Where have all the good sites gone? My friends and I asked as we walked up and down A. Mabini and M.H. del Pilar in Malate.
According to Josefina P Manahan on Street-Bound: Manila on Foot, the stretch from Quirino to Kalaw should be lined by antique shops, handicraft stores, and famous boutiques. As we walked on a Sunday afternoon a week ago looking for these places, our glimpses of Old Manila were few, counted in one hand, leaving images of sad, old buildings with sadder people in our memories.
We were following the ghosts of Manahan’s walks, it seems. In 2001, she came out with a guidebook for the curious and adventurous, the bored and jaded, hoping they will be inspired by walks through Manila’s historical and more colorful districts. It came complete with maps, a glossary, and a directory.
Even then, she was urging public officials to make an effort to preserve our heritage: restore landmark buildings instead of tearing them down to give way to malls; and create more space for greenery instead of planting parking spaces on them.
Her pleas, and her book, did little good, I guess (for Malate and Ermita, at least) , because eight years later I can barely hear the echo of the proud and genteel Manila A. Mabini and M.H. del Pilar used to be.
Next, I’ll probably be asking, where have the Mehan Gardens gone? Oldest in Asia, the gardens date back three centuries, boasting of a botanical garden and a zoo which were famous during the Spanish and American regimes.
In 2003, during Lito Atienza’s time as Manila Mayor, a row over the city’s green spaces beside Metropolitan Theater and Manila City Hall erupted. The good mayor wanted to cut trees from the Mehan Gardens and Arroceros Forest Park for a bus parking terminal, a city college, and a teacher’s dormitory. Environmentalists sued him, but even as wheels of the legal system slowly moved, the parks lost more than a few trees
This mayor was also responsible for tearing down in 2000 the Jai Alai building, one of Asia’s finest Art Deco buildings for a new Hall of Justice for the city (which was never built) and chopping down trees a few years later along Roxas Boulevard for the construction of a row of restaurants beside the sea.
If you want funny, this official was named Environment Secretary in 2007.
Before I go down a spiral of despair and pessimism, I think some of the walks listed down in this guidebook are still worthwhile to do. Binondo and Quiapo are as vibrant as ever. Paco Park is still atmospheric. And the National Museum Complex enjoyed an overhaul during Fidel V Ramos’s presidency in the 1990s. Last April, I joined an unforgettable tour of the national museum led by the highly witty John Silva, historian and museum expert.
Highlights of that tour was the exhibit on Philippine Haute Couture, featuring some of Slim‘s creations from 1947 to 1990, and the Spoliarium, world-famous painting by Juan Luna that won for him the gold from a prestigious art contest in Spain in 1884. Slim is Salvacion Lim Higgins, a famous designer who dressed the elite back when coy allure and elegant grace had the premium in beauty.
I don’t know if there are any updated Manila Walk guidebooks around. I think Street-bound can still be useful, though, as it led me and my friends to the knowledge that if we don’t walk now, we will never walk these old Manila places ever again.