Ancient civilizations flourished along the mighty rivers of the world—the Nile of Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), and Indus of India. Centuries later, they continue to showcase rich culture, tourism, and intra-city transport, evident in the River Thames of London, Seine of Paris, and Chao Phraya of Bangkok.
The Philippines is gifted with an abundance of rivers, but arguably the most popular of them would be the one which urban motorists get to cross on a daily basis—Pasig. This 25 km body of water snakes through most parts of the metropolis and connects the Laguna De Bay, the country’s biggest lake, and Manila Bay, which boasts of its spectacular sunset.
Once the major Spanish-era waterway when road transport wasn’t the norm yet, commerce, industry and settlements thrived on its banks, just like any riverine village.
Over the decades, there were efforts to rehabilitate the river and restore its vital role as an alternative transport artery, and an urban tourism experience. After countless attempts of previous administrations, it is only recently that efforts to restore its former glory seem to be paying off with the aquatic life coming back and the riverbanks becoming a conducive public space.
A recent proposal for the construction of the Pasig River Expressway (Parex) by San Miguel Corp. brought the spotlight once more to this iconic watercourse with the magnitude of the 19.37-km, six-lane, P81.5-B tollway.
With the media attention it has been getting of late, it is best pay this river a much-deserved visit to rediscover this metropolitan gem we have often overlooked. It is best to ride along its meandering roads on a motorcycle or a bicycle to get a vibe of the side streets, or the Pasig River Ferry once it resumes operation.
Pit Stop 1: Pasig
Named after the river is named after, it is an eclectic blend of cosmopolitan and rural lifestyles, being once the capital town of the vast Rizal Province. While synonymous to the Ortigas Center and modern townships, it has managed to preserve its old soul manifested in the structures which have seen the city’s genteel and gentrified years.
The heart of the city is Kapasigan district, a heritage zone with the surrounding historic spots—Plaza Rizal, Pasig Museum, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, the circa-1850s Bahay na Tisa, and the Andres Bonifacio Cenotaph at the Pariancillo Park which marks the first victory of Katipunan revolutionaries against Spain.
Stroll or bike around the neighborhood and you will spot colonial-era houses which have been repurposed as commercial establishments.
The city also takes pride in its Mega Market, once named the Mutya ng Pasig after the mythical river fairy, and has an aggregate floor area of about 2 hectares. Across it is the Revolving Tower, an 11-story restaurant and events place which makes a 360-revolution for a commanding view of the city and the river.
Pit Stop 2: Mandaluyong
This so-called Tiger City has the longest contiguous riverbank road dotted by its own skyline and that of Makati just across the river. The Hulo Ferry Station has an adjacent linear public park and the postcard-pretty Our Lady of the Abandoned Church, where you can marvel at the river running through it.
Pit Stop 3: Makati
To feel the financial capital’s Old World charm, the river districts are must-see places. Casa Hacienda, a pocket park along JP Rizal St. in Poblacion is a good starting place where it had its murky beginnings, literally.
Across the tree-lined public plaza is the Museo ng Makati, the municipal hall of the then-backwater town, and on its outer edge is a historical relief sculpture on the arrival of Spanish conquistadors and how Makati got its name.
Around the area are century-old houses and the citadels of the Catholic faith—the 400-year old parish of Sts. Peter and Paul Church and the hilltop Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.
The river’s upstream in Guadalupe is equally surprising with its Rizal Riverwalk for joggers and promenaders, ferry station and an improved water quality evident in the handline fishers trying their luck for the day’s catch.
Makati Park and Garden in West Rembo is the biggest public recreational space along the Pasig, which will hopefully reopen soon once the quarantine classification has been relaxed.
Pit Stop 4: Manila
There is a number of interesting riverine attractions to rediscover in the city, particularly with the urban renewal it is undergoing since Mayor Isko Moreno took over. The axis of the continuing facelift is the Kartilya ng Katipunan Shrine beside the City Hall, which has a tree park and the cozy Kape Tolyo coffee shop.
The local government also redeveloped and reopened the nearby Mehan Garden and Hidden Garden to provide open spaces in the densely-populated concrete jungle. Soon to open is the Pasig River esplanade of the 2.2-hectare Arroceros Forest Park, Manila’s last lung because of its secondary growth forest, scores of tree varieties and ornamental plants which serve as habitat of numerous bird species.
From this point, you can explore Binondo Chinatown, the resurgent Escolta lifestyle and business street, and Intramuros, which guarded the mouth of the Pasig River.
After following the river that runs through the metropolis, you will surely be amazed by its unique allure which will make you take a second look at the proposed expressway project.
A true-blue day tripper since age 19, he has travelled across the archipelago by land, air, and sea. As a communications trainer, travel photojournalist, tourist mapmaker, scuba diver, environment advocate, or simply a family road tripper, he has imbibed the diversity of the Philippines by learning the basic way of life of the places he visits.