consequent exploitation of the natural resources of Mindanao needed transport and it was not by air (and not by road definitely) but by ship. And by this all shipping companies that were plying the Southern Mindanao routes benefited a lot. Of course shipping companies serving Northern Mindanao also benefited but not to the same extent as the Southern Mindanao shipping companies. And anyway the shipping companies serving Southern Mindanao were the same shipping companies serving Northern Mindanao (with exception of Escano Lines which has also routes to Northern Mindanao but not Southern Mindanao) and so the benefit of those serving Southern Mindanao were double.

If we analyze the biggest shipping company then which was Compania Maritima, most of its ships were assigned to Southern Mindanao. That was also true for the liners of Gothong & Co. (this company has a lot of cargo-passenger ships then to gather the copra for Lu Do and Lu Ym) and William Lines (which assigned 3/4 of its ships in Southern Mindanao early and Gothong & Co. of to 80% in 1967).

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One will wonder how this small ex-“FS” ship sails all the way to Davao

Although William Lines started ahead of Gothong & Co., the latter vaulted ahead of the former in the 1960’s. I think the reason is William Lines relied too much and too long on the ex-”FS” ships and it was only in 1966 when they acquired other types. Meanwhile, Gothong & Co. acquired ships from Europe earlier and in greater numbers. That does not even include the Type “C1A” ships acquired by Gothong & Co. which were big ships and were really ocean-going plus a lot of small ships the likes of lengthened ex-”F” ships and a host of local-builds. In ports of call, Gothong & Co. simply had too many because of the need to gather the copra of Lu Do & Lu Ym which was exporting a lot (and which Gothong & Co. also carried).

For sure, Compania Maritima which was already the Number 1 right after the war also benefited from the growth of Mindanao. However, their subsequent collapse in 1984 at the height of the financial and economic crisis then besetting the country is of another matter. Sulpicio Lines, the biggest successor company of Gothong & Co. also benefited from Mindanao after their creation in 1972 so much so that later it became the biggest shipping company of the country in the 1980’s.

What happened then to the shipping companies started after the war that just concentrated on Visayan routes? Well, by the 1960’s Southern Lines and General Shipping were already gone from the local scene and a few year later Galaxy Lines, successor to Philippine President Lines, the local operation and Philippine Pioneer Lines was also gone. And the smaller shipping companies like Escano Lines, Bisaya Land Transport (this was also a shipping company) were just in the fringe and barely alive in the 1970’s like the shipping companies that just concentrated in Bicol, Samar and northern Panay. That was also the fate of the shipping companies that was concentrating in what is called MIMAROPA today. After the 1970’s practically only batels survived in the last area mentioned.

Meanwhile, Gothong & Co. threatened Compania Maritima for Number 1 before their break-up in 1972. Later with the downward spiral of Compania Maritima, Sulpicio Lines and William Lines battled for Number 1. And when Compania Maritima quit and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation also quit Mindanao, Sulpicio Lines (the biggest successor company of Gothong & Co.) and William Lines further benefited. Actually, no shipping company that did not serve Southern Mindanao ever became one the top shipping companies in the country (that was before a lot of liner companies were culled in the crisis of the 1980’s).

That was the importance of Southern Mindanao for the shipping companies of the country. William Lines and successor of Gothong & Co. Sulpicio Lines ended up the Top 2 in Philippine shipping. Know what? They were the only survivors of the Southern Mindanao routes after all the rest quit (of course, Aboitiz Shipping came back later and there were others in container shipping).

Now, there are no more liners to Southern Mindanao, funny. But, of course, that is another story. The magic elixir dried up?

The Ten Ships From Europe That Vaulted Go Thong To No.1 Before The Break-up in 1972

In the 1960’s, Carlos A. Go Thong & Co., as it was known then. was able to latch their sail to a new commodity crop that will soon rise as the Number 1 commodity crop in the Philippines. That commodity crop was copra and its downstream product coconut oil. In the world this was the decade when coconut oil will displace animal oil (lard) as the primary cooking oil. The Philippines will become the Number 2 producer of copra in the world and the Number 1 exporter. Lu Do and Lu Ym will become the biggest aggregator of copra in the Philippines in that decade and its partnership with Go Thong and its subsidiary for international routes Universal Shipping with bring the two to the highest of heights in the trade of this commodity crop.

Go Thong will have many small ships with small passenger capacities or even none plying distant and out-of the way ports to load copra all over the Visayas and Mindanao. In many ports where they load copra, Go Thong will usually have big bodegas just for copra. In Iligan City, it was big as a city block and right there near the port and part of the city proper. All these copra will go to Lu Do and Lu Ym in Cebu and a portion of it will be milled into coconut oil, both crude coconut oil and refined coconut oil (this is what we buy from the supermarket and stores). The coconut oil and copra (mainly the latter) will be loaded in Universal Shipping vessels to be shipped to Europe (mainly West Germany) and the Far East. Other tankers, both foreign and local will also load coconut oil in the Lu Do and Lu Ym jetty in Cebu that is now partially enclosed by the SRP road.

Along the way with this trading in Europe, Go Thong was able to meet a broker or agent that promised them ten used European cargo-passenger ships that can be used in Philippine waters. In the middle of the 1960’s there was already a need for new liners in the inter-island routes as the population has already increased, the economy has already grown since 1945 and Mindanao was undergoing fast colonization (hence there was a need for ships to load people and cargo). At this time there were no more available former “FS”, former “Y”, former “F”, former PT boats and minesweepers and former “C1-M-AV1” ships from the US. Japan has no great supply yet of surplus ships as they were still in need of them to fuel their economic boom which was called the “Japan miracle”, their process of rising from the ashes of World War II to a great economic power of the world. It was only Europe that can provide the liners we needed then in the mid-1960’s.

These ten passenger-cargo ships for Go Thong along with a few local acquisitions and one from Japan vaulted a shipping company that was relatively late in the liner scene (they became a liner company only in 1954 with the launching of the lengthened ex-”F” ship Dona Conchita) to Number 1 in the very early 1970’s. They overtook the erstwhile leader Compania Maritima which was already then steadily losing ships through maritime accidents in what seemed to be a death wish. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation was then in the process of taking over the Philippine Steam Navigation Company (PSNC), their partnership with Everett Steamship. It had as many ships approximately but most of those were ex-”FS” ships whose size and quality cannot match with the new ships of Go Thong from Europe. Some of those have airconditioning and refrigeration because they were once refrigerated passenger-cargo ships in Europe and those were generally faster. Aboitiz Shipping through Everett Steamship had three good ships ordered new from Japan in 1955, the Legazpi, Elcano and Cagayan de Oro but Go Thong had more ships with airconditioning especially since they were able to acquire the former Gov. B. Lopez from the defunct Southern Lines which became the first Dona Ana.

The ten passenger-cargo ships from Europe which were fueled by the copra trade were the following:

The Gothong which was acquired from Cie Cherifienne d’Armament in 1963 whose first name was Cap Gris Nez. Later she was known as the Dona Pamela. She was built by Solvesborgs Varvs & Reden in Solvesborgs, Sweden in 1950. She measured 88.8 meters by 12.4 meters with a Gross Register Tonnage of 2,347 tons and Net Register Tonnage of 1,272 tons after modification. Her Deadweight Tonnage was 2,317 tons. She was powered with a single Atlas engine which gave her a top speed of 14 knots when new. Take note the US war-surplus ships usually ran only at 11 knots. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up in 1972.

The first Don Sulpicio which was acquired from Rederi A/B Samba in 1964 whose original name was the Colombia. Later she was known as Dona Gloria. She was built by Ekensberg in Stockholm, Sweden in 1947. Her measurements were 85.9 meters by 11.6 meters by 10.0 meters. The ship’s Gross Register Tonnage was 1,759 tons with a Net Register Tonnage of 1,079 tons. The Deadweight Tonnage was 2,235 tons. She was powered by a single Atlas engine of 2,000 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 13 knots when still new. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up.

The Tayabas Bay which was acquired from Liberian Navigation Company SA in 1965 which was first known as the Tekla. Later she was known as the Don Arsenio. She was built by Helsingor Vaerft in Elsinore, Denmark in 1945. She measured 110.0 meters by 14.0 meters by 8.7 meters with a Gross Register Tonnage of 2,306 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 4,197 tons. She was powered by a single Helsingors Jernskib engine which gave her a top speed of 14.5 knots when new. This ship was first used in the international routes. She went to the fleet of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. after the break-up.

In 1966, two big sister ships came which were used in the international routes. These were war-surplus former US ships but acquired from European owners.

The Manila Bay, a sister ship of Subic Bay which acquired from from A/S J. Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi in 1966 was first known in Cape Pillar in the US Navy is a Type” C1-A” cargo used used for convoy duty during World War II. She was built by Pennsylvania Shipyard in Beaumont, Texas, USA. Her measurements were 125.7 meters by 8.3 meters and her Gross Register Tonnage was 5,158 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 6,440 tons. She was powered by a single Westinghouse engine of 4,000 horsepower which was good for 14 knots when new. This ship was bigger and faster than the Type “C1-M-AV1” ships of which the other local shipping companies have in their fleet then. She was broken up in 1973.

The Subic Bay, the sister ship of Manila Bay was acquired from O. Lorentzen in 1966. She was first known as the Cape St. George in the US Navy fleet and like Manila Bay she was built by Pennsylvania Shipyard in Beaumont, USA but in the year 1942. She had the same external measurements as Manila Bay but her Gross Register Tonnage was a little lower at 5,105 tons and but her Deadweight Tonnage was the same. She had the same powerplant and top speed as the Manila Bay. She was broken up in 1973.

The Dona Rita which was acquired from Cie de Nav Mixte in 1967 was first known as the Tafna. She was built by Lorient Arsenal in Lorient, France in 1949. She measured 95.3 meters by 14.0 meters and she had a Gross Register Tonnage of 2,063 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 2,147 tons. She had just a single engine but her top speed when new was 15 knots. She went to the fleet of Lorenzo Shipping Corporation after the break-up in 1972.

1967-6-8-go-thong-ns

The Dona Helene which was acquired from Cie Generale Transatlantique in 1968 was originally known as the ship Atlas. Later she was known as the Don Alberto. She was built in 1950 by the Chantiers et Ateliers de Provence in Port de Bouc, France. She measured 95.4 meters by 14.0 meters by 8.5 meters and her Gross Register Tonnage was 2,317 tons. Her Net Register Tonnage was 957 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 2,267 tons. She also had a single engine, a 3,000-horsepower Sulzer and her top speed when knew was 13 knots. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up.

In that same year 1968, two sister ships were acquired from Norddeutscher Lloyd.

The Don Lorenzo which was acquired from Norddeutscher Lloyd in 1968 and was first known as the Liebenstein and was a sister ship of Don Camilo. Later she was known as the Dona Julieta. She was built in 1951 by Bremer Vulkan in Vegesack, West Germany. Her measurements were 105.1 meters by 14.2 meters by 8.7 meters. The ship’s Gross Register Tonnage was 2,353 tons, her Net Register Tonnage was 1,275 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 3,175 tons. She carried 411 passengers. The Don Lorenzo was powered by a single Bremer Vulkan engine of 3,800 horsepower and she was fast at 16 knots top speed when new. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up.

The Don Camilo was also acquired from Norddeutscher Lloyd in 1968 and was first known as the Liechtenstein. She was the sister ship of Don Lorenzo which was also known as Dona Julieta. She was also built in 1951 by Bremer Vulkan in Vegesack, West Germany. She had the same external measurements as her sister ship. Likewise, their dimensional measurements – GRT, NRT and DWT were also the same. She had the same 3,800-horsepower Bremer Vulkan engine which was good for a fast 16 knots when new. This speed was the same as the luxury liners then running the inter-island water. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up.

The second Don Sulpicio was acquired from H/f Eimskipafelag Islands in 1969. She was first known as the Dettifoss and she was a refrigerated passenger-cargo ship and hence she had refrigeration and airconditioning and was a modified version of a luxury ship. She was in effect the flagship of the company from 1969 to 1975 when the third Don Sulpicio came and she became known as the Don Carlos Gothong. She was built in 1949 by Burmeister & Wein (yes, the B&W) in Copenhagen, Denmark. She measured 94.6 meters by 14.0 meters and her Gross Register Tonnage was 2,918 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 2,700 tons. She was powered by a single B&W engine and her top speed was fast at 16 knots when new. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up.

In 1972, one more ship arrived from Europe which became the Dona Angelina. She was the former Touggourt from Cie de Nav Mixter like the like the Dona Rita. She was also built by Provence in Port de Bouc in 1950. Her measurements were 91.4 meters by 14.0 meters and her Gross Register Tonnage was 2,696 with a Net Register Tonnage of 1,600. Her Deadweight Tonnage is 2,269. She had a Loire engine of 3,000 horsepower that gave her a design speed of 13.5 knots. Dona Angelina went to Sulpicio Lines after the break-up in 1972.

Now, i don’t know why the total is 11. Maybe Dona Angelina is not part of the ten-ship deal as she came three years later than that burst in 1963 to 1969. All were bigger and faster than ex-”FS” ships, even those lengthened ones and they were generally in the size of the former “C1-M-AV1” ships but faster. 

 In this period, Go Thong also acquired other ships from local sources. They took over the former Dona Aurora of the Maritime Company of the Philippines (the international line of Compania Maritima) in 1965 and she became the Sarangani Bay. She was used in the international routes like when she was under the Maritime Company of the Philippines.

In 1966, Go Thong acquired the Gov. B. Lopez from Southern Lines, the only luxury liner of their fleet and which has airconditioning and refrigeration. This became the first Dona Ana. This ship was a local-built by NASSCO in Mariveles, Bataan and she went to Lorenzo Shipping Corporation after the break-up.

Also in 1966, Go Thong acquired the Don Amando from Northern Lines. This was the former Tomokawa Maru from Japan built by Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation in Kobe, Japan. In the Go Thong fleet, she was first known as the Dona Hortencia before she became known as the Dona Paz (this is an earlier Dona Paz and not the infamous Dona Paz which was formerly the Himeyuri Maru) in the fleet of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc.

A grand total of 15 ship additions from 1963 to 1972 and actually 14 from 1963 to 1969, probably the fastest addition of liners in Philippine shipping history! Including minor ships in out-of-the-way routes, by 1972 Go Thong had already a fleet of more than 30 vessels including cargo ships with more than 20 of those being passenger-cargo ships. This was the biggest fleet then with more than the total of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and PSNC which only had over 20 vessels. Actually, even in 1970, the start of the new decade they already had the biggest fleet in the inter-island waters. Not included in the comparison was the bigger Philippine President Lines which was in ocean-going routes and its rise was fueled by something else.

In the split of 1972, 16 ships went to the new Sulpicio Lines Inc. Most of these were liners and it included 6 of those 10 ships (two, the Manila Bay and Subic Bay might have been retained by Universal Shipping until their break-up). Compania Maritima had a grand total of 19 ships in 1972.

Even with the split, Sulpicio Lines Inc. started with still one of the biggest fleet in the country at probably third rank in grand total. They did not start at the bottom (and will soon rise to Number 1 again).

That was the rise of Go Thong then which was real fast by any measure.

don-lorenzo

Photo Credits: Gorio Belen, Philippine Herald, Philippine Ship Spotters Society

How To Lose The Equivalent Of A Liner Fleet in Just Over A Decade: The Decline And Fall of Compania Maritima

For nearly a century since the tailend of the Spanish regime in the Philippines it was Compania Maritima that was the dominant passenger shipping company for most of that period although at times there were also shipping companies that will draw parity or even slightly exceed Compania Maritima. This company has Spanish origins and hence it had the advantage of European connections, a factor not enjoyed by other shipping companies and the plus of that can be felt in ship acquisitions and maybe even capitalization. It also did not hinder Compania Maritima that the owner Fernandez Brothers were not only heavyweight in business but also in politics even in the Commonwealth period and this continued until the early Republic years. As in one of them being a Senator of the Commonwealth and of the Republic. Those were the times when capital was tight and acquiring loans need inside and political connections.

Right after the Republic was born, Compania Maritima or Maritime Company was fast out of the gate and immediately built up a sizable fleet not only in sheer number but even in the size of ships. They were the first among local companies in tapping Europe as source of ships and unlike those sourced by Madrigal and Elizalde, theirs were not old, worn-down ships weathered by convoy duty during the war. There was only one time in the postwar years that a local shipping company was able to match them in sheer number. This was the Aboitiz Shipping Corporation that was the beneficiary of the expiration of the Laurel-Langley Agreement in 1974 when Everett Steamship has to give up their share in Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company. But that fleet of Aboitiz was loaded with small ex-”FS” ships that were already growing old. Compania Maritima had a significant number too of ex-”FS” ships but they were not dependent on that type while that formed the backbone of Aboitiz’s fleet.

However, out of twenty or so ships accumulated through the years with some used for a time in foreign routes, Compania Maritima began losing ships through hull losses at a rate of nearly one per year from 1967 to 1981 when before that they almost had no serious accidents. Of course, like the latter Sulpicio Lines, Compania Maritima “pushes” ships even in inclement weather. But the downturn was so stark I cannot begin to understand it was simply the result of “pushing” or bad luck or the growing age of their fleet. I don’t know if there was a death wish. The weakness of many old Spanish mestizo companies was for too long they simply relied on their initial headstart in capital accumulation which for many resulted from monopolies or warrants given by the Spanish regime. Later, they also had the inside track in Malacanang connections which can do wonder in many things. So when these two factors evaporated, their weaknesses was sadly exposed by the new challengers that grew without the support that the Spanish mestizo companies took for granted.

The middle of the 1960’s also saw a change of occupant in Malacanang who had his own fair boys (well, was there an occupant of that palace who had none?) and these did not include the Fernandezes (their stars were already on the wane then). Suddenly, an outsider was the insider and the former insiders are now the outsiders. That began the decline of the old business empires that were formed during the Commonwealth years or earlier and they were many. Suddenly, the Fernandez shipping companies found they cannot compete in favor with Philippine President Lines (PPL) especially in the international routes. Even the venerable and well-connected but not-in-power De la Rama Steamship was overtaken by Philippine President Lines in the international routes. The redoubtable Madrigals also began to lose steam in this period when they no longer had elective posts.

mv-mindanao

There was also a newcomer on the block that was riding the surge of the king of commodity crops which were copra and coconut oil. Abaca was far going down and those which latched into was also being pulled down like the Elizaldes and the Madrigals. Note these two were once great names in shipping. The Sorianos were lucky they were just in beer and beer carrier barges and the Zobels were lucky that their holdings in non-commercial talahib turned out to be golden real estate. That was also the good luck of the Aranetas and Ortigases. The Rufinos were also in shipping but their fortunes in it were not getting better and the Delgados which was in forwarding and shipping was also finding their hold being swept by the boy of the new man in Malacanang.

The newcomer is actually newcomers as they are a duo. One was the biggest in copra and coconut oil whose signage is still prominent today in SRP in Cebu. This was the Lu Do Lu Ym and their gatherer-carrier locally and their bringer to international markets was the fast-rising Carlos A. Go Thong & Company.

I do not know if the Fernandezes saw their eventual decline in shipping. However, it is not hard to draw visions from the decline of Madrigal, Elizalde, Rufino and Delgado, all very powerful names then and financiers of presidential campaigns one time or another. They have no powerful engine like a commodity crop. They have no hold in Malacanang like before. And there are powerful new challengers buoyed by the need to move goods that they racial kins were beginning to control. Later this change of guard came to be known as the eclipsing of the Castilaloys by the Chinoys or the rise of the taipans. Moreover, the Fernandezes saw their perch in forwarding wrested by a favored boy of Malacanang, the new landsman of the Makati Stock Exchange (now how significant is that?).

What I know is from 1970 Compania Maritima stopped acquiring ships and local shipping history has shown that such a non-move presages the change of the order or standing in shipping. Compania Maritima no longer purchased ships even though they were bleeding from a fast loss of ships. Most of these maritime losses came under a literal storm which means a typhoon.

Compania Maritima first lost a ship on January 16, 1967 when their MV Mindanao, an ex-”C1-M-AV1” ship was wrecked near Odiongan, Romblon on January 16, 1967. That was very remarkable because for twenty years preceding since they restarted operations in 1947, they never lost a ship no matter what typhoon passed the country. However, being beached and wrecked is a lot better than foundering in a storm because a lot of casualties are averted and the remains can either be refloated or broken up depending on the extent of damage. MV Mindanao was broken up the next year, in 1968. This passenger-cargo ship was first known as the MV Star Knot in Compania Maritima’s fleet, the same name she had while on the service of the US Navy in World War II.

mv-cebu

On the same year the first MV Mindanao (there was a later MV Mindanao) was lost, the MV Mindoro, a weak ex-”FS” ship foundered in a storm, the Typhoon “Welming” on November 4, 1967 off Sibuyan island. This ship was first known as the first MV Basilan in the fleet of Compania Maritima before she was renamed in 1952 when another ex-”FS” ship was acquired by the company that will bear that name. When the first MV Mindanao was lost, she was holding the quixotic route Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Surigao-Nasipit-Butuan which passes through the eastern seaboard of Leyte but not under the San Juanico bridge as that bridge was not yet existing at that time.

In 1969, another ex-”C1-M-AV1” ship of Compania Maritima was wrecked again in a storm, the super-typhoon “Eling” (900 hPa!) which was then blowing off northeastern Luzon. This was the MV Siquijor which was earlier known as MV Carrick Bend in their fleet and also when she was still in the US Navy. She was beached in Tag-olo Point on the tip of the longer peninsula enclosing Dapitan Bay and like the MV Mindoro her remains was broken up the next year.

On July 16, 1973, the passenger-cargo ship MV Mactan, the third ship to carry this name in the fleet of Compania Maritima foundered in a storm. She was lost in Tablas Strait on a Nasipit-Manila voyage when two typhoon were affecting our seas. This liner was the MV General del Pilar in the fleet of General Shipping Corporation that was bought brand-new in Japan. She was actually big also at 83 meters length and the only ship of Compania Maritima from Japan except for the taken-over ships from De la Rama Steamship which were the former MV Dona Alicia and MV Dona Aurora (these ships were seized by the National Development Corporation, an entity owned by the Philippine Government, as they are the true owners). The route of MV Mactan is the same as the lost first MV Mindanao which was Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Surigao-Nasipit-Butuan. She was the replacement ship on that route.

The bad streak of Compania Maritima did not end and on September 17, 1973, a liner of theirs from Europe, one of the best in the local waters in the early 1950’s was wrecked in the shores of Pangan-an island, part of the Olango island group of Cebu east of Mactan island. This is the MV Cebu, the biggest in the fleet of Compania Maritima which was only equaled when the brand-new MV Luzon came in 1959 and exceeded only in 1963 when the brand-new MV Visayas arrived from West Germany. Mind you, the MV Luzon and MV Visayas were flagships and so it is an exalted comparison. MV Cebu might be the biggest in their fleet in almost the whole of the 1950’s but it seems it was the MV Panay that they considered their flagship. MV Panay would later share the same fate as MV Cebu. MV Cebu was later broken up in 1974.

mv-panay-herald

In the same year, the sister ship of MV Panay, the MV Jolo will also be wrecked. Is there an eerie pattern now? It seems the ships of Compania Maritima suddenly had a great love for the beaches and not in a nice way. Wrecking does not result in great casualties, hence, there is less to settle on the passenger and it does not produce a great outcry from the public. MV Jolo was wrecked in Caballo island near Corregidor on Oct 11, 1973 when the winds of Typhoon “Miling” hit her. This happened just a month after their MV Cebu was lost.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/goriob1/5376509547/in/photolist-9c71Yt-6xtbRc-96nHhU-96jEtB-bvLTpQ-8F1zNg-6xQbBG-6x3kcV-8Q5zrv-6xKYX6-96nGDs-6xQa7m-6xQ23u-6xhxSh-87vYVv-eAke1J-87vUWg-dYd1NQ-87vPon-87z3Hm-eRVpaH-6x2ANi-96nFvd-eAh2zr-87vPnX-6x7uGs-6xxJeD-dYd17s-6xKR9n-6xxHVz-dXAAyZ-dYcZV9-6xxA1X-96nFQq-eS7RJ9-6xQaxw-6gdQyp-fQzz1P-6xL1bD-fQLVwd-5SB3S6-6xhPwq-7HoByY-5ZfFnk-5Zxnpy-6x2PUH-6xKsu8-6xQ5UC-6xKsuV-6x2ANT

In April 8, 1974, Compania Maritima would suffer the only maritime hull loss due to fire. This was the MV Romblon, an ex-”FS” ship but the incidental thing is she was also beached! It is really a good coincidence if a fire happens near an island. The route of the MV Romblon was Manila-Capiz-Iloilo-Pulupandan-Sangi-Estancia and the beaching happened in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. She was among the last liners calling in Pulupandan as silting of the waters of the port demanded that only shallow-draft vessels like the MV Romblon can only dock in the port (in a few years liners will stop calling in Pulupandan and Negros Occidental will become a sole property of Negros Navigation).

On March 23, 1977, it was the turn of the MV Panay to be lost by wrecking (again!). She was lost off Salauan Point the farthest spit of land of Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental near where the new Laguindingan airport stands now. There was no typhoon that time as it was summer. Did she go straight for the shallows or they left the nautical charts ashore?

In my study of maritime losses, I actually did not see a streak as long as what Compania Maritima had. And I was wondering what MARINA (it was already in existence then) was doing. If this was Sulpicio Lines and with Maria Elena Bautista at the helm, I think Compania Maritima will already be shuttered. And this is not the end yet.

On April of 1978, a summer typhoon visited the Philippines. This is the Typhoon “Atang”, a 150 kph typhoon that visited the central Philippines. A lengthened ex-”FS” ship of Compania Maritima was caught in that, the MV Leyte. She was wrecked in the southwestern portion of Sibuyan island trying to reach shelter. She was then on a Manila-Cebu voyage.

mv-guimaras

The beaching streak of Compania Maritima would not yet end and on July 6, 1979, the MV Guimaras, a 98-meter liner from Europe will again be wrecked near the boundary of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental on the southern side. There were two typhoons then in the northern part of the country and maybe the seas then in that place was strong as those two typhoons will suck the sea north.

And on June 23, 1980, another big liner (in those days a liner over 100 meters length is big) of theirs from Europe, the MV Dadiangas will again be lost through wrecking in Siargao island due to Typhoon “Huaning”. The MV Dadiangas was earlier known in the fleet of Compania Maritima as the MV Isla Verde and she was a Manila-Davao ship passing the eastern seaboard of Mindanao, the shortcut route to Davao. It seems changing names of ships from islands to cities did not help them.

Eleven liners lost through accidents in 13 years! Can anyone imagine that!? I am sure the ones commanding the ships of Compania Maritima are not some simple able-bodied seaman. How could they have lost that many and as continuously with most ending on the beaches and on the rocks?

To compare that was more than the fleet of Sweet Lines, Galaxy Lines, Escano Lines, Aboitiz Shipping Company+Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company (outside of Aboitiz’s holdings in Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company) during that time. In that period only the fleets of Gothong A. Gothong & Co., William Lines and Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company could be greater than those 11 ships lost by Compania Maritima but then maybe not in combined gross tonnage because the ships lost by Compania Maritima are generally big.

With those losses, Compania Maritima entered the years of financial crisis of the country in the 1980’s with a much weakened fleet and the loss of Number 1 position in local shipping especially since they did not acquire any more liners after 1970 when they acquired the second MV Mindanao. They also disposed of a few other ships along the way. But still when they began breaking up ships in 1982 and ceasing operations in 1983 they still had 7 ships left although some of these are just old ex-”FS” ships (three) that were barely running.

From a great shipping company and Numero 1, the Compania Maritima went out in a whimper. Kindly, I think they might have had a death wish and a desire for exit already. After closing shop, the Fernandez brothers packed their bags and headed back to Spain, their country of origin. They were dual citizens all throughout.

Photo Credits: Gorio Belen, Philippine Herald, Manila Chronicle, Times Journal

my-leyte

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.]