|Philippine Nautical Highway|
If my recollection is accurate, the Strong Republic Nautical Highway plan was announced in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, in 2003, during the time of Arroyo's besieged administration. It aimed to provide a backbone of safe and affordable sea and land transportation for people and goods throughout the archipelago. At least in theory then.
Of course, as with most infrastructure projects, they required huge investments in capital, political will and other essential agents of good governance. Did we mention complex mobilization of resources? Ports, roads and highways had to be built, terminals and transport companies had to be managed and operated and the business models had to pass feasibility.
Many years later, 2Go finally operates a ferry service from Cebu City, to Ormoc, Masbate City, Romblon City then back to Manila, at the Manila North Harbor Terminal, near Del Pan bridge. The friendly proprietor at the ticketing office in Masbate City said they just started last March 2014.
If you're still up to it, after Manila, the roll-on roll-off (RORO) vessel St. Augustine of Hippo continues to Coron then Puerto Princesa City in Palawan. It journeys again to Manila, then Romblon and so forth. Essentially, the ferry services a number of provinces of the Mimaropa, Bicol, Eastern Visayas and Central Visayas regions.
This is not a new route, actually.
This used to be the routes of old Escano, William, Gothong and Sulpicio lines. Their fleets of second-hand, mostly imported from Japan (betrayed by Japanese signages on the vessels), during the 1980s and 1990s, bridged across the scattered islands of Visayas and Mindanao.
The 2Go RORO is big enough to carry buses and passengers. And, yes, quite clean. But the food---breakfast, lunch and dinner--- included in the fare, needs an upgrade in terms of taste, presentation and quality. I'm not talking about gourmet, Michelin star upgrade here!
On Good Friday, I boarded the trip from Masbate to Manila, with a two-hour lay-over in Romblon City.
After about six hours of travel, we arrived in Romblon by noon. The 2Go crew suggested that we take a quick tour of the town and buy ourselves some marble souvenirs at the tourist center. One hour, they claimed, was enough to cover the essential points because the town was small.
True, the two-hour stop was enough for a quick Visita Iglesia to the St. Joseph Cathedral, a fifteen-minute walk from the pier, and then a side trip for the marble souvenirs sold at the tourist center, one block away.
Twenty years ago, it was stolen. The town had resigned to the idea that it was unrecoverable and lost. But last year, 2013, the image was found in an antique dealer in Aklan, without his metal crown and globe.
He is finally home, after twenty years in "foreign" lands, like many overseas Filipino workers.