What Metro Manila billboards tell us about the Filipino character

Driving up or down EDSA, the main road transport artery through the Philippine megalopolis of Metro Manila, is like navigating a badly-designed website. The huge billboards that line the iconic thoroughfare competing for the attention of motorists and their passengers are monuments to the aesthetic sensibilities of Filipinos. Manila, after all, is the cultural capital of the Philippines. As such, the beauty or non-beauty of Metro Manila reflects upon the character of the Filipino.

What then does EDSA tell us about the Filipino? On the basis of the billboards that line it, perhaps a few phrases come to mind:

– Vain and narcissistic
– Starstruck and celebrity obssessed
– Sexually repressed
– Confused sense of identity
– Brand conscious

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

That’s how much one would gather from the structures flashing the obnoxiously large photoshopped images of underwear-clad fair-skinned celebrities sporting their best it’s-all-about-me or come-hither looks in their faces, with the mandatory overstated brand logos juxtaposed prominently to make extra sure the whole point of it all is not missed.

The proliferation of these billboards and the shape and form that their content has taken is an exquisite laboratory of Darwinian natural selection. It is a spectacularly colourful outcome of a fierce competition for the Filipino consumer’s eyeballs, much the same way that our once magnificent rainforests and the majestic canopy formed by its tall hardwood trees was shaped by a mad scramble to compete for a view of the sky and the energy-giving sunlight that comes from it.

So whereas, the Inquirer.net Editor laments that she may “never see a tree at all” until these billboards “fall”, perhaps seeing Metro Manila’s “billboard blight” under a different light might help. In a sense, these billboards have become Manila’s “trees”. And instead of the sunlight trees compete for, it is the line of sight of the glazed eyes of commuters and motorists stuck in traffic that these modern-day urban trees race to grab.

Which brings us to the point of this article. The point of this article is that the whole issue about obnoxious and, allegedly, “obscene” billboards has inspired the lyricist in me; thus:

Pity Metro Manila
It’s for so long been a killa
Noxious fumes
Seep into aircon rooms
From vehicles barely roadworthy
That spew their exhaust without worry

What we need in this sad city
Is a bit more eco-tenacity
Alas but to aspire to such beauty
Is to understand Da Pinoy’s apathy
As there is nary a goal to be
A city made lovely by a tree

So I may never see a tree at all
Until Manila’s billboards fall
But perhaps to escape this billboard blight
It might help to see these under a different light
The tree that no longer takes root in our city
Now exists as a mutant monstrosity

Behold the creature given life
By the nature of Filipino vice
When it comes to aesthetic taste
The Filipinos’ never fails to lay waste
The billboard blight we name with irony
Now reflects our character with fidelity.

A brilliant piece of Filipino poetry brought to you by benign0, lyricist extraordinaire.

18 Replies to “What Metro Manila billboards tell us about the Filipino character”

  1. tunay kang makata, benignO. 😉

    since you have mentioned narcissism, i just wanted to share a story i heard on an AM radio show about a certain presidential sister who got into a fit when she saw her billboard being taken down. apparently, she berated those who were given the hapless task of staring at her larger than life face as they were following the orders of their superiors because the billboard had no permit. sufficed to say the billboard was soon back up with permit and all so that the commuting public can bask in her glory.

    i just heard this on the radio so i wouldn’t know the veracity of the story. however, given the personality involved, it wouldn’t be totally incredible.

    1. Thanks. And, yes, that sounds like something a certain presidential sister would do, of course recognising these are all just hearsay allegations… 😉

  2. Davao City is fast catching up. Trees are also replaced by billboards each screaming to get the motorists attention.

    1. hahaha!!!…hm, i don’t know why i can’t connect to your link. 🙁

      but yeah, i wouldn’t be surprised if we are the most narcissistic. i mean, how many employees have mirrors on their desks instead of a picture of their kid?

      i also get a bit embarrassed when i hear people interviewing visiting foreigners “what do you think about Filipino women?” geez, azzif! if they answer in the negative, they’re jerks. if they answer in the positive, they immediately find themselves being set up with a starlet.

      oh well, i am beautiful. *looks at self in the mirror behind desk*

  3. What about the Boy Abunda and Ellen Beauty clinic billboards? dapat silang dalawa na lang yung naka-underwear ads. That would really attract attention

  4. If you use your time, looking on these bill Boards…you can have accident…Just don’t mind them. These people are just selling you something…

  5. what a sight to greet tourists.
    the billboards say – we are tacky, lack creativity, definitely narcissistic, and treat women as sex objects so you can also.

  6. Ah, but I LOVE these billboards!

    These really do help divert our eyes away from the ugliness that is EDSA – uninteresting architectures, zero landscaping, informal settlers cramming just about every inch of space, illegal vendors hogging the sidewalks and foot bridges, under-collected trash everywhere, perversely persistent beggars, the “rugby boys” in the Cubao area, the “jumper boys” in the Balintawak interchange, illegally parked vehicles in the Cloverleaf market area, the eternally grimy MRT tracks and stations, the infernal honking of passenger buses that are forever jamming every lane available, and the mulcting cops.

    Except probably for that small strip in the SM MOA area, there is nothing scenic about EDSA.

    Thank God for these billboards – Whenever I bring in foreign visitors, I know their eyes will be diverted away from the TRUE blights.

    What happens BELOW these billboards are more reflective of the Filipino character, and of the Filipino way of life.

  7. Leads me to believe outdoor advertising has become the medium of choice given it is said to be cheaper than TV or Radio advertising.

  8. What i do not understood is actually how you are not actually much more well-appreciated than you may be now. You are very intelligent. You already know thus significantly in terms of this topic, made me individually imagine it from so many varied angles. Its like men and women aren’t involved unless it is one thing to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your personal stuffs great. Always take care of it up!

  9. Yeah, narcissistic and vain. I am a foreigner and live in a condo unit. You know what? There are certain Filipino residents here that can’t even push their garbage down a trash shute completely. How hard is it to give one foot/pound of force so it will go down all the way? They just leave it. They sweep their hair, and dust out of the unit expecting somebody to clean it up instead of walking it to the garbage. They don’t even hold the elevator for you and see you are coming. If you take one extra second of their precious day, it is too much. I can go on, but that is enough.

  10. I want to knock the poles of each billboard down and watch as a domino affect takes place. lol Looking for limelight when their is nothing to find in it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.