Pining for Manila’s Old Glory is a Sign of a Lack of Vision (Part Two)

I left off my previous post with a paragraph that had the sub-heading, “Without a Vision, Reviving Manila is a Lost Cause”.

 SOS Save Manila Bay’s woeful calls for “environmental” and “heritage” preservation is as shallow and meandering as the silted Pasig River that disgorges its black sewerage water into Manila bay.

Why? It’s not out of negativity or plain meanness that I say this, but rather out of sheer disappointment because the group has proven that it can’t offer an alternative beyond self-serving demands for the “gentrification” of a section of Manila.  (Not that the irony of the term ‘gentrification’ in more current connotation was detected by the self-professed cultural stewards.)

Truly, without a good, clear vision or idea of how to develop Manila over the course of the next 10, 20, or 50 years, we can very much count on the city to slowly die — if it hasn’t died already and there are a lot of signs that it has.

In fact, when Dan Brown somewhat described Manila as “The Gates of Hell” and his publicists counted on the predictable Pinoy outrage to set off a digital gabfest that would propel sales of the book, I hardly saw a Manilenyo come up with a good come back proving it wasn’t the portal to Hades.

Sure, there was MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino’s letter to Brown and if I had been able to advise him on the matter, I would have rather he say nothing at all but instead launch a marathon clean up drive.  It wouldn’t fool anyone, for sure, but I think it would still be better than just saying:

“More than your portrayal of it, Metro Manila is the center of Filipino spirit, faith and hope… Manila citizens are more than capable of exemplifying good character and compassion towards each other, something your novel has failed to acknowledge,” Tolentino stressed.

“Truly, our place is an entry to heaven,” he added, reversing Brown’s depiction of Manila as “gates of hell.”

Tolentino couldn’t point out even one, just ONE, place in Manila which would be the total opposite of what Brown described in his book.  Not that stretch of street in front of the Syquia Apartments or for that matter Malate, not Escolta, not Ongpin, certainly the heck not Quiapo, and not even Rizal Park — which despite the face lift or restoration work, still lacks the feeling of vitality.

Not. One. Single. Place. In. Manila. Proves. Dan. Brown. Is. Wrong.

Then again, even if the MMDA went whole hog with a clean up drive until the end of President Benigno Aquino’s term in 2016, I don’t think it would be enough to really “revive” Manila.

Real urban revival or renewal, in my view, is so much more than a few buildings restoration or preservation of one building here or there.  We can start off with a basic definition and the one below comes from Business Dictionary dot Com:

The process where an urban neighborhood or area is improved and rehabilitated. The renewal process can include demolishing old or run-down buildings, constructing new, up-to-date housing, or adding in features like a theater or stadium. Urban renewal is usually undergone for the purposes of persuading wealthier individuals to come live in that area.

Read more:

But even more than that, urban revival or renewal should be part of an over all vision rendered in a urban development or redevelopment master plan.  Given that such a plan will take decades to realize and given that the execution of such a plan rests in the hands of local officials whose terms of office span just 3 years, it becomes highly probable for an urban renewal master plan will NOT be fully realized as local officials get replaced by rivals or priorities change from election to election every three years.

So far, the Manila City government has produced a number of land use and zoning ordinances — the last one having been passed in 2006, I think.  However, this hasn’t resulted in its strict implementation as commercial establishments and light industries still sprout up in areas that are clearly residential.   Worse, there are areas in Manila where people still breed pigs and chickens!

In my view, there are perhaps two ways that an urban redevelopment masterplan is executed no matter whoever sits as mayor, vice mayor, and councilor of Manila:

  • One is to come up with an actual law which commits a portion of Manila’s revenues towards the urban redevelopment master plan, which will tend to go against current national policies to strengthen local governance.
  • Another is to encourage private investment in the revival or renewal of Manila.

Of the two, the second would seem to be the better course especially in light of recent word from recently elected Mayor of Manila, former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada in which he said that Manila’s coffers have all but been emptied out and implies that proposals for the city to fund an urban renewal project may be out of the question, at least, as far as his three year term is concerned.

As for the second option, which is to have private corporations undertake urban renewal project, the biggest one so far that has been approved by the last Manila City council and Mayor was the Manila Solar City — a joint venture between the Manila City government and the Manila Goldcoast Development Corporation.

The proposed Manila Solar city actually leaps off from a number of statements made by world renowned Philippine architect Jun Palafox where he urged on the re-development of Manila Bay and the banks of Pasig river into the “front door” of the country.

Palafox noted in more recent articles how Manila had moved away from using the bay as well as its extensive river system and tributaries as transport and commercial areas.  He decried the fact that these bodies of water have been treated as a backyard dump, rather than a major resource for transportation and commerce.

The Manila Solar City, as its planners claim, represents a commitment to realizing a vision of Manila Bay as the country’s front door.   Its plan includes docking facilities for luxury cruise ships, a commercial/business district, a culture and performing arts district, a government offices district, and a residential district.

(To be continued)