Former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza’s Wobbly Stand Against the Manila Bay Reclamation Project

Second of a Series on Manila Bay

When I used to go to work at the Department of Tourism and then at the Philippine Senate from 2003 to 2009, my drive to and from work would always include going through heavy traffic along Roxas Boulevard.

Not once did I look forward to driving on this stretch of road for a number of reasons.  The fact that on certain days (Wednesdays, mostly) traffic would be awful is only one of the things that bothered me.  The other things that bothered me was the fact that being stuck on Roxas Boulevard meant I’d probably smell all the icky stuff that pours out of Manila’s gazillion sewers and have my car’s windows hammered on by a long parade of peddlers or beggars.  Once in a while, the boredom of sitting through hellish traffic would be interrupted by some random criminal act — someone’s bag getting snatched, someone getting held up, or some wayward bus causing an accident.

manila bay boardwalkThere was a time when things changed a bit along Roxas Boulevard and that was the time when former Manila mayor Lito Atienza converted a stretch of the boardwalk into a restaurant row of sorts — Manny Pacquiao even had a restaurant there.   Perhaps it was an off shoot of the revival of Remedious in Malate as a nightspot of sorts, but certainly, it made the hellish drive along the Boulevard an even more special hell.  Because, on top of having to practically do the cha-cha on gas, brake, and clutch pedals, you’d have to do the El Bimbo on the steering wheel as you try not to bump careening drunks who cross the boulevard at random tangents.

Recalling other things done during Lito Atienza’s time as Manila Mayor, I did like the fact that he undertook the re-paving of so many kilometers of sidewalks and that attempt to make a part of Rizal Avenue nearest Quiapo Church into a fully pedestrian zone.  But as far as some or all of the parks and would be tourist attractions in Manila, things stayed pretty much in a decrepit state.

I actually have an impression that Manila Zoo, Rizal Coliseum, and Paco Park as well as all the other places that my mom used to take me to when I was a kid suffered a lot of neglect.

The Children’s park beside the Department of Tourism building, for example, was pretty much an assortment of concrete pissing cages masquerading as dinosaurs.  It was only recently, during the Second Aquino administration, that the park was actually given some attention and revived along with Rizal Park.

I don’t know if China Town in Binondo, Escolta, and some parts of Malate beyond the Red Light district got any attention, but my impression is that it didn’t.

jai alai buildingLito Atienza should be the last person to talk about preserving the historicity of Manila and be vocal against the Manila Bay Reclamation Project, because Atienza destroyed the Jai Alai building on Taft Avenue  — a building designed by Hollywood architect, Welton Beckett.

Despite the passing of the Republic Act No. 10066—the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009—that protects all 50-year-old buildings and specifies that special permission be secured from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts for their renovation or demolition, their destruction goes on.

The trustees of the Heritage Conservation Society have sent this open letter:

“The Heritage Conservation Society, the country’s leading conservation nongovernment organization, remembers the jai alai and the start of its demolition on July 15—12 years ago.

“Public outcry and his promise not to demolish one of the largest and finest Art Deco structures in Asia did not stop Manila Mayor Lito Atienza from ordering the demolition.

Moreover, let’s not forget what Atienza did with Mehan Garden:

…he decided to build a new campus for the Universidad de Manila, (formerly called City College of Manila) on the historical Mehan Gardens. Environmentalists and historians were opposed to the project stating that Mehan Gardens should remain as an open space, one of the few remaining open spaces in the City of Manila and for historical reasons, with the gardens an untapped archaeological resource that dates back to the time of the Spanish colonial era.

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Post Author: Paul Farol

Try not to take me too seriously.

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17 Comments on "Former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza’s Wobbly Stand Against the Manila Bay Reclamation Project"

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Johnny Saint
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Hi again Paul. The preservation of historical architecture in the Philippines leaves a lot to be desired. Luckily the Manila Metropolitan Theater survived the ax and received an extensive renovation. Too bad the Rizal Theater in Makati had to make way for the Makati Shangri-la Hotel. I had hoped a lot of other historical buildings in Metro Manila could be saved. In America, they take architectural preservation seriously. There was a Greyhound Bus Terminal at 1100 New York Avenue in Washington DC (built in 1940; designed by William S Arrasmith). It’s an excellent example of Art Deco design. Today the… Read more »
alconce
Guest

It is really sad that politicians continue to deface and destroy landmarks that define our identity. A few years back I made a sentimental trip to the place where I spent my entire teenage years and early adulthood. I was lost instead. The streets I knew have different names. They not only destroyed but erased parts of our history and culture.

Paul Farol
Guest
I don’t think my point came across well enough, so I think I ought to try again: Manila Bay is a polluted cesspool and the real answer to saving the bay is not to go against reclamation but to pressure government into enforcing stricter anti-water pollution controls. All the restaurants and all the buildings along Roxas Boulevard, for example, should recycle its water as well as process its waste water. If Carlos Celdran or Jim Libiran ever walked along Ermita or Remedios, I doubt they’d miss the stench of rancid grease in the sewers. I bet even the Syquia Apartments… Read more »
Johnny Saint
Guest
Sorry for digressing, Paul. I did get the subject of your article. I got too focused on the fact that the Manila city government’s (and by extension, the national government) efforts at urban renewal have been appalling and misguided. With regards to privately owned buildings and businesses treating their own waste, the DENR, over the past five years or so, has sent out notices that buildings — commercial and residential — need to install waste water treatment facilities. This is now a requirement for new properties being developed as well as older structures which were built under the guidelines of… Read more »
Paul Farol
Guest
Well, we differ in terms of what to do with Manila’s harbors and this may be born from having had ridden boats at the Manila Pier during my stint with RTVM (Radio TV Malacanang) in the mid-90’s. There were a number of times when RTVM’s broadcast crew had to board BRP Ang Pangulo at the pier. This was something I really, really dreaded. First thing is that to get to the pier where Ang Pangulo was, we usually had to go through non-stop heavy traffic from Intramuros all the way to the actual pier — which was less than 2… Read more »
Johnny Saint
Guest
Nope, it ain’t faith if you’ve actually seen the technology work. At least on a small scale. Okay, time for a shameless plug 😉 The San Juan City apartment building I live in is around twenty years old. Five years ago the DENR sent a letter to the building administrator outlining the requirements for an updated environmental clearance. This was when we first learned of the mandate to install an STP for older structures. After the initial grumbling and much hemming and hawing, our homeowners’ association decided to hire an environmental engineering services company to install the water treatment facility.… Read more »
ChinoF
Member

Perhaps it was good the restaurants were evacuated off Baywalk, else they might’ve been hit by the recent storm surge.

wantonman
Guest

I don’t really get the issue with Mehan garden. Perhaps it’s because I am unaware of the history behind it. However, since the space was used to house a new school which now provides for hundreds if not thousands of students, then I would say that it was a worth while sacrifice.

Johnny Saint
Guest
No, it isn’t worth the sacrifice. Mehan Garden was established in 1858 by the Spanish as a botanical garden (It was called Jardín Botánico — literally “botanical garden”). This was a trend among European colonial powers in the 19th century. Mehan Garden was one among several botanical gardens planted throughout Spain and its colonies; it was the first zoological and botanical garden in Asia. The Americans decided the Spanish Jardín Botánico would be better suited as a public park. In 1913 they renamed the park after John C. Mehan, superintendent of Manila’s parks at the time. As this article relates,… Read more »
17Sphynx17
Guest
There is a line to consider when you opt to preserve against develop/redevelop. I am not completely against preservation but there are limits. For one, it is funding to maintain the said building to a certain “restored state”. I don’t know about you guys but Vigan really does not appeal to me as I feel it has been bastardized even with funding for a so-called Unesco Heritage Site. Granted in the past it may have been such but now, the buildings really look delapidated instead of maintained and they are erecting new structures with just trying to “simulate” the design… Read more »
Johnny Saint
Guest
17Sphynx17, Like wantonman, you really should look at the history of the place to realize and appreciate its value — historically, architecturally and culturally. What makes Rizal Park any more worthy of preservation than Mehan Garden? Luneta was originally a marshland adjacent to Intramuros that the Spanish turned into a plaza (Plaza dela Luneta). That turned it into the social center for the people of Manila in the 19th century to “be seen.” And it became notorious for the executions of Filipino priests Mariano Gómez, José Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora and Jose Rizal for subversion. Mehan Garden (Jardín Botánico) was… Read more »
17Sphynx17
Guest
Hi Johnny, I’m not saying not to preserve artifacts but I would be selective in its application as it would be the government who will maintain it will public funds. (please of course disregard whether or not there is corruption of the funds as that is another issue which affects a broader spectrum of actitivities other than just preservation/conservation/restoration) If we focus solely on maintaining “all” what we believed should be maintained and restored what then is left out from other projects. We are talking about limited budgets wherein spreading it too thinly overall concerns would not be an effective… Read more »
Hyden Toro
Guest

I have not gone home for many years now. All I know was: Manila was congested with jeepneys and buses. Boys and girls carrying babies; are on the streets begging. Hungry boys and girls, come to take what was left on your plate; when eating in a restaurant. Chinatown was full of pimps; asking if you want a woman for sex. Those were the days…

Paul Farol
Guest

Uh… Where in Chinatown was that man? I must have missed out. Hahaha!

Johnny Saint
Guest
You have to look the part 😉 I and a Chinese-Filipino friend of mine were walking around Malate after exams (way back when) with our study group when this skinny guy crosses our path and offers my friend an under-aged girl for the evening. Apparently, he mistook us for tourists from Hong Kong. Our female classmate wasn’t as amused. Same night, same neighborhood, this huge barrel-chested American “gentleman” wearing a tank top, shorts, lots of skin art and a Billy Gibbons-style goatee sidled up next to her asking “How much, little girl?” As she is barely five feet tall and… Read more »
Paul Farol
Guest

Hyden,

I practically grew up in that area, man. Can you remember exactly where this happened, like the street name?

Then again, I suppose it may be true because I know of a couple of establishments in the area that cater to people who want to imbibe some carnal knowledge.

Actually, one of them was a Barber Shop with a backroom for “massages”.

But seriously, I never really encountered such a scene where some street pimp offered girls or maybe I was just too engrossed other stuff like those Chinese groceries and restaurants.

Hehe!

ZNK
Guest

R.I.P Manila Jai Alai Building 🙁

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