Filipinos portrayed as friendly, polite, hospitable and musical. Amok Filipinos run amok. Everywhere leftovers from colonialism. Now called imperialism. Everyone studied Rizal, national hero, national novelist and poet, national martyr, invoking other heroes. Who killed Magellan? Datu Lapulapu. Conducted the longest revolt? Dagohoy. Conspired with the British? Diego? Murdered? Gabriela Silang. Self-taught Father of the Philippine revolution? Andres Bonifacio. Propagandist? Marcelo H. Del Pilar. The brains of the revolution? Emilio Jacinto. Wife of Andres Bonifacio, who fought beside her husband? Gregoria de Jesus. Greatest general of the revolution? Antonio Luna.
Chinese dinner at a Cantonese restaurant on Mabini Street with Nick. Mabini Street: shopping emporium with stores, restaurants, and sidewalk venders. Where you would buy shoes, eat sweet and sour pork, and haggle over a box of Post Corn Flakes.
Littered with broken glass, parts of the city were flooded by snapped water mains. Walls and roofs of many Old Spanish stone houses and churches outside town crumbled. Most of Manila’s buildings, designed to withstand quakes, were built of bolted timbers. They withstood the shock better. President Marcos proclaimed a state of emergency.
4:21 a.m. Friday. Rolled through an 800-kilometer stretch from Aparri in Cagayan to Samar in 33 seconds. Shook bed. Ceiling went one way; floor the other way. 33 seconds seemed like forever. Pitch darkness. Then Fire! Terrified, rushed out of apartment building. Come to find out, neighbors lit candles after quake. Across town, on Doroteo Jose and Teordora Alonzo streets, in Santa Cruz, six-story Ruby Towers apartment building collapsed. Building collapsed “like a house of cards.” 342 people died. 6,000 volunteers dug with their hands for over a week to extricate bodies and survivors. Hard, dangerous work. Red Cross…served coffee and sweets. A yell went out each time a body was found. More hands and more volunteers, working night and day as fast as they could through the rubble. Masked because of dust and death. 125 hours after the quake miracle: two girls pulled out alive. Now, two years later: accusations.
No soil exploration. No slump tests. Poor design. Deficient construction. Inadequate inspection and supervision. On the 1,293-square-meter property stood a two-story building, room for shops, an eatery, and a club. On building’s top floor was Ruby Tower temple. Most people who lived in Ruby Tower were Chinese-Filipinos.
Visited Ruby Tower site with Nick, who had an apartment nearby. Town packed solid, inside, outside. Streets packed with buses, trucks, and colorful ubiquitous jeepnies. Concrete surrounding but for parks. Crowded inner-city alleys leading away from main streets. Broken sidewalks and open sewers underfoot. Overhead, excessive power lines. Major arteries jammed with traffic…colonial-era bridges. Under Quiapo bridge, a market for tourist. Topside, an old church. More pollution. Smog. Flooded during rainy season. Miserable water pressure. Kids draining water hydrides for their families. Nick said, “They have to fetch water at night and often miss school because of it.” Ducked down narrow lane to his front door. Reminded me of my doorway. People living on top of each other. More crowded than London. No courtyard. No room for it. Went into apartment. It all looked familiar. Cement floor. Small kitchen. Toilet without a seat. A few shelves of books: a desk, a sofa, love seat. No fan. “It gets very hot in here during the day,” Nick said. “I have a window upstairs next to my bed. But I keep the window closed. My neighbors yell at each other all of the time. I hear everything.” I wondered how much they knew about Nick. Always fighting. Nick explained how he was lucky, how his rent was cheap, and how his building survived the earthquake. Lucky to have a pump. Paid extra for pump. Pump a necessity because of lack of water pressure. Nick’s anti-imperialism, anti-war attitude had my sympathy. Millions of things happened to Nick…bad things I wouldn’t go into details about because he was still emotional about it.
Looked at old guidebooks of Manila. Saw that the city was once called The Pearl of the Orient…much of it was destroyed during the Liberation of Manila. Some people still described the city as beautiful; a great many more wouldn’t go that far. Many more were nervous rather than optimistic.
But here we had more people living in less space than almost any other place on earth. Here we had rich people living next door to poor people and the only thing that often separated them was a wall and a guard. Here we had a city that had an infrastructure that was inadequate because the city grew out of control. Broad boulevards connected the city but were often clogged beyond belief. Perhaps you’d want to avoid squatter areas, particularly those that sprung up recently.
You may choose a stroll through the Luneta or down the esplanade along the bay. You may want to stay in safe areas, though determining what was safe seemed problematic. Yet Manila was considered one of the safest big cities in the world.
You may want to take a cruise for a day and relive a little history. Everyday, except when there was a typhoon, you could take a cruise to Corregidor.
Do you feel homesick? No need for it. Manila offered a little bit of everything. So name your poison. As an American, you’d feel at home. Still want more? Ask a cab driver. You could pay for a ride for an hour or a day. Be sure you negotiate before you get in a cab. But if you want a slower pace, you could hail a pedicab…still willing to peddle you and your belongings to a hotel of your choice. Ermita and Malate were where a large number of tourist hotels were located. For reasonable dinning consider Mabini Street.
Please, please, pardon our mess, as we’re experiencing growing pains. Most hazards were temporary. You may have had to cross the street but it only showed how earnestly we were trying to solve our problems. But let us assure you that these problems were truly temporary. We had to absorb a vast number of refugees who came to Manila looking for a brighter future. Well, you say, “so have many other cities.” You ask, “What makes Manila different?” We like to think it’s the temperament and the resilience of our residents.
Our hopes and dreams of a bright future lie in the hands of people who have come here from all over the Philippines. They may begin with nothing. They prefer to live here because of the opportunities here. So Mabuhay or welcome! You are always welcome in Manila, The Pearl of Orient. Let us live in peace for everyone’s benefit.
On her way home from school, Susan stopped at the supermarket in Makati, a weekly routine, and picked up a few goodies we had to have. This supermarket, so different from any other market in the Philippines, was like most supermarkets in the United States Aisles were wide, wide enough to accommodate huge shopping carts. Shelves and freezers were full, full of products from around the world. There were checkout lines, with cash registers and checkers, which was different from other stores or shops in Manila, which rarely specialized in more than one or two items and relied on clerks who served customers directly. (Most busy Filipinos had maids, who shopped each day in open-air markets.) In back of the supermarket was a parking lot, with a security guard, where customers from nearby Forbes Park and other subdivisions parked their cars. The supermarket reflected modernity and western influence and the tastes of the rich people who lived and worked in the area. As was her custom, Susan bought something special for me, a treat from home, but also something for our maid Linda, something that would expand her horizons. Susan couldn’t wait to spring her surprises on Linda. Linda had learned to adapt Philippine dishes to our American tastes.
Linda claimed she found us. Before she moved in with us, she lived in shanty in a squatter’s area. Before she moved in with us, she lived with her sister, her sister’s husband, and their eight children. They all lived as one big happy family, all eleven of them in two rooms, with adjoining bathing and cooking areas. We never knew what Linda’s family did to survive, but we were told repeatedly that we paid Linda too much.
I asked her if she was happy living with us.
She said, “yes.” But on principle, we shouldn’t have paid her so much. By paying her too much we were creating inflation. While we could afford it most people couldn’t or wouldn’t. With what we paid her, Linda was able to save some money, and we never knew how much she gave her sister. We considered it none of our business.
Linda usually had our evening meal ready soon after Susan got home, and over the meal we talk about our day … Susan about her day at the International School, me about my adventures good or bad, while Linda rarely said much of anything.
As a reporter, I was able to ingratiate myself with a Moro rebel and a Communist radical, but my articles hadn’t made us much money. So we relied on Susan’s salary, which by Philippine standards was fairly decent.
I asked Linda where she lived before she moved to Manila and started living with her big sister.
“We lived near San Fernando, not far from Manila, and we grew rice. Most of it went to our landlord,” she said.
I asked her how that worked.
She seemed hesitant. ”It depended,” she said. “Supposing it was a bad crop…then most of it went to our landlord because our lease remained the same. The most he could take from us was all of it. In San Fernando, I had to find work, or go to Angeles, where as a girl there was always work; yet I heard from my sister that there were more opportunities in Manila…so I moved here. Then, too, I could make more money in Angelas.” She didn’t elaborate, but we knew what she was talking about. “But I want to get married someday. And as girls, we went to church. Landlords who don’t need money shouldn’t be so hard on tenants when crops are not good, because who wants to have their daughters go to Angelas. I know I am very lucky. See how it worked out for me, but it doesn’t work out for everybody.”
As we sat down for dinner, she said, “I paid my sister rent when I lived with her. She got used to the rent that I was paying to her, so now with what you pay me I’m able to keep it up and since you don’t charge me anything to live here. We all must help each other when we can.”