Monday, May 26, 2008


Thank you PJ for sending me this link to SFGATE, the San Francisco Chronicle website. PJ was nice enough to leave it in the comments section of my post about my search for Manila's next top tour guide.

Apparently, a guy named Joe DiBernardo just came back from the Philippines and this is what he had to say:

Traveler: Joe DiBernardo, Walnut Creek

I went because: My wife, Alison, had a qigong retreat in the Philippines, and we chose to visit Palawan afterward in part due to an article in The Chronicle ("Philippines Green," Nov. 18, 2007).

Don't miss: Islands, beaches and rock formations in the Bacuit Archipelago near El Nido (on the island of Palawan).

Don't bother: Spending more than two days in Manila.

Coolest souvenir: Locally made hand-carved wooden box with frogs on top from Asiano shop in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

Worth a splurge: Staying at Dolarog Beach Resort (midrange). Cost includes your individual hut, most meals and daily island-hopping by boat.

I wish I'd packed: Fewer clothes so that I was traveling lighter.

Other comments: Carlos Celdran's walking tour in Intramuros (Manila) was informative and fun.

And although I was kinda thrilled that he found my tour both informative and fun, what really broke my heart was his dismissal of Manila as not being worthy for more than a couple day's visit. Now, I don't hold this against him. I know our setbacks all too well. His opinion is a rather accurate meter of what people out there think of us. It just disheartens me to see once again just how far we have allowed ourselves to fall as a metropolis. And despite the seven years worth of hard work, sweat, and tears I have shed for this damned place, it also breaks my spirit to see how far Manila has to go in changing people's negative perceptions.

Good God. Why did we Filipinos allow Manila to go to hell? I mean, doesn't anyone out there see that Fort Bonifacio, Ayala and Ortigas Center DOES NOT COUNT AS MANILA? It never has and it never will be the face of the Philippines. No matter how many fricking fancy malls we put in these privately managed areas, the world will always judge us by Manila. Specifically, Old Manila, the areas by the Pasig River and all the way from Sampaloc to Pasay City.

Now I know the government doesn't give a rats ass, but don't regular Filipinos see this? Does the business community of the Philippines see this? Do the Ayalas see this? Do the Gokongweis, and the Sys? Sorry for dragging their names into this, but these people (and all those involved in big business/real estate in Manila) have the most at stake here and have the most power in changing people's perceptions if they just bothered to look OUTSIDE their own interests. Why don't these developers strive to create real estate/commercial projects that ENHANCE Old Manila and it's culture instead of providing an ALTERNATIVE TO IT? Or if not, can't their foundations allot a little more money to the protection and proper developent of the heritage/commercial districts that they poached their clientele from? I mean, really, Manila is our central heritage/tourist district and we have allowed it to be abandoned by the middle class and overrun by garbage, bad infrastructure, moronic planning, unimaginative architecture, prostitution, drugged out squatters, and Korean Karaoke bars.

Sigh, So I guess that until all we Filipinos (and especially businessmen and government officials) realize that Old Manila is the true yardstick that the world measures our culture by (AND NOT MAKATI nor MALL OF ASIA), we should just prepare for the world to think of us as blighted and unworthy of more than a 48 hour glance.

That's all.


Urbano dela Cruz said...

I agree with you on Old Manila (and its condition) defining us. And not just in the eyes of tourists, but in our own sense of self-worth.

But here is where Local and National government has to lead. Private developers, by their very nature, are conservative and risk averse (no matter how visionary they may seem to be). They will also look for large plots of land and would rather not be bogged down by the lot by lot improvement that grass roots urban renewal demands.

While there are major pieces that will come into play that the large developers will be interested in (like the padacan depot, the bilibid prison, etc.) - city wide renewal requires deft policy, and a well thought out vision -in the large scale of how the city should work, and in the small details of how each street, park and plaza should look

Government has to provide incentives for renewal at the small scale - like historic tax credits, or shopfront improvement loans.

Government has to work on roads and sidewalks and street furniture (lamps, etc.)

Only government has the power of condemnation and expropriation for land assembly -which could do wonders for redeveloping old industrial areas.

I know that could mean despair -given the state of our local government (Lim, notwithstanding) - but here's where ordinary people can help: by organizing local coalitions focused on making our capital city more livable. And bringing urban issues (not just crime or traffic but livability) to the forefront of local elections.

Tall order -but remember that even cities like NYC and Chicago had (and still have) corrupt rat holes as city halls - citizen advocacy shaped the cities into what they are now.

Senor Enrique said...

I remember when some of New York neighborhoods such as Soho, the Lower East Side, Chelsea, TriBeCa, Hell's Kitchen, the meat-packing district on 14th Street, Times Square, and Bowery seemed grungy and down-trodden that many people avoided going there. Now, all those areas are commanding incredibly high real estate prices.

In Manila, the tri-district downtown section of Binondo, Santa Cruz and Quiapo already commands one of the highest real estate prices in the country, yet it seems as if not much continual improvement goes on in the area.

Perhaps, many more of our local gays and artists should live in the tri-district area and open up galleries, cool shops and cafes. What I noticed in Manhattan is that as soon as the artists and gays move in, the neighborhood, sooner or later, experiences an auspicious renewal.

I still say that they should convert those commercial buildings along Escolta into live/work lofts as they had done in New York, L.A., Philadelphia, Baltimore, and etc.

Nonetheless, despite having lived more of my life in New York than in Manila, I look forward to someday living somewhere in Binondo, Santa Cruz or Quiapo. That is because these neighborhoods remind me of pre-Disneyfied Manhattan.

cha said...

Carlos, if one would have more than 2 days to spend/stay in Manila, say a week, what should be his itinerary? What would justify giving up a week in the beach for a stay in Manila? thanks,

carlosceldran said...

Cha, click on my sidebar. My Manila Itinerary.


Mike Majewski said...

Hi Carlos!

I thought Mayor Lim already formed a group of Chinoys to redevelop Manila Chinatown and outskirts. Am I correct? If true, this is a good start.

Anonymous said...

Carlos, I agree wholeheartedly with your plea to revive the heart of Manila, but I think you are seeing the 48 limit as half-empty instead of half-full.

Most tourists say that you should leave Manila immediately and head for the beach. While this guy practically says that you should do a walking tour first. And maybe stay up to two days. This is already a step in the right direction, I think.

Let's be honest, even if you beautify Manila -- much like Jakarta, KL or even Singapore -- it is hard to imagine having enough touristy things to see here for more than 48 hours. Even your Manila itinerary consists of only four half days.

Bea said...

I agree with Urbano dela Cruz.

Recently I was speaking to one of our brilliant and more senior economists who was talking about a project to convince large developers (like SM and Ayalas) to reinvest in the old cities, creating mixed-use and mixed-income developments, instead of cementing over vast areas in Calabrzon, etc.

They were even talking to some "old Manila" families about moving back to their ancestral houses once the city center is revitalized.

It may seem like a long shot now, but these kind of exciting projects seem to be just the right convergence of environment, culture, and economics that can produce actual models that urbanizing areas (and there are so many) can look to. I'm not talking about a small artificial gated urbanist community, but a real living one with mixed composition.

In general, I think Manilans need to come together and demand for more livable streets, for the government to stop "outsourcing" the security and aesthetic needs of its people to mall developers.

Also, Manila is a melting pot of cultures. Just like New York and San Francisco have a little bit of Asia, Africa, and Europe in them, Manila has so many people from all over the Philippines-- Ilocano, Cebuano, Mindanaoans, Chinese, Moslem, etc-- who just accept capital-city-blah like it's mandatory.

I say if people cannot organize according to residential areas, getting them to organize and contribute to the living history of the place they now live in is important, while still remembering where their heritage is.

/ends brain-dump

kikas_head said...

I have been to Manila both as a tourist and now as a resident (albeit for a short time--just under two years).

I think the biggest hurdle when it comes to visitors is the means of transport. In most major cities in the world, once a visitor arrives, you buy a metro card (or subway/bus pass) and strap on your sneakers to walk around. Manila is not yet a very pedestrian friendly city. Sidewalks are still missing in a lot of places as well as street signs. In addition, the jeepney system is very difficult for an outsider to figure out and even the LRT & MRT are trying at best. Renting a car is out of the question because it is really difficult to drive here. I still have trouble navigating the metro.

That being said, Manila does have a lot of hidden jewels. However, at this point, I think it is a lot easier seen when visiting friends or family here and they can tour you around.

My mother visited a couple of years ago (she is well traveled but Philippines had never popped up on her radar screen) and she absolutely loved it. We did a lot of local stuff and to boot, she was staying with us in Tondo (versus a 5* hotel in Makati). Furthermore, she was not planning on loving the Philippines (she had issues with some of the human rights issues) and was won over almost instantly.

The moral of the story is, Manila is a REALLY cool city with a lot of depth. It is just sometimes hard for an outsider to find it.

I have yet to take one of your tours but plan to when my sister comes in July. I need to get better acquainted with the city I now call home.

Lava Bien said...

What up C?
Yeah man, we should promote building or rebuilding or maintaining adobe brick houses with Vigan tiles flooring and capiz windows. man that would be an awesome looking neighborhood.
I, myself, promise to build a house like that somewhere in Manila (Ermita/Paco/Malate area hopefully).

I saw one on TV in Pakil, Laguna.

Go Carlos! You''re doing a good job man!

Anonymous said...

You could see the difference when a developer invests in a commercial area vs when a government invests in a city (eg Cubao vs old Manila). There are more public spaces rather than retail spaces, and to me, old Manila is simply more gracious and full of character than the Araneta area in Cubao.

BTW, Carlos, saw you on the Makisig channel. What a cute dog you have. Bogart, is it? Part Jack Russell terrier, part askal? You could call him an Ask Russell. Ask Russell what? Ask Russell the kind of dog he is. Hehe.

You should do a post on the stray dogs of Manila. Should be interesting.

- pusakal

Nic said...

Hi Carlos! You speak Spanish, right?

I've just stumbled on a really interesting blog entry written by a Spaniard visiting Old Manila recently. You can see it on under "La 'Perla' de oriente: Manila". Now, I understand enough Spanish to know what those damn quotation marks meant, and it killed me.

At first I was indignant. I wanted to scream, "That's not what all of my country looks like! Come to Makati!" But you're right: Proffering sleeker, air-conditioned and tourist-friendly alternatives won't solve the urban mire we've allowed Manila to sink into.

Tengo mucha pena. At least he's giving the beaches a chance.

Bernice said...

I agree with kikas saying that Manila is not very pedestrian-friendly. And that transportation is very difficult to get used to. That said, is there a website that lists jeepney and bus routes a la MTA trip planner? I think that would be a cost-effective tool to help tourists (and even locals) get used to the system. Heck, it might even encourage more people to use their cars less.

As for areas of NYC being grungy once, at least most of them had the foundation of adequate sidewalk widths already.

Anonymous said...

Naku, folks. Manila is a lost cause. After a certain point, one should just cut one's losses. The only reason Manila was so nice during the 1930s was that there was an external ruling power that also happened to be imbued with efficiency and honesty (ie, the Americans, in contrast to the Spaniards). Left to ourselves, Pinoys simply have no sense of public order or civic duty. That same devil-may-care attitude makes Pinoys great fun once people get to know us (and it's easy to make friends with us), but it also means that the Philippines will simply never become a clean, developed, orderly country--ie, a "normal" country.

StrayDog said...

I do not believe that it was necessarily the Americans that maintained order back then, and the Filipinos that are fucking things up nowadays.

I mean, really, we're talking 70 years of difference here. Don't you think other factors may have played a part other than "They left. Filipinos took over. Then things went to shit".

I believe you're looking too far back.
Fast forward a bit to the 60's and 70's and tell me that things weren't better then than today.

Now that you have two timeframes of a Manila under an independent Philippines, you can now compare and analyze which factors led to this current deplorable situation. Simply saying the Americans made it all good is judgemental and... well as Filipinos call it: "colonial mentality".

...this coming from a 'westerner' in a Canadian. If I had loyalties, it would be to my adopted nation. I went to school here, had my adolescence and adulthood her, even served in the Canadian army... where am I going with this? I'm saying I love Canada. It is a nice country with friendly people who are law abiding.

Yet, despite all that, I am not afraid to make a no-bullshit observation and say this: I DO NOT give credit to each and every individual Canadian for this relatively well functioning, socially just, and peaceful society. It's not that I think my fellow Canadians don't deserve credit - it's just that I'm not one to give credit for humans just going with the flow. The flow just happens to be clean well-organized, well policed, and led honestly. Perhaps I'm revealing too much of my philosophy and beliefs regarding human nature. But if there's anything I learned from having lived here for a decade it is this: We're all just basically the same.

Underneath the polite and law abiding westerner is just another human with the same basic primal instincts for survival and competitiveness for resources. Just look up Hurricane Katrina. Tell me if the disaster response was "Efficient". Also, tell me if the people retained their "Honesty".

StrayDog said...

Now as for my personal reaction to the issue discussed in this entry...

When I went on my Philippine vacation last year, I found Manila to be too much of a roller-coaster ride in that I found good parts that lifted my spirits, then bad ones that brought it back down. Good ones. And then bad ones. Rinse, repeat.

Also, to put it bluntly, the only reason I tolerated it was because I was intensely curious and had myself convinced that it was for my own good to discover the place. I was on a mission to rediscover my heritage as a Filipino. Also I was on some sort of personal mission to explore the possibility of a re-migration.

Had it not been for those things, I totally would have agreed with the original poster of not spending more than 48 hours in the place.

I had a GREAT TIME! Don't get me wrong...
It's just that I believe my case was rare and if a non Filipino friend of mine just had the intention of leisure travel/budget backpacking, then I would probably suggest they don't spend too much time in the place.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Carlos, about the responsibility of monied developers to pay attention to the less appealing elements of Manila. And I also agree that most outsiders/visitors make conclusions about the Philippines, through what they see in Manila. Very true: "Old Manila is the true yardstick that the world measures our culture."

And there are many visitors to the Philippines who'd rather skip Manila and visit other places in the Philippines, have enjoyed and liked the Philippines there, and probably have an alternative measure of Philippine/Filipino culture on their experiences in these places. I think Manila can give travelers one of the richest experiences into the Philippines and its culture. But convenient access to visit other locations, such as Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Boracay, or Dumaguete have given travelers a positive yardstick about the islands.

But this particular visitor does have something to say about other locations in the Philippines. He emphasized not missing Bacuit Archipelago and that Dolarog Beach Resort is 'worth a splurge.' Certainly, there are more things to see beyond the confines of Manila.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, there are other places in the Philippines that can give visitors to the islands a rich experience. But there is nothing like experiencing Manila, the social space and mind-set that is Manila. Manila is layered, too deep to be appreciated by any ordinary visitor. Visitors who just want to feel the sun and nice palm trees and feel like being in the exotic tropics can always go to Hawaii, the Caribbean, Fiji, and they shouldn't have to visit the Philippines. Cultures collide in Manila. The intensity of this collision produces something rich and vibrant, a kind of volcanic rush in the pulse of Filipino identity, simmering, still hard to articulate. One cannot find or even experience this kind of collision in other parts of the Philippines. Maybe Old Manila shouldn't be revived; it's like looking at your grandparents getting old but will never die. The past and the present in the Philippines is there in Manila, layers of history, living together, dancing; this marriage is present in other urban areas in the world as well. But this kind of marriage in Manila is distinct and hard to define, because such is Filipino identity.

Anonymous said...

It's funny that most of the views here seem to know what Manila's problems are and possible solutions to it.But why is that the people in power seem to be clueless about it? How many more years of mediocre leadership for Manila?


Anonymous said...

The bottom line is, there's too many poor people around with no education, no preparation to survive harsh cost of living, no place to live and no food to eat. The slums are life that of India or Pakistan.
How do we uplift the lives of the poor? Handout? Government subsidies?
Where will we house them? Lump them together in high rise boxes like in HK?
It's all about money! We don't have the economy to support these kinds of social problems. Therefore, inequities will persist and slum will rise like mountains out of nowhere.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we could urge Imelda to donate her energy and wealth to work on Old Manila. That would be her ultimate form of atonement to her people...;) A kind of Imeldific atonement. The Imeldification of Old Manila....;)

Anonymous said... the eye's of a pinoy living in the west, manila truly doesn't inspire. after years away, i returned for a month in december. i wanted to see manila ocean park, greenbelt, the fort and eat pinoy food a la milky way. but most of the time, i wanted to go out of town.

but i do think foreigners touching down in manila for the first time will make an effort to see some history/culture then set out for diving, beaches, trekking. a young swiss friend i know decided to go to the philipines after discovery tours in thailand, vietnam, india and cambodia. he arrived in the AM and immed. took the bus to vigan. then on to benguet, bagiou, la union. stopped in mla to take a plane to cebu, then ferry to boracay then overnight in manila. he loved it! didn't hate manila as it was a short visit. that's the allure of the country. ganun talaga! mikel