A Tale of Two Cities

THERE is a Manila I know only from the pages of books and sepia-tinted photographs, a city of stone walls and frescoed churches, of Art Deco statues standing proudly outside buildings with facades lined with Greek pillars, and of a bay walk shaded by trees, the smell of the sea untainted by years of accumulated waste.

Then there is the Manila that I know now, where the main avenues are covered in dirty floodwater during the rainy season, where the architectural landscape is composed of old hotels and theaters decaying amongst the chaos of hastily planned buildings, where from miles away one can see a thick layer of smog enveloping its skyline. This is a city of dead dreams and forgotten memories, where the new and the profitable reign supreme.

When Mayor Estrada finally approved the halted construction of DMCI Homes’ Torre De Manila, Carlos Celdran immediately conveyed his dismay over the decision by posing with two thumbs down in front of the Rizal Monument in Luneta, the unfinished condominium building looming in the background as a sign of what is yet to come. It seems that he is not alone in this reaction, with comments sections in news websites filled with anger and outrage over its effect on the surroundings of such an important national symbol.

The City Council allowed DMCI to continue its project after its was temporarily suspended, reasoning that such a project would boost Manila’s economy.  The council has also stated that the construction of Torre De Manila met the requirements of due process, since the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) had said that such did not violate any national laws, and that the Manila Zoning Board of Adjustments and Appeals (MZBAA) approved it. The project’s supporters have also added that such diversity in the cityscape should be embraced, just as how cities in Europe have allowed modern buildings to stand alongside their oldest monuments.

These may be true, but we should be reminded that there will always be a price in exchange for progress. In a place where the urban planning of the past has been all but disregarded by the people of the present, is it really the wisest decision to approve the construction of a building that might conform to the current standards of law and perhaps even benefit the economy now, but in the long run may bring about more problems for the city, let alone ruin the aesthetics of a place so rooted in our culture and history? Is it just nostalgia, or is there a much greater and deeper worry behind the laments of those against it?

Perhaps it’s about time that we reconcile the two, these concepts of cultural preservation and economic progress. Though the protection of beauty in our cultural and national symbols and monuments may seem abstract and unnecessary to many, it’s still a mark of how we have been formed into what we are now as a society, good or bad as it may be. Call me sentimental, but I still hope that someday the first Manila will be restored, and perhaps then we can truly be proud of this city. P

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