La Manila que nunca podemos encontrar

Delivering a short discourse on the importance and undeniable Hispanic nature of Manila before the War

Delivering a short discourse on the importance and undeniable Hispanic nature of Manila before the War

por: Joaquín Carlos Urbiztondo de Jesús
23 febrero 2013

This was the talk I gave last Saturday, 23 February 2013, at the Bahay Nakpil Bautista in Quiapo on the occasion of the Heritage Conservation Society’s activity Remembering the Liberation of Manila.

In today’s context of rapid and tumultuous change, many things are threatened by forces both visible and invisible. The turbulence brought about by technological, economic, political and social upheavals corrodes the foundations of communities: their culture, their history, their values, and to some extent, their very identities. Indeed, this is no less true for the Philippines and its Hispanic heritage, something which has been threatened ever since the turn of the 20th century.

Today, as we remember the Liberation of Manila, which can be, ironically, called as the “Rape of Manila”, allow me to focus on one of the most unfortunate victims of that dark moment in our history: the Spanish language and Hispanic culture of the Philippines.

In a time when Manila was the “Pearl of the Orient”, when memories were rosy and when days were much simple, the capital’s citizens lived with pride. Their actions were guided by the principles of delicadeza and urbanidad and the city’s beauty nurtured these values to some extent. And it cannot be denied that the citizens of Manila, and of the archipelago’s other progressive cities, felt they were part of the Hispanic family.

There is just something fascinating about the stories of pre-war Manila that my grandmother, like any pre-War Manileña, recounted to us her grandchildren. Books like “Myself, Elsewhere” by renowned historian and cultural essayist of Carmen “Chitang” Guerrero Nakpil, mother of our advocate in the Heritage Conservation Society, Ms. Gemma Cruz Araneta, and that of Purita Echevarria de Gonzalez’ “Manila: A Memoir of Love and Loss” are filled with stories, honest and heart-breaking accounts of the pre-war and war-torn days spent in Manila.

And during this time, Spanish was the language of the educated and cultured.A true and living connection with Mother Spain and our other Hispanic brothers was manifest in the language and customs of the citizens.

This held true for almost any middle-class Filipino family back then residing in Manila, and the other major cities in Pampanga, Batangas, Bicol, Cebu, Panay , Negros and Ilo-ilo.

This was the trend from the late 1800s all the way until the 1930s. It must be noted that it was during this period when a blossoming of the Spanish language in the Philippines was actually witnessed. With more access to education, people began to learn to language of statesmen and heroes. They also found the Spanish language as a rallying language all Filipinos can adhere to against the new colonizers.

Through the great efforts of nationalists, thinkers and writers such as Claro Mayo Recto, Enrique Zóbel, Manuel Bernabe, Jesús Balmori among others, for a time, a golden age of the Spanish language and Fil-Hispanic sentiments was witnessed as a sign of nationalism under the American colonial regime. For a moment in our history, a hopeful opportunity was seen for the Philippines’s Hispanic heritage.

To describe further the Hispanic flair of the city, allow me to read an excerpt from Nick Joaquín’s essay on Intramuros, which he described as “ the city’s deepest inside, innermost sanctum, holy of holies – a tribal high altar sa loób ng Maynilà:

Entering through Victoria Gate and going up Solana, you reached San Francisco, which was a double church, for beside the main one (its creamy pillared façade rose five stories high) was the V.O.T., the chapel of the Franciscan third order, where was venerated a crowned St. Louis robbed in ermine. At the end of Solana was Santo Domingo, magnificently gothic and rose-colored with a side portal opening out to the Plaza de Santo Tomas.

Crossing the plaza and passing the university, you came upon the Cathedral, which had wide porches instead of a patio, iron-grille balustrades and, just inside the entrance, a small bronze statue of a seated St. Peter whose toes had been worn smooth by kisses of the faithful.

Past the Cathedral, a left turn at Calle Arzobispo brought you to San Ignacio, wedged between the Ateneo and the episcopal palace; very high iron grilling enclosing the narrow court that formed a portico to this red-brick church known as Jesuitas.

At the end of Arzobispo was San Agustin, with its double convent: the main monastery beside the church and the separate business quarters (or procuration) adjoining the Ateneo.

Turning right on the Recoletos and doubling back on General Luna, you reached Lourdes Church, or Capuchinos, youngest of the Walled City’s temples, with a painting of the Virgin on its façade.

This churchly tour does not include the various chapels of Intramuros: the chapel of the Archbishop’s Palace (a favorite for society weddings), the chapel of the Poor Clares, the college chapels of Letran and Ateneo, the hospital chapels of St. Paul, San Juan de Dios, the convent-school chapels of Santa Rosa, Santa Catalina, Santa Isabel (where was enshrined a much-revered Santo Cristo) and the Beaterio de la Compañia, this last being the most hid-away convent in Intramuros.

Though the Walled City had a small population, its numerous churches never lacked for congregations; were in fact the most crowded in the city. The reason was that Intramuros as like a second parish to Manileños. On Sundays and feasts you were just as likely to hear Mass at some Church in Intramuros as at your own parish church, where you might run out of masses. But in Intramuros you could hear Mass as early as four o’ clock dawn and as late as high noon.

Moreover, a common practice of the old-time devotion was to hear low mass at the parish church, go home for breakfast, then take the family to attend high Mass in Intramuros, because high Mass there had the elegance and solemnity that were beyond the resources of the average parish church: rich vestments, elaborate rituals, learned sermons and superb music. The boys’ choirs of Lourdes, Santo Domingo and the Cathedral were famous.

Nor were the Intramuros churches crowded only for Mass in the morning. In those devout days, no Sunday or feast was complete without attendance at the afternoon rosary and benediction- and here, again, the Walled City’s churches provided a more dramatic service: baroque devotion at its most ornate, as typified by the jewelled golden monstrances lifted high for public adoration, amid clouds of incense and to the trilling of bells, a style of worship natural to the Manileño’s rococo heart. Which is why, in the old days, whether at morning Mass or afternoon benediction in an Intramuros church, it was usual to find to your left a family from Tondo, and to your right a family from Santa Ana, and in front of you a family from Sampaloc, and behind you a family from Malate. Manileños from all over were always assembling sa loob ng Maynila.

-Nick Joaquín

This rather long quotation describes only a very small fragment of the collective memory proud Manileños have of the Intramuros of yore. It depicts the piety often associated with Manila, and how the city was undoubtedly influenced by Spain’s last, and strongest, bastion in the country, the Catholic Church.

Along with the Cross was none other than the Spanish banner, waved valiantly by nuns, friars, monks as well as old institutions (San Miguel Brewery, Ayala y Cia, etc), schools and families. The Spanish language found comfort and blossoming, if not, utility within the comforts of these groups.

But how important is the Spanish language in our remembrance of Manila?

Simple: it was the language of the city. It cannot be denied that when Manila was raped and destroyed in February 1945, so too was the language of Rizal, Bernabe, Balmori, Recto and Manglapus. Spanish also suffered the same fate of the city when the Japanese and Americans turned the city into a bloody battlefield. Like the city, the language was unable to recover.

Why do associate a language to a destruction of a city?

Because the destruction of Manila during what is ironically called the “Liberation of Manila” cannot simply be reduced as some obscure tidbit of history. What happened in February 1945 cannot be taken lightly as some mere historical account. It was a month of cold murder, when hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were killed, when families were summarily shot, when nuns were raped, when pregnant women were bayoneted, when widows were abused and children slaughtered. In 1945, a city of affections and memories was erased completely. The Manila that we have now does not compare not even to the smallest percentage of reality or aura or feel of that Old Manila.

When the schools, buildings, museums, theaters, churches and houses of a city are bombed, burned and bulldozed, we remove, painfully and forcibly, from the hearts of that city’s citizens, the memories and affections they had for those places, places, which for them, have meaning and relevance. For the devotees, for example, of San Antonio, who, for years went to Mass at the San Francisco every Tuesday wearing their brown devotional garbs, it would have been heart-wrenching when they saw their Franciscan friars coldly murdered in the convent, and their church destroyed and bulldozed!

In La Salle College’s chapel, La Salle Brothers and the families which took refuge there were slashed by bayonets and left to die bleeding. In Ermita and Malate, families, from grandparents to infants, were sprayed with bullets. In San Marcelino, bodies of the Vincentian Fathers were dumped unceremoniously in canals. The friars and nuns enclosed in Intramuros, which became the last bastion of the Japanese resistance, were killed coldly within their historic cloisters. Churches, which served as sources of strength and inspiration for the people, from the San Ignacio to the San Francisco as well as the Cathedral, and all the other sanctuaries, were gutted and indiscriminately bombed. The Bayview Hotel became a silent witness to the cries of girls raped in succession, sometimes by groups, by Japanese soldiers.

To destroy all of these sights, hence, is to pierce and tear apart the hearts of those who valued it. Alas, Manila has never been able to recover from such a brutal blow. Today, the Manila we see, feel, hear, and even smell, is a city that is dead.

After the War, many old-timers would claim that everyone had turned into animals. And among the very first things people gave up on was their command and use of the Spanish language, a language they have long associated with sophistication and propriety, a genteel life. In order to survive, Filipinos had to really learn English and Tagalog to seek help and refuge.

The destruction of the city’s physical edifices also caused the destruction of the country’s Catholic values, Hispanic culture, and even basic good manners. To this day, we are suffering the effects of the destruction of Manila. From the lack of interest and sense of connection to the city, to the despicable urban plans or lack of for the city of Manila to the seeming banality of life in Manila (i.e. the domination of the consumerist “mall culture”) , we continue to lose our pride of place. Replaced by massive shopping mall centers, traffic-jammed high-ways, and an entirely repulsive “metro city”, Manila has long lost her identity and strong sense of community. What was once a small community of related or acquainted families has evolved into a despicably chaotic capital that obviously does not have an integrated urban plan neither a respect for its history. The litany of sins committed by mayors and even presidents can be as long as (or even longer than) EDSA. From tacky street lamps to the proliferation of billboards, the list of problems is deplorably kilometric. Now, there’s even a plan to further reclaim Manila Bay! The demolition jobs committed on heritage structures and the continuing assaults on Manila’s heritage virtually continue the rape of Manila of February 1945.

After the brutal destruction of Manila during the “Liberation”, and the eventual deaths of the country’s foremost Hispanists, the Spanish language in the Philippines has been left prey to anti-españolistas – people and organizations who have moved viciously to remove Spanish as a mandatory language in universities, and finally, as a national language of the Philippines. Just as how the city became prey to the ignorant, so too was the language of Rizal, Bonifacio and other heroes. The anti-Spanish forces have long propagated a negative and sinister image of Spain, and her language. Spain was portrayed as a merciless oppressor, and the 400 years of Spanish conquest in the country was alleged to be nothing more but a dark age of monasticism and archaism. They easily brainwashed the country, erasing from the national consciousness all of the many beautiful innovations the Spaniards brought to our shores – from the cooking technique of the guisado to the Western-type universities, which produced able scholars who excelled in Europe in the 1800s. In 1987, with the new Constitution signed and inaugurated, the Spanish language, and in general, the Philippine’s Fil-Hispanic identity, met its final blow when a law in the new constitution dropped Spanish as a national language and as a mandatory language in universities.

In this day and age of globalization and the Internet, of migration and budget airline fares, more and more of the young travel. Likewise, in the search for their identity, the youth refer to their countries for touchstones or foundations, by which they can base their image. Languages contribute greatly to this sense of pride of place. Now with a Manila divorced from Spanish, it lacks that full or comprehensive identity it lost in February 1945.

Although this is a disheartening reality, vestiges of the past remain standing. Hence, sources of inspiration continue to compel groups and individuals in preserving the capital’s threatened heritage. The sins of the past also haunt the present generation, urging them to do all they can to restore Manila to even a fraction of her former glory. From bloggers to amateur photographers, Manila’s history and cultural heritage are being documented and shared through new forms of media. Businessmen and a few policy makers are also initiating programs and projects that will sustain the city’s cultural heritage.

This noble enterprise of heritage preservation, however, should not be meant simply to restore edifices or preserve physical structures. The goal should be to render respect to the affections, memories and as I have pointed out, the language of our ancestors in their city. The act of speaking and writing about Manila’s cultural heritage and history should be based on a genuine concern for memories of Old Manila to be kept alive, attractive and relevant in today’s (post)modern world.

I even dare assert that today’s mission of restoring Manila cannot be done without promoting the Spanish language. A more genuine and honest approach to appreciating Manila’s heritage is to also show deference, if not, reverence to the language the city used to speak.

From February 1945, the years that have passed have been chances for us to redeem the city we consider our capital. For the years that will come, let us take every opportunity and challenge to enhance our city by utilizing and honoring its colorful heritage.

Manila is our capital city. Let us work for its preservation not for tourism, not for profit and not even for the future. Let us preserve and value it simply because it is our historic capital.

Many thanks to Urban Sketchers Manila and the Bahay Nakpil Bautista!

Many thanks to Urban Sketchers Manila and the Bahay Nakpil Bautista!


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.
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4 Responses to La Manila que nunca podemos encontrar

  1. This post of yours made me sad. It reminded me of the beautiful things that were lost to us. We can only see the old photos but they are never enough! The important part of our culture can never be recorded by a camera.

  2. liquiddruid says:

    People find it odd when I explain that I want to learn Spanish because I want to learn more about the Philippines. A big chunk of our written in history is in Spanish and most of it is so far still untranslated. If we want to unlock that 300-year identity of ours that was lost in time and has been collectively forgotten, then learning Spanish is the way to go. Thanks, I finally found someone who understands.

    (Now, any tips on how to effectively learn Spanish? Hehe. I’m sort of stuck in the very basic stuff.)

    • hechoayer says:

      It is foolish to find learning Spanish a frivolity especially with regard to learning more about the Philippines. It is actually an IMPERATIVE to learn Spanish if one wants to genuinely deepen and profoundly appreciate Philippine history and culture.

  3. De AnDA says:

    You have 300 years of written history in Spanish. If you don’t know the language you’re disconnected from that source. The academic (nationalist educators) argument that it’s irrelevant is just plain idiocy and we all know it. The generation that spoke Spanish would moved earth and sky to prevent the methodical removal of the Spanish language.

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