Friday, February 03, 2006


Something is happening over at the South Super Highway Extension and it's warming the black corridors of my tiny heart. Just last week, on my way Quirino Boulevard from Buendia, I took a gander at the railroad to my right and noticed that something was off. Very off. And soon I realized that the reason why things seemed so unnerving was because I could actually SEE the railroads on my right. Something that I was never able to do before. The landscape, which once looked like this:

Now looked like this:
For as long as I can remember in the 33 years of my short life, railroad squatters have defined the landscape of my mental picture of Manila. Barefoot pregnant women and toothless shirtless men lounging by their festering makeshift residences had become a sight as normal to me in this city as coconut trees. To tell you the truth, I considered shanties such a definitive aspect of our civic identity that I never EVER thought that I would see these railside versions of Philippine vernacular architecture disappear within my lifetime. But lo and behold, Looky! They are gone.

Only the smashed bits and pieces remain as the skyline of Makati is now given permission to loom in the distance. And please, don't start thinking that I am some heartless twit who delights in seeing poor people dislocated from their homes. Not at all. I truly believe that it's even MORE heartless to let these people stay there and believe that their wretched way of life is permissible in ANY society. It may be harsh to see them suffer for now, but in the long run, I do hope that their sacrifice to create a national rail system will lead to a better way of life for themselves and the greater majority (I also hope that they are given alternative housing in exchange for their move). Nevertheless, It's good to see that steps to stop pandering to the poor are finally being taken and attempts to reclaim public domain are finally being made. And call me a pollyanna, but I do have a teeny weeny glimmer of hope in my heart that the sight of squatters MIGHT decline considerably one day in Manila. Because down the street from where all this destruction was located, the Metro Manila Development Authority was heroically trying to teach Manila's heaving classes the finer points of maintaining civilized surroundings by keeping the plants alive on center islands and giving their neighborhoods a fresh lick of paint and new paving - just like this:

Say whatever you want about the "questionable" mandate of Gloria Mac Arroyo or the pink urinals of Bayani Fernando, it cannot be denied that such a dramatic physical change in my urban sightscape is happening under their watch. I wonder if any alternative poser to the leadership of the country or the MMDA can offer anything better for now. And I also wonder how long this will last.

The top three shots above were taken in the East Side of South Super Hiway Ext. between Magallanes and Quirino Ave. The lower two shots were taken at the notoriously squatter infested "Nazareth" zone at the Northwest corner of San Andres street (so called because the area was the one of the first depressed areas to be walled off from the sight of tourists by Imelda back in the 1970's. Leaving only arched entrances reminiscent of the gates of Nazareth for access.) February 2006.