Let me say first up, I don’t like Manila. It is too big, too dirty, has too many people, the roads are hopelessly clogged and there are no visible signs of road rules. There is an astonishing gulf between the rich and the poor. It is largely in a state of decay due to shoddy construction and an apparent lack of money for maintenance. At the same time grand new suburbs are being built for the rich. Although regularly hit by typhoons, flooding, mudslides and other catastrophes, no lessons seem to be learnt. The impact falls primarily on the poor, with little money being spent on mitigation or risk management.
Linda and I have often talked about how (or indeed if) it could get better, but I’d not given any thought to how it became the way it is. That is until 14 October when we went on a walking tour of the old walled city of Intramuros with guide Carlos Celdran. As he says, he is a man trying to change the way we look at Manila, one step at a time. Intramuros is his stage as he dramatically walks his audience through Filipino history. And an amazing history it is, from the pre-European era, then the Spanish colonization in 1565, followed by a brief British presence from 1762 to 1764, the fight for independence from the Spanish in 1896, the American/Spanish war in 1898, the Philippine/American war in 1899, the American colonization from 1902, Japanese occupation during World War II and finally independence in 1946.
Throughout this the Filipinos suffered terribly, firstly at the hands of the Spanish, then under the Americans and lastly during the Japanese occupation. It’s a tragic story. It doesn’t change what Manila is now, but it certainly helped me understand why it is the way it is.
Thanks Carlos for a moving and enlightening three hours in Intramuros. The photos show us following him through Intramuros listening to his engaging history lesson.
Read on if you’d like to know more.
After more than 300 years under Spanish rule, a secessionist movement led to the Philippine Revolution. The intervention of the Americans and the American/Spanish war gave hope of independence to Filipinos. But that was short-lived once the American objectives became clear, and so began resistance against American occupation.
During the Philippine/American war some 16,000 Filipino soldiers died, along with another 34,000 civilians as a direct result of the conflict. On top of this at least another 200,000 are thought to have died due to a cholera epidemic during the war.
As resistance eased, the Philippines prospered under American colonization, and by the mid 1930s Manila was the most cosmopolitan and progressive city in South East Asia.
This ended dramatically in 1941 as Manila was heavily bombed by the Japanese just 10 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbour. General MacArthur’s famous return to the Philippines completed the destruction of Manila as he tried to bomb the Japanese into submission, ending only with the formal surrender of Japan in 1945. During the Japanese occupation from 1942 about one million Filipinos were killed.
Since independence, and despite the best intentions of a number of presidents, the Philippines has nevertheless suffered under the leadership of dictators, the corrupt and inept and a film star who was both corrupt and inept.
Little wonder then that Manila is now a rather unattractive city and that the Philippines is populated mainly by Catholics who speak Filipino dialects with a twist of Spanish and speak English with a heavy American accent.
And a huge number of Filipinos can trace their ancestry back to Spanish priests.