Manila! Manila, the capital and pride of the nation! First light on our first day in Manila. We were suffering from jetlag and didn’t know what time it was. Heard from hotel bed: constant honking. Roxas Boulevard. Sweeping view of Manila Bay. Manila’s bay provided the city and the Philippines with a welcoming gateway, much in the same way as The Gateway to India did for Bombay and India. But there was a cloud hanging over the bay and Corregador, an island in the center of the bay, but we didn’t know it. Very few people talked about it then.
Palm trees lined the esplanade like a necklace. American Embassy overlooked the bay north of our hotel. Yacht Club was south of embassy and also north of hotel. We sat on the seawall. Morning walk through the Luneta. Cool breeze from bay. Stretching from Taft Avenue to the bay, the Luneta. One of the largest parks in Southeast Asia. Monument to national hero, Jose Rizal. Rizal Memorial Park. 58 hectors. A flag pole from where all distances in the Philippines were measured. Grass. Free benches, open spaces but very little shade. Free concerts. Families and lovers, bicyclist and chest players. In the morning joggers and tai-chi practitioners. At night a romantic rendezvous for lovers. Flowers, fountains, and less smog. Apart from a grassy expanse, an amphitheater, a playground, and a garden or two. A place to people watch, sit in the grass, relax in the sun, or just hangout. Tourist and Filipinos loved to hangout. The Pope was planning to come to town in the next few weeks. Maybe he’ll want to hangout.
Mabuhay. The Manila Hotel, best hotel in Manila, on grand Roxas Boulevard north of embassy. Showing off the authenticity of Philippine culture. Diplomatic meetings, power lunches, unforgettable weddings, and Happy Hour. Ask for MacArthur’s suite.
Nearby Fort Santiago next to the river, the Pasig. Manila was cut in two by the Pasig River. The Pasig when we knew it was very polluted. The Pasig separated the executive branch of government from Congress. Malacanang or the Presidential Palace sat on the north side of the river, and Congress on the south side. The embassy and the hotel, with Congress and the presidential palace as opposing square corners, formed a rectangular bastion of power. And for students this bastion was possibly as impenetrable as the walls of Intramuros or old Manila, but none of them seemed to believe it.
The Rajah Sulayman ruled the walled Moslem settlement that later became Intramuros. When the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived in 1571, Rajah Sulayman fled north across the Pasig, to the area known today as Tondo. He lost his life at the Battle of Bangkusay Channel…a defeat that led to three hundred years of Spanish rule. Today, Manila sprawls on both banks of the Pasig and covers the entire area where this drama took place. Over eight million people lived within this area when we lived there.
Fort Santiago. The Spanish and Japanese used it as a prison. And around the Luneta were grand buildings of government and grand boulevards linking them. Manila, with its grand boulevards and grand buildings was designed to impress. They were indeed impressive. And the cathedral was impressive too, impressive and stark. It survived earthquakes and war. And the park in front of the old fort, grassy and with a flower clock. So come, take a stroll, have a picnic, sit on grass and eat barbecue. Here’s to peace and quiet. Small Moon. And be ready to answer “the site of whose execution?” “No, that was over there.”
The dungeons of Fort Santiago. Built by the Spaniards. The tourists kept coming. “Yes, prisoners were held here. And Americans too. MacArthur? Yes, the fort was his headquarters.” The same questions were answered a thousand times a day. “Yes. Where? Over there. No, not in the dungeons. The man was thirty-five years old. Shot at Bagumbayan Field, today known as the Luneta.” Then to everyone. “This is the cell where on the eve of his execution, Decemeber 29, 1896, Jose Rizal wrote an untitled poem, now known as ‘Ultimo Adios.’ A masterpiece but read it and decide for yourself.”
Quiapo Bridge. Transportation funnel of the city. Morning traffic intense. Constant traffic. The old church on the north side gave passengers a chance to pause and gesture the sign of the cross. Have you ridden a MRM Taxi, the UBL Bus Line, or JD Transit? Jeepnies?
East of the city, and north of the river, was Quezon City. Before Susan and I arrived, it was designated the capital of the Philippines, but they never moved the capital there. Instead, it was home of The University of the Philippines/Diliman. And the university was pretty far out. How long it took to get to the University of the Philippines from the Qiapo Bridge by bus depended on the season and the traffic. During rainy season streets flooded, and buses were much slower. With traffic, on a normal day, it took up to an hour. And most students depended on buses and jeepnies. Most people depended on them.
Manila Streets. We walked Manila’s streets looking for a place to live. Taft, of course. But what about Harrison or Forbes? Too expensive! Or Nebraska or Ohio? Sounded like home. In 1961 Azcarraga Street became Claro M. Recto Avenue. Some streets like Raon, Camba, Urbiztondo, Lardizabal and Gandara were named after Spanish governor-generals. Other names refered to Rizal and his novels, Basilio, Simoun, Sisa and Crisostomo. Two streets were named after his pen names, Laong Laan and Dimasalang. There was Tayuman named after the tayum plant, Antipolo Street, after the tipolo tree, and Isaac Peral Street, after the inventor of a submersible. There was Anloague for carpenters; Fundidor for foundry workers; Jaboneros for soap makers; Panaderos for bakers; and Labanderos for laundry men. City Districts north of the river were Binondo, Quiapo, Sampaloc, San Miguel, San Nicolas, Santa Cruz, Santa Mesa, and Tondo. We mustn’t forget Tondo. The other eight were Ermita, Intramuros, Malate, Paco, Pandacan, Port Area, San Andres, and Santa Andres. But whenever we got homesick we headed for Makati and the supermarket and Jack ‘n Jill Barbecue, Honey Pretzels, Plaza Pizza, and Big 20 Hamburgers. That was after we became truly situated.
In the center of the bay sat strategically the island of Corregidor… because of it and the bastions of Bataan and Cavite, the harbors of Manila were defensible. (Recognizing it America maintained a Naval Station on Cavite.) Still, when Dewey steamed into Manila Bay, he defeated the Spaniards almost without a fight, but the fight wasn’t over then by any means.
We saw disparity everywhere we looked, and I thought it was a threat to the city and the country. The wealthy appeared well entrenched. Except for a few here and there, from Ermita and Malate to Malolos and Quezon City, most wealthy people lived within walled compounds (topped with broken glass and/or barbed-wire and protected by armed guards) or in large gated sub-divisions in and around Makati. These sub-divisions were built to provide homes for diplomats, airline pilots, and stockbrokers, or for people with similar resources. At the same time, slums mushroomed north of the Pasig in a district called Tondo. Nothing described the squalor there. There was a massive invasion of squatters. Already densely populated with poor Chinese, the district became one of the worse slums and one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Added to the squalor (and misery) was a huge city dump, with garbage, smoke and stink, and where thousands more live, scavenging to survive. But this struggle and squatters weren’t limited to Tondo.