The urban squalor depicted in the acclaimed Brocka film Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag in the 70s persisted like a stain that wouldn’t come off. The glory days of Manila were long forgotten. In the 80s, I could not unsee children and grown men hanging from embankments and pooping directly onto Pasig River in full view of morning rush hour traffic. Thirty years later, little else had improved. Until Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso – popularly known as Yorme Isko Moreno – came along. Barely warming his mayoralty chair, he set out to scrub off the decades-old grime of our capital city.
Sailing used to be the cheaper alternative to flying. But in the advent of LCCs, it mostly cost less – and for less travel time – to take a plane than a ship. One December day, though, we decided to welcome the new year in Cebu. The holiday rush shot flight fares through the roof; that was a given. What was not was going by boat, which basically meant going by 2Go, the country’s largest passenger ferry fleet.
My grandfather must have turned in his grave. He was the first Filipino Baptist minister in my hometown in the 1930s; fast forward to about 80 years later and his daughter – my mother – declared she wanted to do a visita iglesia in Manila. As a PK (pastor’s kid), Mom could count with one hand the times she had been inside a Catholic church. Perhaps because of this blog, she finally caught on to my fondness for religious art in these colonial era churches.
Dancing dragons seemed to have taken leave. In their wake, fruit sprouted by the sidewalk. Tied on red ribbons, they festooned the length of Quentin Paredes Street in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown. It was my first Chinese New Year in their turf, and I had not expected to see a virtual orchard.
Overcast, Gothic, Illuminati. No, these are not plot elements of the latest installment in the Da Vinci Code franchise.
One gloomy January day, I attended an Illuminati event at the only Neo-Gothic church in Manila, the Basilica Minore de San Sebastian. From the elevated train, the sight of the church’s twin spires piercing the sunless sky evoked an ominous Gothic atmosphere. Despite the whimsical aquamarine exterior, darkness enveloped my tentative steps as the basilica’s main portal creaked open akin to a filmnoir opening sequence.
There are 7,107 islands in the Philippines. High tide or low tide? Only a Filipino beauty queen knows. But you don’t have to be a beauty queen to know that the sea is a geographic border that could separate people and places. However, in pre-colonial times, before the Philippines became the politically unified archipelago as we know it, “communities were connected, not separated, by water,” according to historian William Henry Scott.
Sunday is free-admission day at the National Museum of the Philippines. Despite the come-on, its halls are hollow with just a handful of visitors. It seems that the museum has become a mausoleum of our historical remains – static and dead. Yet its halls should be hallowed. The museum is the country’s beating chest of historical treasures. It is said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Perhaps this is why history does repeat itself in the Philippines. How many of us step into the museum to be reminded?
“It’s not flat!” Karry, my Japanese friend, exclaimed as she was looking up at the ceiling of San Agustin Church in Manila. That one sentence proved that the church’s ceiling mural had fooled yet another gazer. And that was exactly what a trompe l’oeil (click here for the pronunciation) painting intended to do. French for “deception of the eye,” the visual art technique rendered images on a flat surface to be realistically three-dimensional, and it had been used for centuries. Kids, 3D was not invented by James Cameron.
There was no better way to know a city than by walking its streets. Though I had walked and known other cities, I was not inclined to accord the same intimacy to Manila, the city I worked in but would rather not walk in. There was always something that kept me off its streets: the mundane grind of real life perhaps, or the grime, crime, and grinding poverty. However, one sun-baked afternoon, cabin fever lured my friend and me outdoors to pound the city’s pavement.