Exciting development in Laguna Lake

Although they are working quietly, the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), specifically its Franchising Services headed by Director Atty. Maria Rowena B. Hubilla, deserves a commendation.

On Director Hubilla’s initiative, Marina has conducted a series of meetings, sans publicity, with other government agencies involved in the implementation of priority Program 3 of the 10-Year Maritime Industry Development Plan (MIDP) — the Development of Coastal and Inland Waterways Transport System (CIWTS).

Program 3 is probably the fastest moving among MIDP’s 10 priority programs as indicated by recent developments, particularly in the Laguna Lake area and its surrounding towns in the provinces of Rizal and Laguna.

In the last meeting, where yours truly was invited to represent the Philippine Association of Coastal and Inland Waterways Ferries Inc. (PACIWFI), as well as Metro Ferry of Cebu, it is evident among agencies present that they appreciate the need and urgency of developing a modern transport system in the country’s largest lake.

Present in the meeting were Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), the local government of Binangonan, Rizal; the Department of Transportation (DoTr); National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and other ferry operators, aside from PACIWFI and Metro Ferry.

One encouraging development is the proposal to modernize the transport system in Talim Island in Laguna Lake, which is still being served by wooden-hulled bancas. The island, which has 24 barangays, is divided between the municipalities of Binangonan and Cardona, Rizal.

We all know that wooden bancas had already been phased out to give way to safer and more efficient
steel-hulled vessels or boats made of fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) or fiberglass, and to save on our trees.

More importantly, wooden bancas can no longer support the increasing trade and economic activities in Talim Island that need vessels for transporting heavier cargo, such as cement, hollow blocks and other hardware items. Using bancas in transporting these goods to the island has doubled their costs, a heavy burden to people of the island.

Responding to the problem, the local government of Binangonan has allocated P50 million for the construction of a
Roll-on/Roll-off (RORO) ramp starting next year. This is definitely a laudable project, which will be built at a site accessible to proposed major road projects around Laguna Lake.

This welcome development will pave the way for the use of customized mini RORO passenger ships (ropax) that can accommodate one or two rolling cargoes, such as trucks and cars, and about 60 to 80 passengers.

Another project is the LLDA-proposed ferry system connecting Laguna towns to Guadalupe in Makati via the Pasig River. This longer project, however, needs to be thoroughly studied. Should it turn out to be highly viable, the project has tremendous potential in decongesting the heavy volume of traffic from Laguna towns to Metro Manila, if it pushes through. It could be an efficient alternate route to the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX).

One thing is certain, though. These efforts to upgrade the transport systems in Laguna Lake will result in more business and employment opportunities in Talim Island and nearby towns.

As an experienced seafarer, however, we are looking forward to hear some discussions in future meetings on related activities necessary to ensure safe, uninterrupted passage of vessels in the lake.

One of them is the lack of charts to guide the vessels that would operate in Laguna Lake; it remains uncharted. Closely related to this, the lake is known to have been suffering from siltation for many years.

Thus, a study is needed to chart the various depths of the lake in order to identify the exact navigable waters or sea lanes for the passage of vessels. These should be marked with lighted buoys also to avoid fish pens that are scattered in the lake.

Notwithstanding these issues, we are very excited over these developments of upgrading the coastal and inland waterways transport system in the country.

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