The above video had, at one point, made the rounds in the social media among Filipinos who either feel nostalgic about the Philippines of their youth (if they’re old enough), or are simply fascinated that the Philippines of today ever resembled the beautiful country that was presented in the video.
The promotional video, produced by the defunct Pan American World Airways (Pan Am), is curiously narrated in German. But that hardly matters as the whole reason why Filipinos share and forward it in the Internet is because of its amazing clarity and high quality which sets it apart from all other video clips of the old Philippines – many of which are either in monochrome, have age-related color distortions or show signs of damage.
After viewing the video, many Filipinos certainly ask, “How did we ever let our country degenerate so much into something that’s almost unrecognizable from the one seen in the video?“. And the easy answer can be encapsulated in one word – politicians. This is a theme that I’ve discussed previously, and I still do believe that politicians are to blame the most. But then, it’s also true that politician-initiated blunders do not exist in a vacuum and that whatever it is they do is either by virtue of the consent of their constituents or allowed to take place due to the apathy of people. Worse, ordinary people also have their own way of screwing things up.
Back to the video, I’d like to focus on the first few minutes that show Manila in the late ’50s/early ’60s. Nice-looking as Manila looked back then, I believe a closer look at the video would reveal the seeds of decay that eventually made Manila into the drab, polluted and mostly unwholesome place that it is now. Stepping away momentarily from the, “It’s all the politicians’ fault.” argument, there are 4 things that reveal a more fundamental underlying cause of Manila’s present ills:
1. Lack of discipline – pedestrians
Here, we see absolutely no semblance of traffic rules being followed, both on the part of the vehicles and the pedestrians. If there’s one fundamental thing holding back Manila from being a truly great city, it’s the lack of discipline that’s seemingly inherent in the majority. In this case, pedestrians just cross the street whenever they want, and it’s a strikingly familiar sight even today. This was in the late ’50s. The children of this period were raised seeing this same lack of discipline and passed it on to us.
2. Lack of discipline – jeepneys
Appeals to “cultural” sentiments aside, I truly believe that the jeepney is the worst thing that Filipinos ever “invented”. Originally a World War II-era vehicle, it was modified and re-purposed into a mode of public transportation during the reconstruction years, when Manila was still reeling from the aftermath of the war. It never left.
As the video shows, the first jeepneys were short and a lot smaller (one can still see some of these in UP Diliman) enabling its drivers to weave in and out traffic with great mobility. Its later incarnations kept getting bigger, but its drivers retained the same small-vehicle mentality. The concept of staying in one’s lane was frequently disregarded, and this mindset was carried over in succeeding generations, and even when drivers transitioned from jeepneys to buses.
We can see the results today – even in buses, the jeepney mentality predominates. Buses and jeepneys always weave in and out of their lanes, without regard for smaller vehicles close by, thereby causing accidents and a lot of traffic. And this has become a way of life in Manila.
Again, this is an issue of lack of discipline. The video might give the impression that Manila used to be a very clean city in the late ’50s, but as this screen-grab shows, the beginnings of littering can already be seen. Small scraps of paper seemed too insignificant to be properly thrown away in rubbish bins, and as such, were merely thrown on the road. But as what the previous example shows, people typically retain the same mindset even when transitioning to larger objects. From mere scraps of paper, people began to throw just about everything, everywhere.
4. Destruction of architectural heritage.
This item in the least is what I particularly loathe the most.
The screen-grab shows the famous bell tower of the Recoletos Church in Intramuros being demolished. (The rest of the Church has already been reduced to rubble by this point. While it is true that World War II destroyed most of the churches in Intramuros, the Recoletos Church was still relatively better off of because its structural outline was still visible even after its interior was heavily damaged.
In the rush to reconstruct everything after the war, there was a widespread practice of turning a blind eye to Manila’s remaining Hispanic heritage. This was somewhat reversed in later years in the case of Intramuros, but not before what remained of the Recoletos Church was unceremoniously demolished. (Unbelievably, its ruins were seen as an “eyesore”.) Actually, there was even an order to demolish the very walls of Intramuros, but this was opposed by concerned residents.
However, the trend has been set and Manila’s heritage continues to suffer up to this day. With Manila’s current political landscape, there’s very little optimism that heritage conservation will be given priority.