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All roads lead to Antipolo

April 2011
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The title of this post is based on a saying referring to the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage that is located in what is now the City of Antipolo in the Province of Rizal, to the east of Metro Manila. The saying is based on observations during May when the feast of Our Lady is celebrated the entire month. While people flock to the shrine throughout the year often to pray for safe travel, many devotees go up the city in the Sierra Madre range during Lent to pray the novena to Our Lady, hear Mass, or simply to partake of the other attractions of this city.

Antipolo has been a popular pilgrimage site since the Spanish Period ever since the reports of miracles performed through the image of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. These include her image being reportedly found among the Antipolo tree that is the basis for the name of the town that now is a highly urbanized city and capital to the Province of Rizal. Rizal, of course, is the name of the province that once was generally called Morong. One town of the province still bears that name and it, too, has a beautiful, picturesque church. The Shrine is often visited by those seeking safe travel, perhaps these days it has even become more popular due to the tremendous numbers of overseas foreign workers (OFWs) employed abroad. Antipolo is also allegedly the richest among the most popular shrines or churches in the Philippines, supposedly ahead of Quiapo (Black Nazarene), Cebu (Sto. Nino), Baclaran (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), Naga (Penafrancia) and Manaoag (Our Lady of Manaoag), though not necessarily in that order. I think I read about this in one of Ambeth Ocampos’ columns from the Inquirer.

The popularity of the Shrine is so much so that a road was built to directly connect it with Manila, particularly to Intramuros where the seat of government was at the time. This road is most probably along the corridor that is now Ortigas Avenue. Of course, in the Spanish Period, this would be a more general route that would have likely included many rough trails considering that the Ortigas we know now was only developed in the 1970’s. I witnessed this when we moved from Mandaluyong to Cainta in 1976, often seeing huge machines work their way along what is now Valle Verde to carve out a wider right of way for Ortigas Avenue.

During the American Period, the trams operated by the Manila Electric Rail and Light Company (MERaLCo) included a line that went up to Antipolo. Those trams were the state of the art and representative of high technology in public transportation in those years after the turn of the century and a line to Antipolo reinforced the shrine’s importance to many people and the government’s recognition of this. The tram network, which was probably the most developed in Southeast Asia if not in Asia at the time, was destroyed during World War 2 and was never rebuilt for some reason. It is something that Metro Manila now continues to regret if only to postulate what might have beens and what could have beens if the network was revived after the war. Of course, this bit of history is related to the eventual rise of the jeepneys but that is another story for another post. Nevertheless, there still exists in Antipolo some remnants of the tram’s glory days and it is remembered as a road which is still called “daang bakal,” as the railways were fondly called then and now.

There are now many ways from Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces to Antipolo, although several of these eventually merge into three main roads en route to the Shrine. One is via the old route along Ortigas Avenue, a second is the route via Sumulong Highway, and the third is through a “back door” via the Antipolo-Teresa Road. Routes from the general areas of Manila, Makati, Pasig, Mandaluyong, Taguig and the southern cities of Metro Manila and towns from Laguna, Batangas and Cavite will most likely merge to Ortigas Avenue. Meanwhile, people coming from Quezon City, Caloocan, Marikina, Bulacan, Pampanga and the northern Rizal towns of San Mateo and Rodriguez (Montalban) will likely converge along Sumulong Highway. Meanwhile, those coming from the east including the Rizal towns like Tanay, Teresa, Morong, and Jala-jala, the Laguna towns like Paete, Pakil, Pangil, the Quezon towns of Luisiana, Lucban, Infanta and General Nakar, and others will most likely take the Antipolo-Teresa Road that climbs from the east of Antipolo. People from Marikina, Cainta and Pasig generally may take either the Ortigas or the Marcos Highway/Sumulong Highway route.

Public transport to Antipolo these days include mostly jeepneys as the city is the end point of many routes – a testament to its importance even as a reference point for public transportation. One can easily spot the Antipolo-Cubao jeepneys in the Araneta Center in the Cubao business district in Quezon City. There are two lines, one via Cainta Junction (where jeepneys eventually turn to Ortigas Avenue) and another via Marcos Highway, turning at the Masinag Junction towards Sumulong Highway). Another terminal is at the EDSA Central near the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong where Antipolo-Crossing jeepneys are queued. And still there is another, albeit somewhat informal terminal near Jose Rizal University (JRU, which was formerly a college and hence the old JRC endpoint), which passes through Shaw Boulevard, Meralco Avenue and eventually turns towards Ortigas Avenue. Other jeepneys from the Rizal towns all have routes ending in Antipolo simbahan, referring to the shrine.

There are now also Filcabs or AUV Express, shuttles offering express trips between Antipolo and the same end points of Cubao or Crossing. Others go all the way to Makati in the Ayala financial district. These evolved out of the Tamaraw FX taxis that started charging fixed fares during the 1990’s and competed directly with the jeepneys. These are popular, however, with office employees and students during weekdays and the nature of their ownerships and operations do not make them serious competitors to the jeepneys during the merry month of May and the Lenten Holy Week.

There was an Antpolo Bus Line before. These were the red buses that plied routes between Antipolo and Divisoria in Manila. These died out sometime between the late 80’s and the early 90’s probably due to decreasing profitability and likely because of its competition with the jeepneys. That bus company, along with the green-colored G-Liners, the red EMBCs (Eastern Metropolitan Bus Co.) and CERTs, and the blue Metro Manila Transit Corp. buses used to form a formidable mass transport system for Rizal and the eastern towns of Metro Manila. There were even mini-buses (one I recall were the Antipolo “baby” buses and those that plied routes betwen Binangonan and Recto). Most of these, except the G-Liners eventually succumbed to the jeepneys.

In the future, perhaps the jeepneys should give way to buses as the latter will provide a higher level and quality of service along Ortigas Avenue and Marcos and Sumulong Highways. Already in the drawing boards is a plan to ultimately extend LRT Line 2, which currently terminates at Santolan, Pasig, to Masinag Junction and then have a branch climb along Sumulong Highway and terminate near the shrine. This will bring back the trains to Antipolo and would surely make the church and the city very accessible to people. I look forward to these developments both in my capacity as a transportation researcher-engineer and a Catholic who also visits the Shrine to pray for safe travel for loved ones and myself.


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