It was the dawn of April 27, 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan and his handful of men, confident of their superior European weaponry, got off their ship and waded ashore for a face-off with defiant Lapu Lapu and his 1500-strong army of natives defending Cebu’s Mactan Island. Little did Magellan know that this iron-willed Visayan datu would cut short his glorious journey in further discovering new worlds for Spain.
Eventually, in subsequent expeditions led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, Spain conquered the kingdom of Maynila in the northern mainland and set it up, dropping more centrally located Cebu, as their primary seat of government. Ever since, Imperial Manila has been calling the shots and holding together a vast fragmented archipelago named after King Philip II of Spain.
Manila Unites the Nation
To this day, Manila unites a nation of many local cultures, tribes and dialects by enforcing Tagalog (as the national language called Filipino) and the centrality of the Tagalog region onto the thousands of islands that make up P.I. Manila brings a nation together by turning the people’s attention and hearts to its Tagalog TV shows & movies, basketball teams, pop artists, and celebrities.
Manila decides which event makes headline news as its NCR-centric broadcast networks and national dailies stream the latest developments on the political and socio-economic action and condition in the metropolis in all directions across the country. Manila is the gateway and ticket to national prominence and success.
Philippine history has mostly centered on Manila and its surroundings (the 8 rays in the flag’s sun). Since the times of Rizal’s execution at Luneta and the Katipunan revolution to our more recent EDSA people’s power uprisings, Manila’s story largely constitutes what the entire populace has learned to be their shared history in school text books across the land. A shared history centered on Tagalog speakers is still a common bond that defines the Filipino regardless of region none the less.
The Price of the Manila-Centric Mindset
Setting up a capital however in a very narrow strip of land pressed in on both sides by two huge bodies of water (Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay) is the epicenter of the urban planning nightmare we have today. The humungous traffic gridlock and blood curdling chaos of squeezing in millions of people in such a small piece of real estate are but some of the endless frustrations Filipinos in the capital face on a daily basis.
Traffic and congestion nevertheless seem to be a magnet to Filipinos, who seek jobs and opportunities for trade and commerce. Manila is where the action is. As they say – nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. The envy of every marginalized urban wannabe across the country, its skyline is graced with majestic stately skyscrapers and the largest shopping malls in Asia, spelling out to everyone in the provinces the definition of first-world progress and development.
As the nation’s trendsetter, Manila showcases to the other regions the glamor, wealth and prestige of its fast-paced SUV-driving condo-living modern lifestyle – the essence of the Filipino dream. Like a hypnotized viewer being brainwashed by subliminally invasive advertising or campaigning on TV/mass media, deluded people in the provinces flock to the end of the rainbow with hope of a better future, making it big, and receiving a share of the city’s fortunes. The poor fill every open pore of vacant space available in the city to the brink, looking up in anticipation as they wait for some trickle of blessing to drop from Manila’s rich and tech-savvy upper class.
Filipino dysfunction in the remotest provinces beats to the rhythm of the nation’s heart – Manila’s unending supply of TV show clowns and political bozos that have struck gold generating folly for everyone to emulate. A key host of unifying noontime show Eat Bulaga says it all – “Yumaman kami ng dahil sa katarantaduhan!” And as demonstrated by Joey Marquez’s stellar “it’s more fun” career, it is in Manila where the defining lines between basketball, showbiz and politics get lost in one big chaotic circus.
Cebuano-Speaking Queen Cities of the South: It’s Rising Time
The marginalized south which constitutes one of the biggest people’s group, mainly the Cebuano speakers of Cebu, Negros, Bohol, Leyte, and Mindanao, seem to have been caught all this time under a spell of humble subjugation, content on receiving the crumbs that fall off rich Manila’s table.
Mindanao, a vast tract of land serving as the food basket of the country, and the resource-rich islands in the Visayas pay their tributes to the capital by pouring wealth into the NCR with state-funded projects, mass transit systems and skyway infrastructure. Billions are spent on a parking lot or a high school in Makati, despite the enormous backlog in facilities for the bare basics in health, facilities and education elsewhere in the country.
But the fortunes of Manila may take an unexpected strange turn if the queen cities of the south: Cebu, Davao and Cagayan De Oro, rise up from their stupor, and demand their rightful place in the country.
Putting all of one’s eggs in one basket seems to be counter-intuitive in light of external threats to the country. With Manila as the nerve center of finance, government, and business, a foreign invasion that seizes the capital will effectively throw the rest of the country into paralysis and pandemonium. And with an ill-equipped military, the Philippines is one of the easiest countries in the region to conquer. But it seems Pinoys are the least worried about such a risk or possibility as they are too narrow-mindedly preoccupied with festering internal problems of their own making, wishfully thinking that Uncle Sam will always be there to be their fallback.
It is high-time Cebuano-speaking regions realize they are a Philippine eagle that can fly, and not act like a native chicken in a cage. It is high-time for them to unite behind those who champion their cause, and finally bring back the development they rightly deserve in their lands of enormous potential. It’s time they think big, dream big and talk big – expecting to be treated as an equal like “knights on the round table.”
Federalism – Change for the Better?
Federalism (partitioning the country into several states, each with its own capital) espoused today by the Iron camp is a big word that has the potential to disrupt the way things are going for this country. It is a word that screams out change and hope in a move towards decentralization.
- Could federalism turn out to bring the much needed rightful development to every region in the Philippines?
- Could it wake us up from the delusion that self-important imperial Manila has painted in Filipinos minds to believe?
- Or could it become the seed of the breakdown of the fragile unity that Manila brings?
I would suspect that the fighting spirit of Lapu lapu still runs in the blood of our southern countrymen.
It may be the dawn of a new beginning. Maayong buntag sa inyong tanan!
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