My first recollection of the Philippines was related to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Not due to the alleged corruption of their administration and rule, but because of Mrs. Marcos’ collection of 3,000 pairs of shoes. Odd, I know. It was just this past year that a story was released that her famed 3,000 pair collection of designer shoes was destroyed due to flooding and termites. You see, after she was told to hit the road in exile from the country, she had to leave behind her walking shoes (and her dancing shoes, and dinner shows, etc.). Apparently the country didn’t see fit to memorialize the fruits of corruption of the former regime. But those shoes wouldn’t help us get to from Vietnam, our last stop in this Small World, to the Philippines anyways, as the South China Sea requires that we find a different mode of travel.
Manila was originally referred to as Maynilad at the time of its inception, coming from the nilad plant which is a shrub-like marsh bush native to the area. It was eventually shortened to its modern-day name, and in 1975, under the dictatorship of Marcos, the contiguous cities abutting Manila became known as Metropolitan Manila. The actual city is only but a fraction of that total area, though it is still the second largest city in the country. In the last decade, the nation has had numerous financial issues due to mismanagement, problems from decades earlier and some new ones. In fact, it was reported last year that Manila had significant debt that could cause a declaration of bankruptcy. In even more recent news the city made international headlines when police clashed with residents over the redevelopment of slums near its center. Ten-thousand families occupy the 70-acre space; and over the last couple years, the city has made significant efforts to relocate and rebuild the area in a partnership with a major corporation. Some fear the relocation is more of the same from past regimes, and that the new site is too far away from the city for residents to commute to work.
And while the city has had to overcome many hardships in the last several decades, the capital and surrounding areas are still hotspots for tourism. A nation largely comprised of those following the Catholic faith, the procession of the Black Nazarene festival draws some 7-8 million attendees. It takes place on January 9th and Good Friday, and goes through Manila into the neighboring town of Quiapo. The Black Nazarene itself is a life-sized wooden sculpture of Christ carrying his cross, believed to represent the suffering and passion of his journey. The men who attend the festival (80% of the country is Catholic) will walk barefoot as a show of humility with the statue as it is paraded along its route; and those who live in the neighborhood try to touch it in hopes of a miracle. Pope Innocent X approved the statue for veneration in 1650, and while it has become a little worse for wear over the years (even having had the head replaced), it is an important icon for the festival of the people.
Keeping in line with the religious theme, some of the most beautiful architecture in and near the city is religious in nature (a theme we have seen throughout the world). Of particular note is the Paoay Church, whose construction was started late in the 17th Century by Augustine friars, and was completed almost exactly 200 years later. It is known as the “earthquake baroque” church, as it is built out of baked bricks, coral rocks, tree sap and lumber. It has 24 buttresses for support, and the walls are nearly 2 meters thick. Just outside the church is a three-story bell tower, originally built for observation during the revolution against Spain in 1896.
While Manila struggles with corruption and environmental issues, it is also a place of great wonder for travelers. With over 2 million visitors to the city each year, many are drawn by attractions that speak to its true world cultural background brought on by the influences of Spain, America and Malaysia. After checking out the metropolitan area of Manila, many visitors travel to serene and natural places such as Taal Lake and Subic Bay (off of the island of Luzon) to appreciate the glimpses of what the country was like before its industrialization and urban expansion.