on November 27, 2011
Manila has a riveting colonial history, and is one of the cities in Asia where the effects of Western empire-making are most deeply entrenched. Even the casual observer with no interest in history will see it. In the eastern part of Asia, the Philippines is one of the few predominantly Christian countries, and this Christianity runs deep in the veins of most Filipinos, even in Manila, the most cosmopolitan city in the country. It is also a very Americanized city: English is widely spoken, American pop culture is as ubiquitous as homegrown programming on the television and radio air waves, and the unofficial national sport is basketball.What the casual observer might not understand, though, is WHY the Philippines is that way. To answer that demands a bit of background in Philippine history. Many residents, tongue in cheek, will summarize it this way: "Four hundred years in convent school, fifty years in Hollywood." For four hundred years, the Philippine islands were under Spanish colonial--same would say, theocratic--rule, and the Spanish Catholic clergy Christianized the islands, such that today, some 90% of the population considers itself Christian, mostly Catholic. This was followed by a bloody revolution against the Spanish crown and a bloody war against America, which the Philippines lost. For almost fifty years after that, the Philippines was under American colonial rule, and the Americans' efforts at overhauling the educational system left by the Spanish led to an English-speaking society, and a fascination with most things American. Although Manila was not the first city established by the Spanish colonial government, Manila--which at the time, was confined just to the walled city of Intramuros--became the capital of the Philippine islands from where the governor-general governed. During the American colonial government, Intramuros was still considered a center of the city: the American flag was raised over Fort Santiago to signal the start of American rule. Thus, a good starting point for discovering the colonial history of the Philippines is Intramuros. Both what is there, and what is not there will tell you something about Philippine colonial history. The centuries-old structures that still stand--the San Agustin Church, the Manila Cathedral, Fort Santiago, and the walls around Intramuros, are a testament to the power of the Church during the Spanish colonial period. The fact that most Spanish-period structures within Intramuros no longer stand gives you a sense of what happened during the American period, as the American colonial government tore down many buildings and parts of the Intramuros wall, and most notably, as American bombs fell to attack the Japanese soldiers hiding in the city during World War II.If the walls of Intramuros could speak, oh, the stories they would tell of Manila's colonial history!There's a lot to see here within the walls of Intramuros. The best way to see it is with a tour guide (Carlos Celdran is the best of the best; see my review of his walking tours in this journal. There are also tour guides whom you can hire for private tours; check out the Department of Tourism's Mabuhay Guides at www.mabuhayguides.com). Plan to spend a whole day here at Intramuros. Or maybe two.
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