We were given this amazing tour of Fort Santiago by a convict last week. Yeah, that’s a good tagline, very exciting. Our friend had been imprisoned recently for protesting the church’s condemnation of the Philippine’s Reproductive Health Bill. I won’t go into much detail about that, my gist is to say he was a passionate and out spoken Filipino. Just the kind of guy to get a motley crew of university student’s attention.
So, Fort Santiago was the hub of the Philippines at one point, ground zero, the centre of it all. And, having been in Manila for a couple of days, seeing the great poverty of a corrugated tin shack juxtaposed between towering skyscrapers and Spanish inspired icons of architecture, I was shocked to learn of Manila’s progressive history. Being by the sea it was a place of international trade and culture for centuries, let alone during the Spanish and American occupations. At one point in history Manila had everything.
Let me just say, for the record, that I don’t particularly like Manila! It’s hot and crowded, the traffic is terrible, there’s tourist traps everywhere…it’s unsafe, high level of corruption, violence, crime…. You can’t breathe there; you can’t think there. And, though I enjoyed our activities, the food, the people, there was this suffocation. And, yes we’re tired, homesick and experiencing culture shock but there’s just something about Manila.
That’s what our guide said. He stared us down, humor aside, and said he knows what we think of Manila, he knows we call it the city without a soul.
Manila has been overthrown by three oppressors, experienced coups, martial law, and the destruction of wartime. It has been devastated by American bombing and raped by Japanese occupation. It has the identity crisis of the rest of the Philippines and their hodgepodge of culture.
Manila is the perfect example of the consequences of colonialism, inappropriate foreign intervention, and forced assimilation. As students travelling internationally from the West it is so important for us to see the consequences of our forebearers, to not take for granted the struggling city, and to admire the perseverant spirit of the oppressed.
Now, I still don’t like Manila, but at the very least I know why. And, hopefully as I try to live as a conscientious citizen I will he able to see and speak out against the patterns and wrongdoings we’ve learned about as a class. Knowing the consequences, like our passionate and controversial tourguide, silence doesn’t seem like an option.