The Trip from Tacloban to Surigao del Sur [Part 2]

When the smaller group of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) members split and said goodbyes in Tacloban bus terminal, I was aware it was already December 13 and it was the PSSS’ 8th anniversary. I dunno if anyone mentioned it but I didn’t coz I do not want to spook anybody since many associate the 13th with bad luck and we were still all traveling. In our drive to Surigao del Sur, I never mentioned to Joe the anniversary because active members remember the PSSS was founded on December 13. Well, the luck of PSSS is still holding, fingers crossed.

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From Surigao City, me and Joe followed the road to going to Butuan. In our short drive in the city I think Joe already had an idea of the lay-out of it since we took the main road going in and another road going out. Along the way we saw some prominent landmarks like the St. Paul College, the Lipata junction, the bus terminal and the airport plus the shuttered Pacific Cement company. If I remember right, what Joe told me this was his first time in Mindanao and I felt pangs of remorse we were not able to invite our two companions we left in Tacloban for I know they haven’t been to this place yet too. But our host in Surigao del Sur knows only two are coming and Joe didn’t want to abuse the hospitality.

It was a serene drive from the city punctuated by some curves and by some sea views. No meaningful ports really in the area until we arrived in the junction to Surigao del Sur by the progressive barrio of Bad-as which belongs to Placer town. I was surprised there was already a Prince hypermarket there, a Cebu chain. In a barrio no less, when the towns there don’t even have one. I thought the mines might be giving prosperity in the area and the chain bet that junction will soon boom (well, it already looks like a small town to me).

https://www.google.com.ph/maps/@9.6329361,125.5663384,1631m/data=!3m1!1e3

From there it was a more serene drive. Fewer vehicles, fewer people. We were no longer in the main road, i.e. the Maharlika Highway or AH26 but the road is just as good with even less damage and bumps. We were some distance yet from the sea and small rice fields and low hills dominated the sight. We had a relaxed drive.

Soon, Joe rolled out his GPS map. We were now in an area where I was not familiar with the ports and roads so I can’t give him directions. I told him our first target is the Port of Placer that I have heard before which is named after the town that is still a part of Surigao del Norte (it always enters my mind that there is a port in Placer, Masbate and also in Placer in Surigao del Sur).

Not long after, the sea and then the town came into view. I have the impression of an old town but the progress we saw in Bad-as was not evident here. We made a tour of the town while looking for the protrusion in the GPS map that indicates a finger port. Soon we were running on a road by the sea that is also a docking wharf for the small fishing bancas. That road then led to the actual port which was walled with a gate.

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We paused, a natural reaction but when we entered slowly there was no challenge, just curious looks (maybe they were trying to figure who the big shots were entering the port). That’s the beauty of a port that is not ISPS. In an ISPS (International System of Port Security) port, the guards are generally hostile and visitors are not welcome (they only want people who have official business there).

The Port of Placer surprised me. Offshore there was a tanker (not the Pandacan-type, mind you) but in the port itself there were two Petron truck tankers transferring fuel to plastic drums aboard a motor boat and a big passenger-cargo motor banca (I thought this was illegal but, oh well, we have to be practical). We learned it is destined for a generating plant of an island. The fishing boats inside were bigger and mostly of the basnig type. There were also two motor boats one of which is discharging scrap metal to a truck and the other has drums for fuel also.

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Offshore were islands and islets. Not a surprise since looking at the map this portion of Surigao has many offshore islands. Fishing abounds here and it seems the Port of Placer is one of the recipients. There were fish trucks in the port along with fish brokers. Placer port, though out of the way did not disappoint me. The visit was worth it.

We next passed the small towns of Bacuag and Gigaquit. We had no target ports here. We next rolled into Claver town which was the last town of Surigao del Norte (and soon we understood how it came to be). It was more progressive and I half-expected it having heard of it in the past. The GPS indicated to us a finger port and so we came looking for it. It was small with just a motor boat which seems not to be too active. There was no open sight of the sea. Only mangroves. It was a disappointment. I only took long-distance shots because if we enter the only way out is by backing the car. Not good.

From sea level, the road began to climb and offshore at a long distance we can see LCTs and barges. I forced getting pics but the quality was not good as it was too far for my lens. It turned out I was over-eager. Later, we found out that the mining ports were still ahead of us and I already began to exhaust my supply of batteries (after visiting nine ports already it should have been no surprise). But i rued my over-eagerness.

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As we proceeded, we noticed more and more ships were coming into view and most of those were LCTs and barges with loads that look like brown earth. We can also already see the mining wharves which are mainly causeways built by rocks and earth just bulldozed into the sea (but the biggest in the area, that of Taganito Mining is a pile-type port and it docks bulkers and tankers). The seawater of the area already has a tinge of brown when it was supposed to be blue. We were coming into the mining pollution we have read and seen from the news.

Soon, it was obvious we were nearing a mining community. The mud in the road tells it and what we are meeting now in the road were mostly mining trucks and vehicles. There were also truck depots of the mines along the road and there were also heavy equipment. China brands were almost universally the makes of the rolling stock here, some of which I just seen for the first time in my life.

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Before descending to sea level, it was becoming obvious the mining community we supposed was not just composed of one company but of several distinct companies with it own compounds, gates and wharves. The community was several kilometers long and it already has the feel and flavor of an emerging town. I remembered our member ‘kensurcity’ mentioned to me in a shipspotting meet that Jollibee can open a store in Claver and he said it will thrive. Maybe, this place Taganito was what he was referring to. Well, mining boom towns have magic in terms of glittering metal.

At the center of this community is the legendary Taganito Mining Corporation of the sometimes-controversial Nickel Asia which hit jackpot with the rise of China’s metal needs. There are other mining companies in the area and all are just adjacent one another. One is Adnama Mining Resources and the PSSS is familiar with some of its LCTs that are normally caught by our cameras in Cebu waters.

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When i check the AIS sites, I often see MMSI vessels near Surigao that has Taganito port as the intended destination. It is not a government-owned port, by the way and there are actually many mining wharves in the area each hosting ships with many other ships anchored offshore. We saw about 20 ships in all in the Taganito area (it is actually several barrios) but one needs really long lenses to cover them all well.

Even in the descent to Taganito community (the mining companies are centered in the barrio of Taganito), one is already aware of the exposed rocks at the side of the road which really looked like ores. Slowly, one can also see the stripped mountains and the water run-offs that are brown in color. Ascending after Taganito, it was even more visible and the mining communities also come into view already along with the bays that hosts the wharves. Brown, stripped mountains up high, brown-colored water run-offs and a sea that is turning brown.

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There is no surprise in that because what is being done is plain strip mining (not open pit as there is no pit; the mining companies were just stripping the mountains) just several kilometers from the sea and there are no holding or containment pools. No wonder the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources is now threatening the closure of some of them. It was great shipspotting in that area, there are magnificent views but at the same time one would begin to understand the controversy surrounding the mining in that area.

Leaving the mining area, I began to understand why there was no proper road there before and why Surigao del Sur is cut then from Surigao del Norte then. The area is mainly rocks and it does not have good vegetation and so how much more agriculture? No agriculture, no people. No people, no roads. Then it turned out those rocks are valuable. And so the road connecting the two provinces was built (i was told it was mush before). It looks like a good mining road anyway because most of the vehicles that pass are connected to the mines.

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I exhausted my batteries after that place and me and Joe began to hasten because our target Cortes town is still a fair distance away and it was already past mid-afternoon. We just whizzed by the towns of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza. We vowed just to cover them and whatever ports are there on our way back to Leyte and Samar. Then, we finally reached the house of Joe’s shipmate at 5pm which we found to be in a progressive but woody barrio off the main road. Good decision to just whiz by the five towns (and anyway I don’t have batteries anymore). Otherwise, we would be searching a woody, unfamiliar and probably dark place after nightfall.

A seafood fete awaited us and all were fresh catch (we learned the fishermen themselves hawk it house-to-house there). Joe immediately posted a shot of the feast in Instagram with a hashtag of the place. A companion we left in Tacloban immediately noticed it (chismoso talaga ang social media). Maybe he was wondering how Joe, in an area he hasn’t ever run was able to cover a lot of distance in just such a short span of time with a ferry crossing to boot and almost no sleep. I didn’t know why James immediately suspected I was with Joe. Was I missing something;)?

Ah, anyway our luck held. And it seemed we did very fine on the day of the PSSS’ anniversary and Joe was able to prove he was a superb driver. Imagine that distance (350 land kilometers plus the Surigao Strait crossing) and pace (13 1/2 hours) with nine ports and one port complex (Taganito) covered including a meal stop. Who will believe that was possible? I bet James was thinking i was holding the wheel.

[Part 3 will be in the next installment.]

The Sunset of Tacloban Port

Tacloban City is the regional commercial center of Eastern Visayas and this has been so for about a century now. It has the advantage of a central location and a sheltered port and bay. Its reach weakens, however, in the western coast of Leyte which has its own sea connections to a greater trade and commercial center, the great city of Cebu which has been ascendant in the south of the Philippines since half a millennium ago. 

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http://image.slidesharecdn.com/easternvisayasfinal-150407210918-conversion-gate01/95/eastern-visayas-biliran-2-638.jpg?cb=1428459126

As a regional commercial center, it is but natural for Tacloban to have a great port with trade routes to many places. That has been the situation of Tacloban since before World War II and even before World War I. It also does not hurt that Tacloban is the capital of the province of Leyte. In fact, because of her superior strategic location, Tacloban even exceeded her mother town which is Palo which is still the seat of the church hierarchy.

Before World War II and after that, passenger-cargo ships from Manila will drop by first in Masbate, Catbalogan and Calbayog before hooking route and proceeding to Tacloban. Some of these ships will then still proceed to Surigao and Butuan or even Cagayan de Oro using the eastern seaboard of Leyte. Tacloban then was the fulcrum of these liner routes going to Eastern Visayas. That route was much stronger than the routes that drop by Ormoc and Maasin and perhaps Sogod and Cabalian before going to Surigao. The two routes were actually competing (like Ormoc and Tacloban are competing). If the route via Tacloban was stronger it is because Tacloban was the trade and commercial center of the region.

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At its peak, Tacloban port hosted some seven passenger-cargo ships from Manila per week from different liner companies. She also had daily regular calls from passenger-cargo ships emanating from Cebu. There were also some ships that originate from as far as Davao which dropped by Surigao first. Such was the importance of Tacloban port then which can still be seen in the size of Tacloban port and the bodegas surrounding it.

There were many liner companies that called over the years in Tacloban from Manila. Among them were Sulpicio Lines (and the earlier Carlos A. Gothong & Co.), Compania Maritima, General Shipping Company, Philippine Steam and Navigation Company, Philippine Pioneer Lines (and later the successor Galaxy Lines), Escano Lines, Sweet Lines, even the combined Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation. When it was still sailing local routes, even De la Rama Steamship served Tacloban. Among the minor liner companies, Royal Lines Inc., Veloso Brothers Ltd., N&S Lines, Philippine Sea Transport and Oriental Shipping Agency also served Tacloban. Not all of those served at the same time but that line-up of shipping companies will show how great was Tacloban port then.

1979 Dona Angelina

Gorio Belen research in the National Library

For many years there was even a luxury liner rivalry in Tacloban port. This was the battle which featured the Dona Angelina of Sulpicio Lines and the Sweet Rose of Sweet Lines which mainly happened in the 1970s. Sweet Rose was sailing to Tacloban from the late 1960s and was in fact the first luxury liner to that port. The two liners were the best ships then sailing to Tacloban port. The rest, of course, were mainly ex-”FS” ships which was the backbone of the national liner fleet then and there was no shame in that.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Tacloban port was doing well until the late 1970’s when a paradigm change pulled the rug from under their feet. This development was the fielding of a RORO by Cardinal Shipping, the Cardinal Ferry I that connected Sorsogon and Samar. With San Juanico bridge already connecting Samar and Leyte and the Maharlika Highway already completed, intermodal trucks and buses started rolling into Tacloban and Leyte. In fact, in just one year of operation the intermodal link was already a roaring success with many trucks and buses already running to Manila. Soon other ferries were connecting Sorsogon and Samar including the Maharlika I of the government.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

With this development the irreversible decline of Tacloban port began. It was a slide that never ever saw a reversal because what happened over the years was the buses and trucks rolling to Tacloban and Leyte just continued to multiply without abatement (and the ROROs in San Bernardino Strait also increased in number). Soon the passengers were already filling the intermodal buses and freight except the heaviest and the bulkiest was also slowly shifted to the trucks. Over the years the number of passenger ships to Tacloban slowly declined as a consequence.

In the late 1980’s, when the pressure of the intermodal was great there were still three national shipping lines with routes to Tacloban – Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines. In the early 1990’s. when Sweet Lines quit shipping only the top two shipping lines then where still sailing to Tacloban with the Tacloban Princess of Sulpicio Lines and the Masbate Uno of William Lines. Incidentally, the infamous Dona Paz which burned and sank after a collision with a tanker in December 1987 originated from Tacloban.

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Tacloban Princess by John Carlos Cabanillas

When the WG&A merger came in 1996 the company pulled out the Masbate I from the Tacloban route. The last liners ever to sail the Tacloban route were the Tacloban Princess and the Cebu Princess which alternated in the route. Both belonged to Sulpicio Lines. The liner route from Manila to Tacloban was finally severed when Sulpicio Lines got suspended from passenger service as a consequence of the sinking of the Princess of the Stars when both the Tacloban Princess and the Cebu Princess were sold.

The overnight ferry service from Cebu almost followed the same path and died at almost the same time. The last three shipping companies which had a route there were Roly Shipping, Maypalad Shipping and Cebu Ferries Corporation (which was the successor of CAGLI). But passengers slowly learned that the routes via Ormoc and Baybay were faster and cheaper and the connection was oh-so-easy as the bus terminals of the two cities were just outside the port gates of Ormoc and Baybay. The High Speed Crafts (HSCs) to Ormoc, mainly SuperCat and Oceanjet also made great strides and captured a large portion of the passenger market and it further denied passengers for Tacloban. With the HSCs and overnight ships from Cebu that leave Ormoc in the morning there was no longer any need for Tacloban passengers to wait until night.

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http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/Paralyzed-Philippine-Port-Resumes-Operations-2013-11-21

The last rope for Tacloban port passenger-cargo ships was cut when the new coastal highway from Basey, Samar to Guiuan, Eastern Samar was completed. With that the passenger ships connecting Tacloban and Guiuan had to go as the fast and ubiquitous commuter vans (called “V-hire” in the province) suddenly supplanted them. Trucks also began rolling and some of these were even coming from Cebu via the intermodal.

Now only a few cargo ships dock in Tacloban port. There is still one cargo shipping company based in Tacloban, the Lilygene Sea Shipping Transport Corp. Gothong Southern Shipping Lines meanwhile still has a regular container ship to Tacloban but there are complaints that the rates are high (the consequence of no competition). Whatever, there are still cargoes better carried by ships than by trucks. However, some of the container vans for Leyte are just offloaded now in Cebu and transferred through Cargo RORO LCTs going to several western Leyte ports.

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What might remain for a long time maybe in Tacloban port are the big motor bancas for Buad island in Western Samar which hosts the town of Daram and Bagatao island which hosts the town of Zumarraga. I am not sure of the long-term existence of the other motor bancas for the other Samar towns except for maybe Talalora as more and more they have buses that go to Tacloban and maybe soon the commuter vans will follow. Or maybe even the jeep. The lesson is with roads established the sea connection always have to go in the long term.

Tacloban port is improved now. Improving the port eases port operations but it will not make the ships come back contrary to what the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) and the government say. It is cargo and passengers that make the ships come to a port but if there are other and better transportation modes that are already available then cargo and passenger volumes drop and sometimes it becomes uneconomical for the ship to continue operating.

So I really wonder what is the point in developing a port in the nearby town of Babatngon as an alternative to Tacloban port. Have the Philippine Ports Authority ever asked who wants to use it? It is not surprising however as the PPA is the master of creating “ports to nowhere” (ports with practically no traffic) especially in the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who was so fond of those (for many “reasons”, of course).

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Ormoc Port by John Luzares

In the past two decades the PPA always touted Tacloban port. For maybe they are based there. There was a denial that actually Ormoc port was already the main gateway to Leyte and it is no longer Tacloban port. Recently however, there seems to be an acknowledgment of the real score — that Ormoc port has actually been the de facto gateway already. The government is now developing Ormoc port and it is good that the PPA vessel arrival and departure site already covers it.

Whatever and however they try, it cannot be denied that the sun is already setting in Tacloban port. It is no longer the same port it used to be in the past because of the intermodal assault changed things.

Like they say, things always change.

The Trucks and The Completion of the South Road Sank the Passenger-Cargo Ships to Bicol

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Shipping Guide of Philippine Herald of Dec. 10, 1938 from Gorio Belen

In the past there were passenger-cargo ships from Manila whose route were ports in the Bicol peninsula. It was numerous before the war because in that period the Bicol Line of the railways was not yet connected to the South Line (it was only connected in 1938 and was dynamited at the start of the Pacific War).

After the war there were again passenger-cargo ships sailing to Bicol mainland ports but not as numerous before the war (because the Bicol Line of the railways was again connected to the South Line and there were plenty of rolling stock left by the US Army). These ship usually called on many Bicol ports on its voyage with Larap port in Camarines Norte the farthest port (which means the ship rounds almost the entire Bicol peninsula). Madrigal Shipping, however, had a route to Bicol that go round northern Luzon(what a long route!).

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Among the other Bicol ports where ships from Manila called were J. Panganiban and Mercedes (in Camarines Norte), Tandoc (in Camarines Sur), Virac (in Catanduanes), Tabaco and Legazpi (both in Albay)and Bulan, Casiguran and Sorsogon (all in Sorsogon). Also among the Bicol ports where postwar Bicol ships called was Masbate. Before the war there were other Bicol ports served by passenger-cargo ships from Manila like Rio de Guinobatan, Aroroy, Pilar, Donsol, Gubat, Nato, Lagonoy, Paracale, etc.

Some of these passenger-cargo ships also called in northern Samar ports before pivoting and going to eastern Bicol ports. These ships were not big as many were just former “FS” and former “Y” ships. The others that were not were just of the same size. At the postwar peak of these Bicol routes the backbone of the local passenger inter-island fleet were just ex-”FS” ships anyway. Besides the cargo was not really that big because the ships were in competition with the railways which was faster than them.

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A former “FS” ship that once had a route to Bicol (from the research of Gorio Belen)

Among the shipping companies that served Bicol, initially the most prominent was Madrigal Shipping which were mainly using former “Y” ships. Philippine President Lines served Bicol when they started in 1960 but it did not last long. Among the minor shipping companies that had routes to Bicol were North Camarines Norte Lumber which later became NORCAMCO and NCL. Others that served Bicol were N&S Lines, Rodrigueza Shipping, South Sea Shipping, Mabuhay Shipping and Eastern Shipping Company (though not all at the same time).

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From Manila Times, 6/7/67; Gorio Belen research in the National Library

How come then that these Bicol ships survived against the faster trains which had four freight trains to Bicol daily at its peak? The reason is the train only goes up to Legazpi. All the ports in Bicol served by the passenger-cargo ships to Bicol except for Legazpi were not served by the trains. As for transfers, trucks were very few in that era. And pilferage and robbery were very rampant in the trains and in its stations.

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Trucks, in the first 30 years after the war were not a viable way to ship to Bicol. The South Road (the original name of the road going to Bicol) was not only bad. It was atrocious. Practically, only ALATCO then can complete that route then as they had many stations along the way where checks can be made and repairs performed as they have mechanics and parts in those stations. They also had tow trucks and their vehicles had regular runs and so breakdowns can be reported (most towns then do not have telephones yet; what they had were telegraphs).

Things however changed sometime in 1975 when the South Road was already nearly complete. Trucks (and buses) began to roll. And the new cemented highway extended up to Bulan. Suddenly, the speeds was faster and breakdowns became few. Where before ALATCO took two days for the Manila-Larap-Tabaco run, now the Manila-Bulan run took only a night of travel even though it passes via Camarines Norte.

These trucks can make direct deliveries to Camarines Norte, the Partido area of Camarines Sur, Tabaco and Tiwi (site of the geothermal plant) and Sorsogon, which formerly were not served by the railways. Moreover, because of the Mayon Volcano eruption of 1968 the railway service to Legazpi was also cut (the new train terminus was just Camalig).

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From go.bicol.com

In the late 1970’s the shipping lines to Bicol were already under very great pressure by the trucks (and also by the buses which also carry some cargo). I think what broke the camel’s back was the emergence of the express trucks in Bicol sometime in 1976. These trucks really run very fast because they carry the newspapers to Bicol. From the first editions of the newspapers that rolled out of the presses at 10pm the previous night, they were expected to be in Naga by daybreak (after offloading papers and cargo for Daet) and continue to Legazpi and arrive there before the start of office hours while making deliveries in the towns along the way. These trucks will barrel their way again to Manila the next night irregardless of the volume of cargo. Before the end of the decade, these express trucks were already ubiquitous in Bicol.

In 1979, Luzon and Visayas were finally connected intermodally between Matnog and Allen by Cardinal Shipping. Trucks and buses began to roll to Eastern Visayas and they can do the trip in no more than a day and they ran daily. The liner companies from Manila which had combined routes to Samar and Bicol suddenly saw the bottoms fell out of them because the trucks and buses were beating them badly in both areas. By 1980, the shipping lines serving Bicol were already on its death throes.

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

That was how the Bicol shipping lines lost to the trucks and buses. The completed of highway was now called as the Maharlika Highway. Incidentally, in the same period the railways also began to sink too due to the relentless onslaught of the buses and the trucks.

Yes, things always change. Some rise, some lose.

The Pioneering But Hard-Luck Cardinal Shipping

This article could be considered a tribute to Cardinal Shipping Corporation because among all shipping companies I consider them the true pioneers of island connections using short-distance ferry-ROROs (to distinguish it to the earlier LCTs). This is also an attempt to set the record straight because some government functionaries who have no knowledge in shipping repeat and repeat that the government-owned Maharlika ships first connected Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao through short-distance ferry-ROROs when that is simply not true and factually incorrect. Personally, I hate historical revisionism in any form and that is actually what these dumb government functionaries are actually doing and then some clueless young members of media take after what they say. If this is not checked, we will see a kind of Goebbels syndrome in shipping.

As they say, research and documentation are the most important things in making claims or in debunking claims and the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) was fortunate a co-founder, Gorio Belen, took time to research in the National Library and found the proofs needed to back up what we oldtimers knew that there were ferries that antedated the government-owned Maharlika ships and sometimes one good proof are newspaper advertisements and photos of their ship docked in Allen port. Well, maybe another good proof would come from some retired bus drivers that loaded their ships aboard Cardinal Ferry 1 and those were mainly Pantranco South bus drivers. I myself is a secondhand source because some of these drivers bought merchandise from us to be sold in Calbayog and Catarman. Of course, another good source will be the Allen and Matnog LGUs (local government units). They will know, definitely, especially some of their retired local politicians and local government employees. Add to that also some retired or still active porters.

Cardinal Shipping Corporation actually started in cargo shipping with the Cardinal V. This is a small cargo ship built in 1968 that was formerly the Ryusho Maru in Japan and that ship engaged in tramper shipping. In 1979, Cardinal Shipping branched out into RORO shipping when they brought out the Cardinal Ferry 1 to do a Matnog-Allen RORO route to the consternation of the wooden motor boats doing the route like the MB Samar and MB Sorsogon of Eugenia Tabinas (later of Bicolandia Shipping Lines). The ports they were using were not yet the modern Matnog Ferry Terminal but the old municipal port of Matnog and in Allen, they used the old BALWHARTECO wharf. Both are no longer existing. The two ports were just near the Matnog Ferry Terminal and the present port of BALWHARTECO.

Cardinal Ferry 1 was one of the many Tamataka Marus that came to the Philippines and one of the earliest. She was Tamataka Maru No. 21 and she was acquired from Shikoku Ferry of Japan. The other Tamataka Marus in the Philippines are the Reina Emperatriz (Tamataka Maru No. 71), Reina Genoveva (Tamataka Maru No. 75), Reina Hosanna (Tamataka Maru No.78), all of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. and Marina Ferries, Queen Helen of Arrel Traders (Tamataka Maru No. 31), Golden Arrow of Arrow Shipping (Tamataka Maru No. 51), Viva Penafrancia of Viva Shipping Lines (Tamataka Maru No. 52) and the Dona Isabel of SKT Shipping (Tamataka Maru No. 32).

Cardinal Ferry 1 was a RORO ship built by Sanuki Shipbuilding & Iron Works in Sanuki yard, Japan in 1964. She was just a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO at 39.2 meters by 9.1 meters with a gross register tonnage (GRT) of 355 tons. Cardinal Ferry 1 had a passenger capacity of 400 persons in sitting accommodations and she was powered by a single Niigata diesel engine that gave her a top speed of 10 knots when new. She possessed the ID IMO 7743118.

In 1980, Cardinal Shipping fielded the Cardinal Ferry 2 to sail the Surigao-Liloan-Maasin route. There was no Lipata Ferry Terminal then yet and they used what is known now as the Verano port now in Surigao City. In Liloan, they used the Liloan municipal port as there was no Liloan Ferry Terminal yet. Liloan, Surigao and Maasin were better ports than Allen and Matnog infra-wise as both hosted overnight ships to Cebu. With the fielding of Cardinal Ferry 2, for the first time ever Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were connected and a vehicle can roll from any part of Luzon to Mindanao and vice-versa. This was the fulfillment of the dreams of many including the late President Diosdado Macapagal in whose administration the JICA-backed Pan-Philippine Highway project (later renamed as Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway because Japan will partly fund the mega-project and war reparations to be paid by Japan will be used in it) first took shape. During Martial Law, this morphed into the Maharlika Highway. However, the government’s version of connection happened only in 1984 with the coming of Maharlika II and that was 4 years after Cardinal Shipping did it.

Cardinal Ferry 2 was the former Shikishima Maru No. 1 in Japan and she was built by Imabari Shipbuilding Company Ltd. in Imabari shipyard, Japan in 1960 (therefore she was older than Cardinal Ferry I) and she possessed the ID IMO 5322867. She was bigger than Cardinal Ferry 1 at 50.1 meters length by 7.8 meters breadth by 3.9 meters depth. The ship has 491 tons in Gross Register Tonnage (GRT), 302 tons in Net Register Tonnage (NRT) and 800 tons in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). This ferry was powered by a single Makita engine of 640 horsepower and the top speed was 9.5 knots.

The next year, in 1981, Cardinal Shipping laid out the Cardinal Ferry III which was the former Sanyomarugame Maru No.1 of Sanyo Kisen in Japan. She was fielded in the pioneering RORO route of San Jose de Buenavista, Antique to Puerto Princesa, Palawan! [I really wonder until now what sense this made. Maybe a Cebu-Bohol or a Cebu-Leyte connection would have more sense.] This ferry was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Company in Kure yard, Japan in 1965. Her dimensions are 44.5 meters length by 10.0 meters breadth by 2.9 meters depth. Her original Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) was 495 tons with a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 190 tons. The passenger capacity was 350 and she had twin Niigata engines of a total 1,700 horsepower. The ship’s top speed was 13.5 knots which is fast for a small RORO then. The ship’s ID is IMO 6607848.

In the same year of 1981, Cardinal Shipping acquired the former Taysan of Seaways Shipping Corporation which was an old cargo ship built way back in 1956 by Sanoyas Shipbuilding Corporation in Osaka yard, Japan. This became the Cardinal VI in the Cardinal Shipping fleet and like the Cardinal V she engaged in tramper shipping.

The last ferry and ship acquisition of Cardinal Shipping was the Cardinal Ferry Seven in 1982. She was the former Azuki Maru in Japan of Kansai Kyuko. This RORO ship was built in 1964 by Hashihama Zosen in Hashihama yard, Japan. She measured 41.7 meters length by 12.6 meters breadth by 3.6 meters depth. The original Gross Register Tonnage was 473 tons with a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 165 tons . Her passenger capacity was 650 persons (that is a little big!). The ship was powered by two Daihatsu engines of 1,100 horsepower and the top speed was 12.5 knots. The ship’s ID was IMO 6502191.

Although pioneering, Cardinal Shipping was not successful for long. Even before the  Maharlika I arrived in Matnog-San Isidro route in 1982 and the Maharlika II in Lipata-Liloan route in 1984, she was already under pressure. There were already other competitors that came in the two routes especially in Matnog-Allen route like the Northern Star and Laoang Bay of Newport Shipping (before this Newport Shipping has already been sailing a route from Manila to Samar). Eugenia Tabinas also got into ROROs when she was able to acquire the Eugenia from Esteban Lul of the Visayas. Later, she was able to acquire the Northern Star from Newport Shipping which became the Northern Samar after conversion in Cebu.

It was really hard to compete against the new Maharlika ships which did not need to show a profit as it was government-owned (that is how government always worked and the usual hackneyed reasoning is it is “public service”. However, there was no denying that the Maharlika ships were better as it was much newer. Cardinal Shipping also had ships that were not only old but built in the 1960’s when engines were still not that long-lasting as microfinishing was not yet in great use and metallurgical research was not yet that advanced. Their route to Palawan also did not make sense in that period. In San Bernardino Strait, they soon had a dogfight in their hands with many entrants. Not long after, the ships of Cardinal Shipping began losing to competition.

Cardinal Shipping did not completely go away however and it had a rebirth in the form of Cardinal Philippine Carrier which was based in Iloilo City. They were able to retain the former Cardinal Ferry 3 which was now known as Palawan Traders. Before this she was known as the Kanlaon Ferry, a name maybe given so she will stick in her revised route. They then added a pioneering ferry, a catamaran High Speed Craft, the Bacolod Express in 1989 to do the Bacolod-Iloilo route. This was very notable because before her only Manila had High Speed Crafts in the early 1970s. Some of those were even hydrofoils and they were used in a route to Corregidor which was being heavily promoted then as a tourist destination. 

The Bacolod Express was the former Quicksilver I and she was built by NQEA Australia in Cairns, Australia in 1986. She arrived in the country in 1989 and she was formerly known as the Princess of Boracay and in 1990, she became the Bacolod Express. This aluminum-hulled catamaran measured 29.0 meters length by 11.0 meters breadth by 3.2 meters depth and with a gross tonnage of 318 and a net tonnage of 105. She had a passenger capacity of 356 and she was powered by two MWM engines of 2,700 horsepower which gave the High Speed Craft a top speed of 27 knots. This ferry was one beautiful catamaran.

Bacolod Express was successful in her route for a few years. The first sign of trouble came when BREDCO, the incomplete reclamation area then but her port in Bacolod suddenly began refusing her docking. She cannot dock in Banago port because that was controlled then by Negros Navigation Company, a competitor of theirs which operated conventional ferries between Iloilo and Bacolod, the Don Vicente and the Princess of Panay. Definitely, Bacolod Express was taking traffic away from NENACO which had no equivalent at the start to Bacolod Express (they later fielded the St. Michael). Everybody knows NENACO’s board were powers magnificent then in Western Visayas and could make things happen (or not happen).

Not long after, Bacolod Express also began experiencing engine troubles (in less than 10 years of operational life?) thus unreliability plagued her. That was deadly when new competitors came into her route. With Bacolod Express no longer able to carry the flag, Cardinal Philippine Carrier soon quit the business. They sold the Palawan Traders to E.B. Aznar Shipping where she became the Melrivic Seven. Today this ship still sails the Tanon Strait crossing between Escalante and Tabuelan where she once sailed before. She is the only remnant left and living reminder that once there was Cardinal Shipping but many people do not know that. Maybe not even her crew.

That was the sad tale of Cardinal Shipping which was pioneering in very many ways but which lost in the end. I doubt if many still remember them.

cardinal-shipping

Photo Credits: Gorio Belen, Times Journal and Philippine Daily Express

The Original RORO Ferry Terminals

It has long been the dream of our country, the Philippines, to connect the main islands of Luzon, the Visayas group and Mindanao to unite the country physically. The only way to do this is through an intermodal system that will use both land and sea transport. This is because the sea crossings are simply too long for the bridges based on the technology of decades before. And, even if the technology is already available, the needed budget for such bridges might simply be too great for a poor country like the Philippines (only fools believe we are the “13th-largest” economy in the world).

The foundation for such Luzon-Visayas-Mindanao connection was actually the study and plan made in the early 1960’s during the administration of President Diosdado Macapagal for a “Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway”. Such grand project will depend on Japan reparations money, soft loans and technical assistance and that was why that project was retitled to such from “Pan-Philippine Highway”.

Aside from a concrete highway stretching from Aparri, Cagayan to Zamboanga City, it also had provisions for a Sorsogon-Samar connection through a ferry, a Samar-Leyte connection through a bridge (which later became the San Juanico bridge), a Leyte-Panaon island connection by a short bridge and a Panaon-Surigao connection through a ferry. That route was the one chosen because it will involve the least number and shortest ferry crossings plus it will mean the most regions that will benefit from a concrete highway. Included in the project was the purchase of two RORO ships for the sea connections and four RORO ferry terminals.

This project was actually not finished during the term of President Diosdado Macapagal. It was actually not even started during his term. The project was really grand, the highways to be paved were really long and a very large number of bridges have to be built. The project was started in 1967 and it was finished about 18 years later. Along the way, the new administration of President Ferdinand Marcos renamed the project into the “Maharlika Highway”. The ROROs in the two sea crossings were also named as Maharlika I and Maharlika II.

The four so-called RORO ferry terminals (they were not called as ports even though they really are) were located in Matnog (Sorsogon), San Isidro (Northern Samar), Liloan (Southern Leyte) and Lipata (Surigao City). For Luzon, the logical choice is really Matnog as it is the closest to the island of Samar. In Samar, it should have been logically located in Allen, Northern Samar. However, it was located instead in San Isidro of the same province because at that time the Calbayog-Allen road was not yet finished. The vehicles then still pass through the mountain town of Lope de Vega to Catarman.

In Panaon island, the logical location of the ferry terminal should have been in the southernmost town of San Ricardo. The problem again was the uncompleted road. The first plan was to put it in San Francisco town. However, the final decision was to locate it in Liloan. One reason forwarded was it was more sheltered which is true. That reason also factored in the choice of San Isidro as it has an islet off it. In Surigao, the ferry terminal was located in the barrio of Lipata. It is nearer to Panaon island than Surigao City poblacion.

Looking at the lines of the ferry terminals it is obvious that all were constructed from just one architectural plan. The only one that is a little different is the Liloan Ferry Terminal. All are modern-looking and even now, more than thirty year after they were constructed, they still do not look dated. It is obvious from the design that effort was made to control the heat from the sun. They were also all well-built and all sat low and maybe that was done to minimize damage from strong winds. Typhoons and earthquakes have come over the decades but all are still spic and span. They all seem to blend with the terrain, too.

The ferry terminals themselves are surrounded by access roads. The design was that the vehicles to be loaded have a separate access from the vehicles being unloaded. There is also back-up area for the vehicles to be loaded. Inside the terminals aside from the usual waiting areas, there are shops and a restaurant. That is aside from the office of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and booths for the shipping companies and the useless arrastre firm.

One difference of the ferry terminals from the ports of the past is the presence from the start of RORO ramps in the wharf. It signified that the ferry terminals were really meant for RORO operations right from the very start. Originally, there were only two RORO ramps per ferry terminal. This provision grew short when the number of RORO ships using the ferry terminal multiplied. So, alterations and expansions were done along the way in the quays of the ferry terminals.

When the sea ferry terminals were opened in 1982 in Matnog and in San Isidro with the arrival of the RORO Maharlika I, San Bernardino Strait, the sea separating the two was already connected by privately-owned ROROs for three years. However, they were using the shorter Matnog to Allen connection. Allen, in Northern Samar, had a port even in the past but a private operator developed their own port. Actually, San Isidro port is not well-placed for the vehicles headed just for Northern Samar as they need to backtrack.

Also, when the ferry terminals were opened in 1984 in Liloan and Lipata, Surigao Strait, the sea separating the two was already connected by privately-owned ROROs for five years already. The original connection here was between Surigao port and Liloan municipal port (plus Maasin port). Incidentally, in both connections it was Cardinal Shipping which was the pioneer using the ROROs Cardinal I and Cardinal II. This is to correct the wrong impression by many who thinks it was the government and the Maharlika ships which were the pioneers in this routes. This erroneous impression is the product of government propaganda. May I add also that even before the ROROs came these two straits were already connected by wooden motor boats (called the lancha locally) and big motor bancas.

Trucks, private cars and government vehicles made the first Luzon-Visayas-Mindanao connection and it was not many at the start. The signal connection that everybody was waiting for was the bus connection since that will mean that all and everybody can make the LuzViMinda run. It finally came in 1986 when the Philtranco bus made its first Mindanao run. The run took longer than expected because of mechanical problems but finally it came about. Now, private vehicles and trucks and everybody is taking it now through many buses and even by commuter van at times.

And the Philippines is physically connected now.

My Manila-Davao Intermodal Travel

written by: Gorio Belen

Ever since I’ve read of the daring feat of Ronnie Pasola in traveling around the country, from Aparri to Zamboanga, driving an Austin Moke, I’ve always dreamt of doing the same. There have been several other driving challenges through the years along the Pan-Philippine Highway, including a car rally race from Manila to Davao and Marlboro Tour bicycle races. Driving from Luzon to Mindanao have been made possible through the RoRo ferry crossing services in Matnog and Liloan plus the majestic bridge span linking Samar and Leyte Islands.

The plan to construct a trans-Philippine highway started as early as in the 1960s. In 1967, a team of Japanese and Filipino engineers started to survey the proposed route of this 3,500 kms highway and the actual construction started in 1970. The road was initially called the Philippine-Japanese Friendship highway since the road construction was mainly funded from a $30 million Japanese loan (P168,846,000 in the 1970 peso-dollar exchange rate of P5.6282 to $1) and a local counterpart fund of P2 billion. But it was said that many Filipinos frowned on the name and so it was changed to the Pan-Philippine Highway. In 1979, it was changed to Maharlika Highway by Pres. Marcos.

1965 0829 Pan Philippine Highway
Pan Philippine Highway ©Gorio Belen

Then in Aug. 21, 1986, Philtranco initiated a historic bus run from Manila to Davao and Cagayan de Oro via the Maharlika Highway. Now, a once divided island, where travelling from Manila to Mindanao meant spending several days on an interisland ship was possible by a single bus ride. The advent of RoRo ferries also connected other parts of the country. The Strong Republic Nautical Highway was availed by other bus companies to connect Manila to other parts of the Visayas.

1986 0805 Philtranco 'Unity Run' to link Luzon, M'danao
Philtranco ‘Unity Run’ to link Luzon, M’danao ©Gorio Belen

Seeing those buses with signboards saying Davao somehow challenged me to try a sightseeing trip. I have made initial inquiries on the bus fares, schedules and the time travel when Philtranco still had a terminal at former U/Tex factory in Marikina but somehow I never made the trip. My first interisland bus travel was way back in 1994 when I took an air-conditioned bus from Tacloban to Manila, a 24 hour travel. But what I wanted to do was a bus ride from Manila to Davao….and this was the journey that I would wish to do for years. In my first attempt, I was already at the Cubao Ali Mall terminal but a storm was hovering in the Bicol area and all the dispatchers were not sure if any trip to Tacloban was possible. And I wouldn’t want to travel on a stormy condition with a possibility of being stranded at the Matnog port. Thus I went home disappointed that my first attempt on an interisland trip failed.

Then on my second attempt I was luckier, the weather was fine, I was able to get time off work, at least for a week. And so off I went to the bus terminal in Ali Mall.

Ali Mall, Manila
Ali Mall, Manila ©Ealonian56

At the center of the busy commercial area of Araneta Center in Cubao, the Ali Mall Integrated Bus Terminal comes to life early in the morning as buses from the south arrive and unloads its passengers. If cities in the Visayas and Mindanao have integrated bus terminals, this is its counterpart sort of in Metro Manila. Buses mainly bound for the southern provinces depart here. At mid-morning, the terminal turn almost chaotic as activities center on the departing buses bound for the south; air-con and ordinary buses bound for Bicol, Samar, Leyte and even Iloilo. This would go on until the evening. This is where different cultures of the country mix. This was where my adventure began. (Today, the Ali Mall bus terminal has been demolished to give way to the construction of a Megaworld condominium and the bus terminal have moved to the former Rustan’s building a few meters away.)

Tuesday-May 23, 2006
I boarded the brand new Chinese-made Higer bus of Silverstar Shuttle and Tours bound for Tacloban on the morning of May 23 for the 10 o’clock departure.

Despite some delays, we left Manila and encountered a relatively moderate traffic along EDSA. But a 20 minute stopover at Silverstar’s main terminal in San Pedro, Laguna was irritating to some of the passengers (including me). It was already 11:20 when we left the San Pedro terminal and finally went into cruise speed along the South Luzon Expressway. The Silverstar’s brand new suspension made the trip very comfortable. I was seated in the rear portion of the bus (being the last passenger to check in) and beside a lady bound for Tacloban. Despite my inability to understand or speak ‘Waray’, a warm smile exchanged meant that we will be friendly seatmates for the next 24 hours. Most of the passengers were going home after a vacation in Manila. My excitement on this trip was peaking up. I only hoped for a good weather along the way and a safe trip to my destination.

Way to go Maasin
A Silverstar Shuttle and Tours Bus ©markstopover 3

As rice fields dominate the landscape of the Northern Philippines, tall and slender coconut trees line up the roadside from Batangas up to Quezon Province in the South. We arrived at Lucena at 2 p.m. and stopped at a roadside restaurant for a late lunch. Afternoon showers fell along the way as we passed by the shoreline of Gumaca. I always liked this portion of the Maharlika Highway, where the Pacific Ocean is located on your left while the mountainside is on your right.

At 5 pm, we stopped at the junction at Calauag, Quezon to refuel, indicating that this is the half way point of the bus’ journey.

By this time, the rigors of travel already started to take effect on me as I slept along the way to Bicol despite the rough and zigzagging roads. It was already 9 pm when we stopped for dinner somewhere in Bicol.

Wednesday – May 24, 2006
As we resumed our travel, I again continued my sleep until we reached the Matnog ferry terminal, the exit point from Luzon, at 1 am.

Alighting from the bus to get our ferry tickets, it was a bit inconvenient for passengers to be roused from their sleep and get down from the buses. Despite the hospitality of the local vendors who generously offered the passengers cheap but hot coffee and other snacks, being awaken at 1 am and made to fall in line to get tickets and then board the ferry is very uncomforting. But despite this, I was entertained by the sight of a long line of buses about to board the RoRo ferries. I watched with amazement as the ship’s crew direct the traffic of vehicles boarding the ferry and then securing them tight before we sail off. It was order in chaos.

In the middle of the night we boarded the MV King Frederick of the Sta. Clara Shipping Line. As soon as the passengers boarded the RoRo ferry, everyone searched the ferry for every available chair or space to grab a quick nap. The San Bernardino Strait was perfectly calm and ideal for that ferry crossing. Early morning crossings at San Bernardino Strait afforded one with a spectacular view of the sunrise. Always a pleasant way to start the day. But unfortunately that time we docked at Allen, Samar was still in darkness at 4 am.

02 Matnog
MV King Frederick at Matnog Port ©Gorio Belen

The portion of the Maharlika Highway in Samar runs along the western coast. Roads along Samar are rough and in a sorry state of disrepair, mainly due to years of neglect. (This was in 2006 and I have read they have started to repair the roads. I do not know the present condition). We reached Calbayog City at 6 am for a breakfast stopover.

Calbayog City as well as Catbalogan features old-style pedal-powered tricycles. Unlike their noisy counterparts in Luzon, the dominant tricycles quietly lorded it over the city streets of Calbayog and Catbalogan. Always an interesting sight.

05 Calbayog
Calbayog’s Pedicab ©Gorio Belen

By this time half of the bus’ passengers have alighted, and most of them are now in casual conversation. I know that we were leaving Samar island once the road condition improved. Upon reaching the majestic San Juanico Bridge, I am now ending my first phase of my adventure.

We arrived in Tacloban at 12 noon. I am now in the Visayas region after 24 hours of travel. Tacloban is the capital of Leyte and is the center of trade in Eastern Visayas. This was a familiar territory for me since I had a project here years before and I have been here a couple of times in the past. I immediately went to the Philtranco terminal to inquire about the trip to Davao and I was informed that the bus from Manila was expected to arrive at 9 pm but I can not be assured of a space in the bus as it was reported to be full. (That time, there was still no integrated terminal yet)

I decided to recharge my energies in the city for the rest of the afternoon, checked into a pension house, took a bath, grabbed a meal, took a quick nap and made a short city tour to some familiar places. In the evening, after a quick dinner, I went back to the bus terminal and waited for the Philtranco bus to Davao. I was asked if I would like to ride in the non-aircon Bachelor Express that leaves earlier than 9 p.m. but I decided to stick it out with the air-con Philtranco bus (a decision I would later regret).

07 Tacloban
Tacloban Scenery ©Gorio Belen

The Philtranco Bus arrived way past 9 pm and was full of passengers. I begged the conductor to take me in and he asked if I was willing to stand up as there was no more space even in the alley. I took the challenge and we left at 9:45 pm with me standing in the middle of the alley with people all around me. The bus was so full, there were even passengers in the cargo bay at the back and more standing at the door. I was told that there was a Boy Scout Jamboree in Davao that time so many passengers were bound for that city. (I could have taken this bus in Manila and could have assured me of a seat throughout the travel to Davao, but I chose to follow my own schedule rather than the bus’ timetable).

The drive to Liloan, the southernmost tip of Leyte was uneventful in the middle of the night despite the cramps I suffered from standing for 4 hours and not being able to sleep. That was the real adventure part of my trip. How I wished I should have taken the Bachelor bus instead.

Thursday – May 25, 2006
We reached Liloan at 2 am and was informed that the ferry will arrive at 4am. Immediately I scrambled to find a bench to sleep and rest my aching legs. Then at dawn we boarded mv Maharlika Dos for the ferry crossing to Mindanao. Again I was entertained by the sight of the buses and trucks boarding the ferry and being parked side by side with inches to spare. The RoRo ferry left Liloan at 6 am and it took four hours to cross the Surigao Strait again at a very slow pace. This ferry had served the commuters of Mindanao and Leyte for such a long time, more than twenty years. Again, calm waters afforded us an uneventful ferry crossing and I was able to get a good nap before reaching Lipata.

Lipata Ferry Terminal is the cleanest port I’ve been to in the country and arriving here early in the morning was very refreshing. At last, I was now in Mindanao and almost near my destination.

Lipata Port
Lipata Port ©Aristotle Refugio

Disembarking the ferry and boarding the bus was quite efficient and quick. My fellow bus passengers were now anxious as they were now near their various destinations and they have been on the road for 2 days already. I finally managed to get a seat in the bus and I started to enjoy again the local sceneries along the highway. The road from Surigao to Butuan was relatively in good condition. We stopped for lunch at R.T. Romualdez town.

We arrived at Butuan City at 2pm and when we left it, the bus was half empty. The road to Davao in my earlier travels was very rough with the highway full of huge craters. But the roads have improved since then and now travelling on this part of the Maharlika Highway was very pleasant. By this time, the Philtranco bus seemed to stop at every town before Davao to drop off each passenger.

At Monkayo, Compostela Valley, we had an early dinner at 6pm. As we reached Tagum City, Davao del Norte, we were just about five passengers remaining in the bus. The Philtranco bus finally reached Davao at 9 pm, almost a 24 hour trip for me coming from Tacloban and a two day trip for those who boarded from Manila. For most of the remaining passengers, they were still find connecting bus rides to other provinces in Mindanao but for me, it’s time to find a nice hotel.

Tagum City bus terminal
Tagum City Bus Terminal ©Gorio Belen

I settled in at the Bagobo House Hotel along Duterte st. in downtown Davao, a hotel that I used to check in before. Unfortunately, a boy scout jamboree was happening during that week so all of the regular rooms were occupied and so I was offered the suite. At P1000 a night, it was still a bargain. Their regular single room rate is P620/night could have saved me some bucks but I was too tired to go around the city to look for a cheaper room.

Davao’s nightlife is a clone of Manila’s. It offers a variety of entertainment. There are karaoke bars as well as live band music venues for music lovers. Numerous restaurants catered to satisfy different tastes. Malls also abound. But that night I was just too tired to go out and this was my first chance to rest on a comfortable bed and have a decent rest. So at 11 pm I was already asleep.

Friday – May 26, 2006
On the fourth day of my trip, instead of returning to Manila, I decided to take a bus to Cagayan de Oro via the BuDa (Bukidnon-Davao) road which I have heard so much from my Mindanaoan friends before. I boarded a brand new Rural Transit bus bound for Cagayan de Oro and we left at 9:30 am. The ride was pleasant all throughout as the BuDa road was well paved.

Upon reaching the provincial boundary of Bukidnon we were all asked to board down and pass through a foot bath while the bus underside was sprayed with disinfectant. The province of Bukidnon has been strictly enforcing this measure to prevent the entry of foot and mouth disease that may ruin their cattle and animal industry.

The zigzagging roads of BuDa highway offered a breathtaking view of Davao City mountain ranges. This reminded me of my father’s stories of how they evacuated from Davao to Cagayan de Oro on foot at the onset of WWII. He said that they walked the mountain jungles for days, surviving on what they can eat along the forests of Davao del Norte (which I imagined to be very lush then). How I wish that he was still alive today so that I could have taken him along on this trip and retrace their evacuation route.

11 Rural Transit in Bukidnon
Rural Transit in Bukidnon ©Gorio Belen

We arrived at exactly noon in Quezon, Bukidnon and had our lunch there. And for the following towns thereafter, we would be stopping for every 30 minutes to pick up and unload passengers. At 1 pm we were at Maramag, Bukidnon. I have been to Maramag once before so I was amazed at the remarkable improvement.

We arrived at Malaybalay at 2:30pm. About 10 years ago, when I went to this place, the highway was still mainly gravel road. Malaybalay is home of the famous Benedictine Monastery of Transfiguration which has a very good boy’s choir. The monks there also plant coffee which they sell to guests and the abbey also has the last work of National Artist Architect Leandro Locsin, the monastery’s chapel.

We finally arrived in Cagayan de Oro, under a slight drizzle, at 4:30 pm. and immediately I checked in at Pearlmont Inn in nearby Limketkai Mall. The rooms are clean and the rate was relatively cheap. I did some “malling” in nearby Limketkai forgetting that SM already had a mall near Lumbia. I was eating mall food again just like what I usually do in Manila. Cagayan de Oro was another familiar territory as I have been to this place numerous times before and had a number of projects here before. I also had a couple of friends here so it was nice to catch up with them.

cagayan de oro terminal
Bulua Bus Terminal, Cagayan de Oro City ©Gorio Belen

By this time, I have reached the halfway point of my trip and it was now time to get head back to Manila.

Saturday – May 27, 2006
I decided to take the route via Butuan on my return trip. Initially I tried to get a ride at a local air-con van but departure was only when it was already full of passengers. But since filling up the van took a long time, I decided to board a Butuan bound Bachelor bus instead. The bus departed the terminal at 10 a.m.

The highway eastward from Cagayan de Oro runs along the coastline so the view is refreshing. We arrived in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental at 10:45am and had a short stopover at its common bus terminal. At 11:15am, we made the next stopover in Balingasag. Lunchtime was in Balingoan at exactly noon. At 1 pm we stopped at Gingoog City and 58 minutes later we were at Nasipit.

Gingoog City Bus Terminal
Gingoog City Bus Terminal ©Gorio Belen

We arrived in Butuan City at 2:30pm. I changed bus here and took a Bachelor bound for Surigao City. I wondered why there was no direct bus trip from Cagayan de Oro to Surigao but nevertheless I took the chance to do a quick tour of the city during my stopover. We departed at 3 pm. From Butuan the highway from Cagayan de Oro to Surigao City is well paved so travel was comfortable. Upon arriving at the Surigao integrated terminal after a two hour trip, I boarded a multicab bound for Lipata ferry terminal. I arrived at the Lipata terminal at dusk and had plenty of time to rest from my day-long travel since the ferry was scheduled to depart at 10 pm yet. How I wished I had the information at the Surigao terminal so that I could have toured the city proper that evening. It seemed that not everyone knew of the ferries’ schedule or that the ferries had not regular schedule.

Anyway, the Lipata terminal building, despite its age, is still clean and well-maintained. Waiting for the RoRo ferry’s arrival, I had time to reflect on my travel. This leg of my travel has debunked the myth of most Luzon residents that travelling around Mindanao is quite dangerous due to rebels of various orientations. On the contrary, I found the Northeastern part of Mindanao peaceful.

We boarded a Maharlika RoRo ferry and departed Lipata at 10:30 pm. As soon as we boarded the ferry, we looked for a good seat to sleep. The passengers were quite few so there was plenty of space to look around. The slow speed of the RoRo ship and calm waters made the ferry crossing comfortable and again uneventful. This time, I was able to get a good sleep, despite lying flat in the chairs.

Sunday – May 28, 2006
We arrived at Liloan at 2:30 am. I was back in island of Leyte. I took a van for Tacloban outside the ferry terminal and we departed at 3 am. Since there was nothing to see in the dark, I slept most of the way to Tacloban. I was only awakened when we made a stopover in Bato at 4:30 am.

I arrived in Tacloban at 7 am at took a quick breakfast. Then I took a van for Calbayog City. I planned to make a stopover in Calbayog to see a former officemate. Again I experienced the indescribable rugged roads of Samar. I was in Calbayog at noon and quickly contacted my friend and decided to spend the night in Calbayog. My former officemate and I had a grand time catching up with each other.

Monday – May 29, 2006
Instead of boarding a bus bound for Manila, I departed from Calbayog at 9 am aboard a local jeep bound for Allen. I planned to make many stopovers along the way.

At 11:30am I was in Allen pier and after the usual process of falling in line to buy tickets, we boarded the RoRo ferry, the mv King Frederick again (the same ferry I rode from Matnog to Allen earlier). We departed at 1pm. This time I was able to enjoy the view from the ferry’s side. I also watched my co-passengers do their regular “ferry crossing things.” A female pedicurist was going around the ship and must have a good earning as she had many costumers. A lady beside me fed her son with home cooked adobo which I know for sure is very delicious. Some passengers enjoyed viewing a female volleyball game on the ship’s TV. While some took the chance to get a nice afternoon nap, others enjoyed the cool sea breeze by the ferry’s railings.

We docked at Matnog at 2:30 pm. Happily, I was in back in Luzon soil as soon as I saw the arch at the Matnog port entrance that welcome the travelers. Outside the port, I boarded a jeep bound for Sorsogon. I did enjoy this leg of my travel since at last I saw the scenic countryside of Sorsogon in daytime (most of my passing through in this area was at night). Passing by Irosin, I was reminded of my high school teacher who hailed from this town and who always told us of stories about his place. I was planning to spend the night in Sorsogon but since it was still early I decided to board a van for Daraga. At Daraga, I boarded another van bound for Naga and we left the terminal at 6 pm. Arriving at the new Naga central terminal at 8:30 pm, instead of spending the night in that city as I initially planned, I was talked into boarding Gold Line bus that was about to depart at 9 pm by its dispatcher. Maybe because I was already too tired of my travelling and I was really aching to go home. After a quick dinner at the terminal’s restaurant, I took my seat in the bus and settled in for the long trip. Surprisingly, I did have a good sleep on the bus.

Tuesday – May 30, 2006
When I woke up, we were already speeding along the South expressway. EDSA traffic was still light and we arrived at the Ali Mall terminal at 6 am. One final ride to my home on that cool morning and finally I was in the comfort of my bed at 7 am.

After sleeping half of the day, I reflected on my travel for the past week. I have finally achieved my dream of inter-island travel. The Pan Philippine highway or Maharlika highway is a major link through the regions (except probably for the Samar portion) The RoRo ferries also had a great hand in connecting the various islands and making travel by car (or bus) from Manila to Davao (or even Zamaboanga) possible.

I was also glad I have seen the beauty of our countryside. There are indeed many beautiful places to see and go to in the Philippines. I have also felt the warmth and hospitality of my countrymen, despite the language barrier. I have learned that there are areas in Mindanao and the Visayas that is safe to travel on, contrary to the opinion of some (mostly from Luzon). I was asked by a friend if I would ever do it again. I said, “definitely” as there are more places to go and see in our country.

The Intermodal in the Philippines

Retrieved from the Old PSSS Website
written by: Mike Baylon

Intermodal is the use of more than one form of transport in a trip or journey. In the Philippines, that usually means island-hopping using a vehicle (public like a bus or private) and a RORO. Intermodal could be for business like shipping, a container van or cargo truck. It could also be for personal pleasure like bringing one’s own vehicle for touring or visiting relatives in the provinces.

Batangas Port ©Edison Sy

35 years ago, the intermodal as we know it today barely existed. There were only a few LCTs that connected some nearby islands especially in the Visayas. The connections between Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were not yet in existence. In fact the highways we take for granted today were still being built. The completion of that, the construction of connecting ports and the emergence of the RORO ships were the set conditions for the intermodal system to fully arise.

The idea to connect Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were first crystallized in the Pan-Philippine Highway project dream during Diosdado Macapagal’s term. This did not get off the ground for lack of funds and basically only feasibility studies were made. The idea was then taken over by Ferdinand Marcos. War reparations equipments and soft loans from Japan were used. Hence, the project was renamed the Philippines-Japan Friendship Highway.

The Proposed Pan-Philippine Highway ©Gorio Belen

It was already Martial Law when the road constructions went into full swing. More foreign loans were contracted and applied to the project. At Marcos’ behest, the project was renamed the Maharlika Highway. Most Filipinos later identified this project with Marcos (and this probably resulted in the everlasting irritation of Diosdado Macapagal’s diminutive daughter).

At the middle portion of the road construction period the connecting ports of Matnog (in Sorsogon), San Isidro (in Northern Samar), Liloan (in Southern Leyte)and Lipata (in Surigao City) were built. Those were entirely new ports and specifically designed as RORO ports to connect Sorsogon to Samar and Leyte to Surigao. Two ROROs were also purposely-built, the “Maharlika I”, launched in 1982 and fielded in the Matnog-San Isidro route and the “Maharlika II” launched in 1984 and fielded in the Liloan-Lipata route.

Matnog Port ©Joe Andre Yo

Two key connecting bridges were also constructed. To connect Samar and Leyte, the beautiful San Juanico Bridge was built over the narrow strait separating the two islands. And to connect Leyte to Panaon Island, the Liloan bridge was built over the narrow, river-like, shallow channel separating the two islands.

San Juanico Bridge ©George Tappan

The Marcos government made a lot of hoopla about the Luzviminda (Luzon-Visayas-Mindanao) connection. Officially, when the Maharlika ferries sailed the administration then claimed it was the first time that Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were connected in our history by the intermodal. But in reality the private sector was ahead by a few years and used their own ROROs and LCTs to connect Luzviminda using existing and makeshift ports and wharves, some of which were privately-built. The Bicolandia Shipping of Eugenia Tabinas of Tabaco, Albay and the Millennium Shipping of the Floirendos of Davao were among the key pioneers here that lasted.

Soon other RORO connections also came into existence bridging the other islands. In the Southern Tagalog routes, it was the Manila International Shipping and Viva Lines which were the pioneers. They mainly used Batangas and Lucena as base ports and they connected the two provinces of Mindoro, Romblon and Marinduque. In the intra-Visayas routes Gothong Shipping, Aznar Shipping and Maayo Shipping were among the early pioneers that lasted along with Millennium Shipping. Except for Gothong, all were short-distance ferry companies and basically carried vehicles crossing the islands.

Dalahican Port, Lucena City ©Raymond Lapus

It must be pointed out that even in the 80’s, liner companies (like Negros Navigation, Sulpicio Lines and most especially Gothong Shipping) and some overnight ferry companies (notably Trans-Asia Shipping) already have ROROs that serve the overnight and some short-distance routes. Though basically carrying LCL and palletized cargo their ships can carry vehicles if needed. However, unlike the short-distance ferry companies that was not their thrust. But their RORO liners are sometimes the only way to bring vehicles from Manila to an island not connected by the short-distance ferry companies. Hence, car manufacturers and dealers were among their clients. This presence impacted a lot the long-distance LCT/barge+tug companies like Lusteveco (Luzon Stevedoring Co.), a niche carrier established by the Americans.

Asia Korea of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines ©Gorio Belen

In the 80’s, containerization of local shipping went full blast. It began with 10-foot and 20-foot container vans moved by forklifts. But in the 90’s, the 20-footers dominated with a significant number of 40-foot vans that are mainly transshipments for foreign ports. To speed up loading and unloading the container vans were mounted in trailers pulled by tractor heads or prime movers. This mode is also considered intermodal.

While that intermodal form was gaining supremacy in the long-distance routes, the combination long-distance bus/truck plus short-distance RORO was also gaining ground in the 90’s. In the first decade of the new millennium that intermodal type was already beginning to surpass the long-distance shipping-based intermodal. This new combination has changed and is still changing the Philippine shipping seascape. The long-distance buses (along with the budget airlines) took the passengers of the liners. And the long-distance, intermodal trucking began to take the container business of long-distance shipping companies.

Calapan Port ©Raymond Lapus

In the last decade, long-distance liner shipping companies whose base is Manila has been driven out of some important islands and their frequencies were reduced in others. While Manila as an inter-island gateway port is being reduced in significance, Batangas has become a very important gateway port. Because of this long-distance shipping from Manila to Panay has been reduced to just the port of Iloilo. But even in this route the frequencies are much reduced now while the frequencies of the buses and trucks are in full upswing. Occidental Mindoro ferries from Batangas also lost out and Mindoro passenger shipping from Manila is now almost over (this does not include Lubang island).

The intermodal bus/truck plus short-distance RORO combination has also invaded Cebu, traditionally our second most important port. There are now long-distance trucks from Manila coming to Cebu and some of these are even Cebu-based. These trucks have already short-circuited the traditional Cebu shipping bailiwick Eastern Visayas. To compete Cebu manufacturers and distributors are already using their own delivery trucks to the nearby islands esp Negros, Bohol, Leyte and Masbate. Trucks from those islands also reach Metro Cebu.

Polambato Port, Bogo City, Cebu in the North ©James Gabriel Verallo

Bato Port, Santander, Cebu in the South ©Jonathan Bordon

Toledo Port, Toledo City, Cebu in the West ©James Gabriel Verallo

Cebu Port in the East and Central ©Mark Ocul

In general, even in the face of these inroads the overnight ferries of Cebu using break bulk or palletized loading have held forth and are still expanding. In the main their northern Mindanao, bailiwick is still intact save for Pulauan port in Dapitan City in Zamboanga peninsula.

In Mindanao, there are only three ports with significant rolling cargo – the Pulauan port in Dapitan, the Lipata port in Surigao City and the Balingoan port in Misamis Oriental. In Pulauan ships generally connect to Dumaguete but many connect further to Cebu. In Lipata port, the traffic there is generally going north to Tacloban and further up to Luzon and not to the direction of Cebu. The RORO route to Camiguin from Balingoan, Misamis Oriental has long been developed and was initially buoyed by tourism. Recently, that route has already been extended to Jagna, Bohol.

Pulauan Port, Dapitan City ©Mike Baylon

Lipata Port, Surigao City ©Aristotle Refugio

Balingoan Port, Balingoan, Misamis Oriental ©Michael Denne

In the Visayas, the important intermodal connections going east of Cebu passes through the following: the Bogo-Palompon route, the Danao-Isabel route, the Mandaue-Ormoc route and the Mandaue-Hindang route. The ROROs in these routes mainly carry rolling cargo, usually trucks.

In Bohol, the main intermodal ports of entry from Metro Cebu is Tubigon, Jetafe and Clarin. However there is an important connection between Argao, Cebu and Loon, Bohol. There are also important connections between Negros and Cebu islands. From southern Cebu there are a lot of connections to ports near Dumaguete. In the north, the Toledo-San Carlos and Tabuelan-Escalante routes are important connections. There are also ROROs connecting Cebu island to Bantayan island, Masbate island and Camotes islands.

Tubigon Port ©Mike Baylon

Negros island is mainly connected to Panay island through the Bacolod-Dumangas route. And Panay is connected to Mindoro and Batangas through the Dangay port in Roxas, Oriental Mindoro.

From the Bicol peninsula, ROROs connect to Catanduanes (from Tabaco City) and Masbate island (from Pio Duran, Albay, Pilar and Bulan in Sorsogon). However, the main connection of Bicol now to Samar is through the town of Allen, Northern Samar via two ports of entry – Balicuatro and Dapdap. There is also an alternative route now from Benit port, San Ricardo, Southern Leyte to Lipata, Surigao City. And Leyte connects to Ubay, Bohol via Bato, Leyte and Maasin, Southern Leyte.

There are still a lot of minor RORO connections I have not mentioned. These are mainly connections to smaller islands like Lubang, Alabat, within Romblon province, to Ticao, Dinagat, Siargao, Samal, Balut, Olutanga, Siquijor, Guimaras and Semirara islands. If necessary, the ROROs in Zamboanga City can take in rolling cargos to Basilan and Jolo islands and ports in Tawi-tawi province. There is also an important RORO connection between Mukas and Ozamis City which obviates the need to go round the whole Panguil Bay.

Zamboanga Port ©britz777

The short-distance RORO sector is still growing and more routes are still being created. In its wake should come the buses, trucks, jeeps and private vehicles normally. However, in the last few years, the Arroyo government has oversold the intermodal system and in its wake is creating a lot of “ports to nowhere” and RORO routes that do not make sense. “Ports to nowhere” are ports where practically no ships call.

Strong Republic Nautical Highway(Visayas) ©Raymond Lapus

But as the cliché goes, that is a different story altogether.

More Photos of Intermodal Ports, Click here

When RORO Reigned Supreme

Retrieved from the Old PSSS Website
written by: Mike Baylon

RORO means Roll-on, Roll-off. As distinguished to LOLO (Load-on, Load-off or Lift-on, Lift-off), RORO has cargo ramps and car decks and cargo is not lifted but loaded through vehicles that have wheels. Unlike cruisers that have cruiser sterns ROROs generally have transom sterns.

True ROROs started arriving in the Philippines in the 70’s. This does not include the LCTs which are also ROROs in their own right. The very first RORO could have been the “Millennium Uno” of Millennium Shipping. Japan database shows she arrived in the country in 1973. She is still sailing the Liloan-Lipata route.

Millennium Uno ©Mike Baylon

After some lull the next true ROROs arrived starting in 1978 with the “Northern Samar” of Eugenia Tabinas Shipping Lines of Tabaco, Albay which was fielded in the Sorsogon-Samar route. The next to arrive could be the “Laoang Bay” of Newport Shipping in 1979. This ferry was also later known as “Badjao”, “Philtranco Ferry 1” and “Black Double”. MARINA database also shows “Viva Penafrancia – 9” of Viva Shipping, a steel RORO was built locally in Quezon in 1979.

Starting in 1980, arrivals of RORO in the Philippines stepped up and many even arrived that year while cruiser arrivals began to dry up. In 1980, the “Dona Lili”, “Dona Josefina”, “Don Calvino”, all of Gothong Shipping and the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation arrived. The “Eugenia” of Eugenia Tabinas Shipping seems to have arrived this year also. In 1981 the Melrivic 7 of Aznar Shipping in Cebu came.

The first RORO built by the Philippine government to connect the Maharlika Highway, the “Maharlika I” came in 1982 and she was fielded in the Matnog-San Isidro route connecting Sorsogon and Samar. The second of the series, a sister ship, the “Maharlika II” came in 1984 and was fielded in the Liloan-Lipata route connecting Leyte and Surigao thus completing the Maharlika Highway connection. [Nothing is implied here that in was only in this year that Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were connected as claimed by some.]

Maharlika I ©Edison Sy

Many of the first ROROs were small. The liner companies did not dominate the first arrivals. It seems it is the provincial short-distance island connectors that first truly appreciated the RORO.

After a very short lull the next batch of ROROs arrived and they appeared in Batangas in the mid-80s. This was spurred by the arrival of “Tokishiho” (later “Emerald I”) of Manila International Shipping Lines to which the dominant Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas immediately countered with the “Viva Penafrancia” in 1985.

The first big RORO liners to arrive that rival the size of the big, fast cruisers were the “Sweet RORO” (1982), “Sweet RORO II” (1983) of Sweet Lines and the “Sta. Florentina” of Negros Navigation in 1983.

Sweet RORO ©lindsaybridge

Sulpicio’s entry to the RORO mode started in 1983 with two modest-sized ROROs, the “Surigao Princess” and the “Butuan Princess” which later became the “Cebu Princess”. William Lines’ foray in RORO started only in 1987 with the “Masbate I”. This was followed by the “Zamboanga” in 1989. WLI’s entry in this field was relatively late and they paid with this by relinquishing the number 1 spot in the local shipping pecking order.

Before the 80s ended Sweet Lines has further added “Sweet Home” (1984), “Sweet Faith” (1987), “Sweet Baby” (1987) and “Sweet Pearl” (1989). Sulpicio Lines has also added “Boholana Princess” (1986). Meanwhile, Gothong Shipping already added the “Dona Cristina” (1985), “Our Lady of Guadalupe” (1986) and the sisters “Our Lady of Fatima” and “Our Lady of Lourdes” both in 1987. Aboitiz Shipping meanwhile also entered the RORO race in 1989 with the “SuperFerry 1”.

For a short time it was Gothong Shipping and Sweet Lines that was battling for superiority in the RORO field. However, in 1988 Sulpicio Lines added 3 big RORO liners that dwarfed all previous examples starting with the “Filipina Princess”, then one of the biggest and fastest ROROs in the world, the “Nasipit Princess” and the “Tacloban Princess”. They also added in that year the “Cagayan Princess”. With these additions Sulpicio Lines guaranteed they can never be headed in the RORO field and that stood true until WG&A came along.

Filipina Princess ©Vincent Paul Sanchez

Before the end of the 80’s, a Visayan-Mindanao shipping company also bet big on RORO and this earned the company number 1 in pecking order in that area. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines bought 5 RORO – the “Asia Korea” (1987), the “Asia Thailand” (1987), the “Asia Japan” (1988), the “Asia Brunei” (1989) and the “Asia Taiwan” (1989). They disposed some ROROs later (but always with replacements) until their progress was impeded with the creation of Cebu Ferries Corporation.

Meanwhile, smaller ROROs also sprouted in the same period in the provincial routes starting with the “Princess of Antique” (1985). Among the others are “Danilo 1” (1987) and “Danilo 2” (1988), now the “Lite Ferry 1” and “Lite Ferry 2”, respectively, the “Dona Isabel II” (1988) which was later known as “Bantayan” and now “Siquijor Island 2”, the “Princess Mika” (1988), the “Luzviminda” (1988), the ‘Stephanie Marie” (1989) of Aleson Shipping in Zamboanga, etc. In Batangas the likes of “Sto. Domingo” (1988) and “Viva Penafrancia 3 (1989) came and this was followed by a slew of Domingo Reyes ROROs in the next years until they dominated that port.

Lite Ferry 2 ©James Gabriel Verallo

With that big statement of Sulpicio in 1988 the other long-distance liner companies have to respond and bigger and faster RORO liners came in the 90’s. William Lines created their “Mabuhay” line of luxury RORO liners and aided with their “Maynilad’. Aboitiz Shipping created their “SuperFerry” line. Gothong Shipping converted two RORO cargo ships and out came the “Our Lady of Sacred Heart” and “Our Lady of Medjugorje” augmented by the their big “Our Lady of Akita”. Negros Navigation continued their “Saints” series and out came the “Sta. Ana” (1988), the “Princess of Negros”, the “San Paolo” and the beautiful “St. Francis of Assisi” to be followed by the sisters “St. Peter the Apostle and “St. Joseph the Worker”. Meanwhile, Sweet Lines was not able to keep pace and soon dropped out of shipping in 1994. Also dropping out of passenger shipping were the lesser long-distance ferry companies which were not able to refleet to RORO. These were the Escano Lines and Madrigal Shipping.

Our Lady of Medjugorje folio ©John Michael Aringay

Sulpicio meanwhile did not rest on their laurels in the first half of the 90’s. They topped their “Filipina Princess” with the “Princess of the Orient” (1993) and they also rolled out the formidable “Princess of Paradise”, the speed queen of the era. Also added to their fleet was the “Princess of the Pacific” and the lesser “Manila Princess” and “Tacloban Princess”. At the middle of the 90’s there was no question then which was biggest shipping company in the Philippines.

There was also no question that the previous decade ended with ROROs already beginning to dominate long-distance passenger shipping. However in other provincial ports, save for Batangas maybe, the RORO is not yet dominant.

The Sulpicio Lines hegemony of the early 90s suddenly changed with the merger of 3 major shipping companies to form the “William, Gothong and Aboitiz” or WGA which suddenly topped the fleet of Sulpicio even though it remanded lesser and older ships to subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corp. CFC then became the scourge of the Visayas-Mindanao shipping companies, most of which except for Trans-Asia Shipping were just in the very beginning of the RORO era like their Zamboanga counterparts.

Among those absorbed by the merger were the ships then underway or under refitting like “SuperFerry 12”, “Our Lady of Akita” which became “SuperFerry 11” and later “Our Lady of Banneux”, “Our Lady of Lipa”, “Mabuhay 5” and “Mabuhay 6” which later became the “SuperFerry 9” and “Our Lady of Good Voyage”, respectively. In the year of that merger, Sulpicio Lines responded with the “Princess of the Universe” and “Princess of the World” and Nenaco responded with the “San Lorenzo Ruiz” and the “St. Ezekiel Moreno”.

The gap between WG&A and Sulpicio Lines and Nenaco was actually narrowing before the end of the millennium as WG&A was intent of selling their “excess” and old ships and it not add any ship to their fleet until 2000. Meanwhile, Sulpicio Lines rolled out the “Princess of the Ocean” and “Princess of the Caribbean”, both in 1997 and the grand “Princess of New Unity” in 1999. Nenaco also added what turned out to be their flagship, the “Mary, Queen of Peace” in 1997.

Princess of New Unity ©britz444
Mary, Queen of Peace ©Rodney Orca

In the provincial routes and ports the millennium ended with the RORO becoming dominant already. On its heels came the long-distance buses and trucks and the delivery trucks of the trade distributors. It can also be said that the requirements of these buses and truckers fuelled the growth of the short-distance ROROs connecting the nearer islands.

RORO liners primary carried container vans in trailer beds. Short-distance ROROs meanwhile primarily carried trucks, buses, jeeps and private vehicles. Overnight ROROs however primarily carried cargo LCL (loose cargo loading) or in pallets. Forklifts were the primary means of loading the cargo. Others call this system break bulk.

If the 90’s were marked by vibrancy and rapid expansion in the long-distance, liner section of shipping the past decade was marked by a long steady retreat of local long-distance shipping and with it the ROROs. This retreat was marked by 2 major spasms — the illiquidity of Nenaco and the suspension of Sulpicio Lines in 2008 after the capsizing of the Princess of the Stars. ROROs were sold and for varying reasons.

Nenaco can’t sustain its expanded route system and their ROROs were laid up and threatened with seizure by creditors. WG&A just wanted to get out of routes they deem were not earning enough. Moreover, Aboitiz has to pay off the divestment of William (the Chiongbian family) and Gothong from the merged company. Then world metal prices peaked and they cashed in on the bonanza. Sulpicio Lines meanwhile decided to sell their ships laid-up by the suspension.

Aside from external problems the long-distance shipping industry was also beset last decade by external threats. Early in 2000’s, the long-distance buses and trucks began to challenge the liners. This began in Samar-Leyte-Biliran. The leading shipping company, WG&A immediately retreated and left the three islands. Soon Masbate and Bohol was also under siege by the buses and lost.

A major factor in that development was the deregulation of the bus sector in the Bicol region and Eastern Visayas. The effect is bus companies sprouted like mushrooms, each seeking more routes, giving wider coverage. As a result passengers need not go to the major centers anymore and it offered the convenience of getting off right by their gates. Moreover, it has also the convenience of a daily departure and a wide choice of buses. As deregulated areas the bus companies were to free to offer low fares and freebies like free ferry fare.

In 2003, the overland route to Panay via Mindoro opened. In a short time came the influx of the buses, trucks and jeeps. The shipping routes to that island were soon under siege. If Nenaco’s withdrawal can be excused by their illiquidity, the leading shipping company, WG&A again simply withdrew without much struggle and just held on to Iloilo port where they are under siege again now. Like in Samar-Leyte-Biliran-Masbate-Bohol this Panay withdrawal of WG&A resulted in selling to the breakers of good ROROs for scrap.

Dangay Port, Roxas, Oriental Mindoro ©Mike Baylon

The second major threat that emerged in the last decade was the emergence of regional container lines to major provincial ports. This provided direct access to foreign markets. And once a direct route is established loaded and empty container vans no longer have to be transshipped via Manila. Before this, the transshipment business was a big source of revenue for long- distance shipping.

Now an even more ominous development is the start of the chartering of banana growers of their own container ships. With their own ships they are no longer dependent on the routes of the container lines. Whereas now if a container line has no route to a certain market country of theirs then they still have to transship via Manila and use the local long-distance liners.

Sasa Port, Davao City ©Aristotle Refugio

A minor threat as of now to long-distance ROROs is the emergence of LCTs as carriers of container vans. But a bigger threat is the inroads of long-distance trucking in the Visayas and Mindanao. The root of the problem is the high cost of charges via long-distance shipping and so they lose out.

Budget airlines will also take out some revenues from long-distance shipping. This is not critical because the bread and butter of long-distance shipping is cargo operations.

One beneficiary of these developments is the short-distance RORO sector which makes possible the island-hopping of the trucks, buses, jeeps and private vehicles. This sector is growing consistently while the long-distance sector is shrinking.

Mukas Port ©Raymond Lapus

For the present, the sector of RORO liners is in crisis. Only ten long-distance RORO liners are left sailing in the country as of now.

The overnight RORO ferry sector is yet unaffected. The only affected portion of this is the companies with routes to Mindoro and Romblon.

The ROROs have eclipsed the cruisers. But the growth sectors now are the short-distance and overnight ferry sectors of the ROROs.