Pining for Manila’s Old Glory is a Sign of a Lack of Vision

My Fascination for Old Manila and my Quiapo Roots

I have been engaged in a rather long running hobby of hunting for old pictures of Manila on the internet.  So much so that it led me to create Lumang Tao Moments a few years back — it is a site where I curate all the Old Manila pictures that I find. Given that I haven’t updated it for a months now, the site gets a pretty decent traffic and earns quite a bit of ad revenues — for some unfathomable reason which only Google Adsense can fathom.

lumang tao moments

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I think I acquired my fascination for Manila’s Old Glory because of my Dad, who grew up in pre-World War II Quiapo.   He’d take me on these extremely long slow walks through the Quiapo district and at odd intervals, point out one place or another, all the time explaining what it was before the Americans bombed the hell out of it.

Perhaps there’s nothing about Quiapo’s streets that he didn’t know about, the whole area was his childhood neighborhood.

For instance, he’d point out one corner and say, “That’s where people sold rats for food during the war” or this is where such-and-such important person did something odd.  I wish I could have listened more to his stories, but the problem was that back then I was rather distracted by the soreness I felt in my short, stubby legs after walking quite a way.

What was great about these long walks is that it would usually terminate at my Lola’s house and that’s where I’d get my fill of pochero or pesang dalag and a great heaping of sorbetes.  Usually, after lunch, Dad would play several rounds of mah-jong with my uncles and aunts, all the while arguing and recriminating each other over trifles.

ambassador chairThe clinking of bottles of Cerveza would join the rattle of mah-jong tiles until it became like the drone of an old engine, lulling me into an afternoon nap on one of Lola’s ambassador chairs — the ones with seats and back made of woven rattan strings.  Dad would usually wake me up after an hour or so  

My Lola Jule’s (Dad’s mother) house straddles Matapang St. and Progreso along Bilibid Viejo, a smaller street parallel to R. Hidalgo.  Together with my Lolo Bitong (Pablo Farol), they managed to buy a pretty large lot in the area after making it as one of the larger fruit suppliers in Manila — supplying even Malacanang and Manila Hotel.


Photo credit: John T Pilot / / CC BY-NC

Lola’s house is near Raon Street, where you can get pretty much any kind of electronic gadget at wholesale prices and other odd stuff like pilik-mata ng kambing, herbal potions like pampa-regla, bronze amulets, butot page, etcetera

It is also just a short walk away from San Sebastian Church, which is perhaps the only church in the Philippines made entirely of steel and is known as an example of a revival of Gothic architecture.  The Ocampo Pagoda is also another decades old landmark in that section of Quiapo and something that most people don’t see or know much about.

san-sebastian-churchBilibid Viejo street is a lesser known street compared to R. Hidalgo, which for decades and up to the present (I think) has been known as a haven for photographers.  Years ago, there was some talk of a “Hidalgo Heritage Street Project” which would see its restoration, having been known in the 19th century as one of Manila’s most beautiful streets.  But after a recent visit to that area, it seems the project must have lost its way from the drawing board on its way to actual execution.

(As to why the street Bilibid Viejo (Old Prison) was named such, I am not completely sure, but I have a hunch that it may be because it has something to do with the location of Manila’s old city jail — which is now actually on the Quiapo Church side of Quezon Boulevard.)

From all my Dad’s stories, I had grown to think that if there IS an Old Manila, it’s certainly in Quiapo and not in the former beach house district of Malate.  I could be wrong, but that wouldn’t be interesting to me — after all, I am the one telling the story, right?


Without a Vision, Reviving Manila is a Lost Cause

The rather contrived protest against a reclamation project on Manila Bay has had the rather quaint effect of fostering digital babble  swirling around a nebulous idea of reviving Manila’s old architectural “treasures”.  The fact that what is actually being referred to as a “heritage preservation advocacy” is comprised of one building here and another building there, and not a whole row of buildings that would conjure the same magic possessed by the grand boulevards leading to the Arc de Triomphe.


As mentioned in previous articles on SOS Save Manila Bay, the group’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.)

Renovating a few buildings here and preserving another building there may have little hope of later leading up to the manifestation of a grand vision of what Manila should be other than a lose collection of historical landmarks strung up like the dangling phrases and clauses that litter a certain tour guide’s walking tour monologues.

If for anything, what Manila Goldcoast Development Corporations’s Manila Solar City represents is a grand vision of what Manila should be and a new, better introduction to the treasures it holds.

(To Be Continued…)

12 Replies to “Pining for Manila’s Old Glory is a Sign of a Lack of Vision”

  1. Much agree with the title. Pining for the past is the result of failure to accept the present, and perhaps laziness to take chances to improve things for the future. “Living in the past” is the problem for many people, but it may also be the problem of the Filipinos’ collective consciousness.

  2. The place is sad and gettin sadder! TOO BAD really. No City planning to preserve what is worth preserving and getting rid of the urban blight. and MAYBE have some storm drainage systems installed/cleaned/upgraded?NAH.
    Pearl of the Orient is just going to Hell, shame too!

  3. Manila needs a major facelift, and for that matter it needs a young and visionary mayor. Erap doesnt have have those qualities.

  4. I miss the beautiful Manila :(( Luneta on weekends, shopping at Bergs and Saldana shoes at Escolta, Aguinaldo and Rustan near Vito Cruz…roller skate at the skating rink, going to planetarium and the big library…Manila was nice and clean with abundant treated water from Balara…whatever happened? to those good old days? Malate was a nice tourist spot at night with bars and decent music from latin quarters, a quaint french restaurant the “a vont vivant” a family restaurant ” Ambos Mundos” sigh! oh the “Aristocrat” across the bay for a quick lunch of chicken bbq with fried rice…yumm and oh! puto bongbong at night when Christmas is fast approaching. In Quiapo carts with lampara, selling apples and chesnut and lanzones..the smell of Christmas! I have good memory of Manila. I love the siopao and mami at “Mamon Lok” lechon from Baclaran…Balut Penoy at Luneta Lovers Lane where I had my first kiss from a guy from Diliman :)))

  5. This reminds me of one think I don’t like in this, or any society: old people clinging to the past and refusing to be in touch with current times. Sometimes, they might be the people who had servants in their youth, who’d drag and pull those servants by the hair when they’re mad. Today, there’s a law protecting servants (kasambahay), and perhaps they’re disappointed about it. But as Cito Beltran said, we are a “sense of entitlement” culture that depends on servants even when actually dirt poor.

  6. Until the young ruin their sense of tradition and culture, respect and sense of gratitude. They forget history and belonging they can content with and help build the nation. But instead look up towards other nation and copy cat thy fad they don’t even fit in, which ended with dissatisfaction and desperation to resolve with ranting and discontent attitude, litter left and right, misconduct, despise instead of being humble and wise and improve themselves, resolve to gossip, destroy and become the burden of the society…resolve to stealing, cheating and lying and and trying to be better than everyone else.

  7. I find nothing wrong in preserving the memory of the past if part of it we still have at present but I disagree with having to feel guilty about lacking a vision for the future just because I am a nostalgic history lover. Ask the Americans and Europeans who have made great strides forward without ever losing touch of the past they so painstakingly preserve to this day.

    I am a Manileño and not Manilan, the difference being that one was born, bred and lives within the city he loves 24 hours while the other is an 8-hour weekday denizen who retires to his suburban or provincial abode by sundown, even longer through weekends, as soon as his routine grind for subsistence in the city is done. I value my Manila past, the people, places and culture associated with it. I value what my parents taught me and my books told me. It may not be the best city, but it’s the only one I’ve got.

  8. Thanks for your marvelous posting! I seriously enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author.I will make sure to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back later in life.
    I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great posts, have a nice evening!

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