Members of the House of Representatives, led by Speaker of the House Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, went around the country last March to inspect not just the tourism facilities but also the road networks and condition, port facilities, accessibility of traders and farmers, and safety of passengers and users as part of its oversight functions. The lawmakers took the scenic route, covering over 3,000 kilometers in 10 days from Manila to Batangas, Calapan City, Bulalacao, Caticlan, Boracay, Kalibo, Iloilo, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Dapitan, Dakak, Aurora, Cagayan de Oro, Malaybalay, Davao City, Samal Island, Butuan City, Surigao del Norte, Liloan, Tacloban, Legazpi, and Quezon Province, via the roll-on, roll-off (RORO) ferries of FastCat.
While one of the objectives of the trip, according to Rep. Fariñas, was “to experience the mode of travel of the ordinary traveler and inspect the seaworthiness of the ROROs and the roadworthiness of the highways and bridges along the Nautical Highway,” the Majority Floor Leader certainly made the most of this extensive inter-island journey. Together with his colleagues, he checked out various road conditions on his motorcycle, posed for posterity shots at the iconic San Juanico Bridge before entering Leyte from Samar, and braved Asia’s longest zip line in Dahilayan, Bukidnon. “The things I do to promote domestic tourism!” quipped Fariñas on his Instagram account.
For FastCat President Christopher Pastrana, there’s no better way to see the Philippines. Aircraft may get you to your destination faster, but “with an efficient land and sea transportation network, you can explore the beauty of Philippines in 7-10 days,” he says. “Before spending time and money traveling to other countries, visit the Philippines first: There’s so much to see and do here, and you get to know your fellow Filipinos from the countryside and help the local economy in the process.”
Since its incorporation in 2002, Archipelago Philippines Ferry Corporation, or FastCat, has made it its mission to connect the Philippines’ 7,107 islands and its neighboring countries through a safe, fast, convenient, and world-class ferry transport system for passengers and cargo. Meanwhile, its alliance with bus companies Jam Liner (which plies the Manila-Laguna-Batangas-Quezon route) and Philtranco (which traverses Manila to Pampanga, Bicol, and parts of the Visayas and Mindanao) provides a seamless travel experience, as well as an enriching one. “You get to immerse yourself in certain areas during stopovers, and discover things you would not have seen or known if you were on a plane,” says Pastrana.
Need more reason to discover the Philippines on a FastCat? Here are three:
It has a growing list of routes. For now, thrill seekers can map out their forthcoming adventures through FastCat’s ferry routes in Batangas-Calapan (Mindoro), Bulalacao (Mindoro)-Caticlan (Aklan), Matnog (Sorsogon)-San Isidro (Samar), Bacolod-Iloilo, Liloan (Leyte)-Lipata (Surigao), Dumaguete (Negros Oriental)-Dapitan (Zamboanga del Norte), San Carlos (Negros Occidental)-Toledo (Cebu), and Cebu-Tubigon (Bohol).
Additional routes will be added to the roster, as Pastrana aims to cover all the bases of the archipelago, from its northernmost tip to its southernmost tip, he says. This means routes that connect Luzon to Babuyan Islands and Batanes, and Zamboanga, Jolo, and Basilan to Pagadian. And it doesn’t end there: by 2020, FastCat targets operations in at least 30 ports, as well as regional routes to Kudat, Malaysia by 2018.
It maintains an international-standard fleet of ferries. Specifically designed to suit the country’s unique weather and sea conditions by Sea Transport Solutions of Australia, the leader of mid-speed catamaran vessels in the world, FastCat’s fleet of Ropax (roll-on, roll-off passenger) vessels was introduced during an aggressive re-fleeting program in 2010. At present, the company operates with 10 ferries; two will be brought in this year, and an additional 18 or a total of 30 vessels by 2020. FastCat is looking beyond 2020 by connecting the Philippines, both by land and sea with more JAM & Philtranco buses, and FastCat vessels.
A picture of modernity, comfort, and stability, the FastCat ferry features a fully air-conditioned 63-passenger business class section; fully air-conditioned 105-passenger premium economy section; and open-air 107 passenger economy section. A spacious car deck accommodates up to 34 cars and seven trucks and buses, and a snack bar comes with a wide variety of food and drinks to keep everyone on board satisfied before docking.
It’s safe. Such modernized modes of sea transport have somehow eased the stigma attached to traveling by boat. News of tragedies involving old, decrepit, and overloaded wooden hull vessels leaving the port during bad weather have made many swear off ships for good — but not enough to affect business. According to the FastCat president, sea travel is up by 5 percent annually. “People should just know that there are better options available,” he says. The summer months from March to June are ideal for travel, he adds, as the sea is calmer.
As for the recent spate of travel advisories cautioning locals and foreigners from visiting parts of the Philippines that are high on insurgents’ lists, Pastrana recently traveled to Palawan to inspect its port and was encouraged by what he saw. “There were so many international tourists,” he recounts. “Some of them were planning to take the ferry from Bulalacao to Boracay — that’s our route, and they learned about it through word of mouth.” Bottom line: Exercise caution, but don’t allow others to get in the way of your plans, too. “We should not be ‘hostaged’ by these people,” says Pastrana of threats. “We should not let them stop our goals and dreams.”
That’s exactly what FastCat’s loyal patrons — middle-income families from the provinces who have goods to transport or bear gifts for their relatives and next-of-kin — have been doing for years. “Nakakataba ng puso,” says Pastrana with a smile as he recounts the testimonials of everyday folks who rely on the efficiency and speed of his vessels, “to know that people choose to ride your ferry because they feel safer and more comfortable in it.”