Manila’s Edge: Its Geography

“Manila has the bay of Naples, the river of Paris, the canals of Amsterdam. If these advantages are properly developed, Manila can equal the world’s greatest cities.”

Mapa de Metro Manila

If one looks at a map of the Philippines, one notices that Manila is an excellent place where one can put up a capital/settlement. Its majestic bay is naturally protected by the mountains of Mariveles, Bataan as well as the small island of Corregidor and the province of Cavite. Manila Bay, considered as one of the world’s best natural harbors, relatively calm because of the said natural protections. This wonderful body of water has given Manila so many opportunities to interact with the entire world and likewise, for the rest of humanity to experience Manila.

Luckily, Manila Bay is not only the city’s body of water. The Pasig River traverses through the city and connects Manila Bay to one of the biggest lakes in Asia, the Laguna de Bay. The areas around this huge lake, which is actually the crater of a huge volcano, are lush and abundant. One of the reasons why the Spaniards moved their planned capital city from Cebu to Manila is because Laguna de Bay facilitated the constant availability of rice and other foods unlike in the Visayas where the farming practice was that of slash-and-burn.

Old Postcard Featuring the Mouth of the Pasig

The Rio Pasig splits Manila into two: the Northern and Southern banks. Its two main tributaries are the Marikina River and the San Juan River. Measuring 25 kilometers, the Pasig used to be the venue of many trades, from fluvial processions, to commercial pursuits, leisurely activities such as weekend swimming sessions and boat racing contests and of course, transportation. Up until the 1950s, the Ilog Pasig still accommodated such human activities. Huge bungalow homes as well as palatial mansions used to line the banks of the Pasig before its sad and unfortunate deterioration.

Another geographical feature of the city of Manila is its system of esteros. These esteros were actually the Pasig river’s estuaries branching throughout the city. Through the esteros, farmers all the way from Laguna peddled their vegetables and other goods to the residents of the city who waited for the boats of these vendors to pass by the back of their homes. The products were usually tossed up to the buyers. The esteros served also as drainage, as a means to easily put out fires and to give off that cooling effect. Imagine having clean streams of water running behind your house!

Manila Estero with the Bancas: What Country Does This Remind You of Now?

Although the majority of Manila is below sea-level, which explains the constant flooding in some parts of the city as well as some suburbs, there are also hilly areas such as Sta. Mesa and San Juan. Among Metro Manila’s hilly portions are Greenhills (San Juan), Quezon City, which is a huge hill, Kamuning and Cubao. On the other hand, Makati sits on a huge volcanic rock (as you could see the traces in the Guadalupe area) while Antipolo, well, is on a mountain. There are also traditionally swampy areas such as Sampaloc in Manila and Makati.

Through the years, however, the capital city and the rest of its suburbs became overwhelmingly populated and polluted. What used to be naturally low-lying was suddenly above sea level due to the application of different materials such as cement and asbestos. Nonetheless, these places continue to flood. The hills of Kamuning have ceased to being hills and are just a bunch of roads going up and down.
The Pristine Pasig River of Yore

The Pasig River, until the 1950s, was a clean and refreshing scene. Now, it symbolizes the death and murky state of the capital city, which it seems will take for eternity before it regains her former beauty and grandeur. In the old days, students from Bulacan who’d attend classes in Manila can still get to their schools in an hour by riding a boat through the Pasig. Now, it’s so difficult to convince people to use the river! The beautiful houses, which used to line the banks, have been replaced by large factories and countless shacks. What could’ve been a tourist attraction and gem of the Manilenos is slowly constantly falling in decay. One could just hope, and of course, support the efforts in trying to clean and rehabilitate it. This is precisely my point earlier: whatever happens in Manila affects us. As tourists see the dead Pasig River, as investors notice the seeming lack of trees and the constant flooding in Manila, their comments will still be of importance even if we live in Makati or Quezon City. We are beholden to the city of Manila. We therefore need to restore and support all efforts of bringing it back to its former glory. And one way of doing this is to remember and take note of its natural landscape.

HORRIBLE! The Estero de Binondo Teeming with TRASH


The esteros which used to serve good purposes are now simply equated to open, dirty canals. Many esteros have been left to silt and all that are left are used as open sewers and places to dump solid waste. Some shacks have been heavily clustered around esteros that one can no longer see these. Alas, these little streams become sources of different kinds of diseases since these are found beneath the houses of these poor Filipinos. What could have been natural avenues for floodwater to go through to reach Manila Bay have become clogged and sources of dengue and malaria.

Common Manila Estero/Creek Scene Today

When the Americans arrived, the man tasked of planning out their new capital in the Far East, Mr. Daniel Burnham, commented:

“Manila has the bay of Naples, the river of Paris, the canals of Amsterdam. If these advantages are properly developed, Manila can equal the world’s greatest cities.”

Certainly, the War, local politics and business as well as the general lack of care and knowledge towards urban planning and cultural heritage have all left this city in bad shape. Bloated, chaotic and vulnerable to many natural calamities, Manila has to listen to history and rediscover its true edge.

What is its true edge?

Is it its SM malls? Is it its numerous Mini Stops? Is it the jeepney? Is it the fact that “everything can be found here”?

No. It is its natural geography. If this is tapped, respected, and even obeyed, horrible instances like Ondoy would be avoided. Fires would be easily prevented and most importantly, Manilenos can live better lives. Manila can be a source of pride and honor, tourists can come and Filipinos can be sure that their city is a blessed city if its natural set-up and features are protected and integrated well into the planning of the city.

The View from Manila Bay: There is Still HOPE!


The city of Manila and its environs hicieron ayer.

About hechoayer

Things made yesterday still influence us until today. Things made today will influence us tomorrow. Things of the essence such as faith, culture, food, music and values should never disappear nor eroded by the times. Instead, these must be recorded, lived and shared. Something made yesterday - hecho ayer - can be tomorrow's saving grace. Never ignore the past.
This entry was posted in CULTURA, HISTORICA, LA VIDA FILIPINA and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Manila’s Edge: Its Geography

  1. Inspiring blog entry. Why not submit it so magazines or newspapers? I see the importance of utilizing the natural geography within Manila but it seems that efforts might be futile if people continue to be selfish.

  2. Rocom Alva says:

    “On the point of rapid growth, yet still small in area, possessing the bay of Naples, the winding river of Paris, and the canals of Venice, Manila has before it an opportunity unique in history of modern times, the opportunity to create a unified city equal to the greatest of the Western world, with unparalleled and priceless addition of a tropical setting.”

    ito exact na sinabi ni Daniel Burnham…if the stars were properly aligned hechoayer…if the stars were properly aligned…😥

  3. d gasgonia says:

    Your blog spot was forwarded to me. I am writing a situation analysis of Manila. May I use excerpts from your blog spot? I will make the appropriate reference/citation for it. Thanks – DZG

  4. Pingback: The permanence of consequences « Get Real Post

  5. Pingback: R Is For Rio Pasig, the River That Fed Old Manila | Morrighan's Muse

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