Manila: The capital of being Filipino

View of Manila from Fort Santiago
On top of being the capital of the Philippines, Manila is by far the most synonymous name to being Filipino as a name can get. Mention Manila to any person of any nationality outside of the country and they will readily relate it to Filipinos and the Philippines.

As a classic Filipino song goes, there is really no place like Manila. It is the melting pot of different Pinoy cultures, the venue of the most significant events in the country’s history, the place every Filipino has been to or plans to visit. Almost all Filipinos, even those living in the remotest areas in the country, dream of coming to Manila and experiencing the full splendor of city life. From the bustling streets that never sleep, the historic landmarks, the hub of commerce and entertainment, the central government establishments, to the world-class malls and tourist destinations – Manila is indeed the place to be. Being in Manila is the capital of being Filipino.

The term Manila often encompasses the entire bulk of the National Capital Region, or the adjacent cities comprising the Metropolitan Manila area (composed of the cities of Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Manila, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, Pateros, Quezon City, San Juan, Taguig, and Valenzuela). The said cities are usually regarded as a whole region, and so their individual landmarks and tourist spots are often generally ascribed to Manila both as a name and a destination.

However, for the purpose of featuring the historic and economic richness of the country’s capital city, this article will solely focus on the municipality of Manila and the countless reasons why it epitomizes every aspect of being Filipino.

Capital Heritage

Manila is the center of the country’s historical and cultural heritage. The Luneta Park (now called Rizal Park), which lies in the heart of the city next to the glorious Manila Bay, is the national symbol of Filipino heroism anywhere in the world. A small area (shaped like a half moon or lunette, hence the name Luneta) manned by the Spanish troops during the Spanish colonial era, Luneta was the site of some of the most significant events in Philippine history, among them the execution of the great Filipino martyr Dr. Jose Rizal, now the Philippine national hero. Dr. Rizal’s remains were buried in Luneta, on the ground on which his famous bronze and granite monument now stands to signify and symbolize the greatness of his heroism for his beloved country.

Luneta Park remains to be a major tourist attraction in Manila. Aside from being a favorite spot for family picnics on Sundays and holidays, it is often the venue for recreational activities wherein cultural and musical performances are held for free in grand events (usually held at the open-air Quirino Grandstand) called “Concerts at the Park.”  The grandstand area is also a favorite venue for large congregations attended by thousands of participants, such as the World Youth Day of 1995 wherein a mammoth crowd of local and foreign delegates gathered to attend the mass officiated by erstwhile Pope John Paul II.

Luneta is also famous for its small man-made lake with a replica of the Philippine archipelago, the monument of the first Philippine hero Lapu-Lapu, a majestic fountain area, a children’s lagoon, a chess plaza, the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the Orchidarium, the Butterfly Pavilion, the Planetarium, and the big Philippine flag pole in front of the Rizal Monument which serves as Kilometer Zero or the starting point of all distance measurements to all cities in the Philippines.

Also found in the vicinity of the Luneta area are the National Museum, the National Library, Museo Pambata (Children’s Museum), the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Folk Arts Theater, the Manila Breakwater or Baywalk area, the Central Bank, the Supreme Court of the Philippines, and the Manila Oceanarium or Manila Ocean Park. Another biological and educational place featuring more than 800 animals of over 100 species is the Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden or the Manila Zoo, which is located just a couple of miles away from Luneta.

Nearby is the historical walled district of Intramuros, which served as a Spanish fortress during the Spanish era (during which Intramuros was considered as the city of Manila itself). At present, Intramuros (a Latin term literally meaning “within the walls”) remains to be the only district in Manila which has retained the influences of the Spanish colonial period, with its surviving walls, streets and churches almost untouched by modernization.

Fort Santiago, which served as the Spanish garrison within the Intramuros area, is also a popular tourist destination now where visitors get the feel of the nostalgic Spanish era and visit the site where Dr. Jose Rizal was imprisoned prior to his execution (there is actually a replica of him sitting at his desk, writing his famous farewell poem “Mi Ultimo Adios,” in his dark prison chamber).

Destination Capital

The city of Manila also houses some of the country’s most visited pilgrim churches, namely, Quiapo Church (also known as The Church of the Black Nazarene), Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church, Malate Church, Binondo Church, and the Sto. Niño Church in Tondo. These churches are always teeming with hundreds of Catholic faithfuls on Sundays, special church holidays and feast days, especially during the traditional Holy Week Visita Iglesia.

Manila is also a favorite destination of bargain hunters who flock to the flourishing trade markets of Divisoria, Raon, and the Filipino-Chinese communities of Binondo and Ongpin where they find almost anything they need at rock bottom prices. There are also high-end malls such as the Robinson’s Place in Malate and the SM City Manila next to the Manila City Hall.

For those seeking the night life, there’s the whole strip of restaurants, lounge cafés, bars and disco clubs in the Malate area (formerly known as Ermita) which stay open all night up to the early morning every day. These establishments stand proof of Manila’s reputation of being a city that never sleeps. People can roam around all day and all night and still find a place to stay, eat and be merry. Commuting in the area is also not a problem because there are local jeepneys, taxicabs, and pedicabs plying the streets at all times.

In terms of commuting, Manila is also famous for the Manila Light Rail Transit or LRT, the first metro rail system in Southeast Asia which was built earlier than the Singapore Metro Rail Transit (MRT) by three years. The Philippines’ first LRT opened in 1984, servicing commuters from the Central Terminal of Manila to the outskirts of Pasay City and Parañaque City up to the Baclaran Terminal. The second half of the LRT opened in 1985, which ran the length of Avenida Avenue up to the Monumento Terminal in Caloocan City. Today, there are two existing LRT lines, one MRT line, and another line that is being constructed to close the LRT-MRT loop in EDSA (Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue).

With all these amazing historical sites, tourist destinations, and notable establishments, it’s no wonder that Manila continues to represent the hub of city life in the Philippines. It embodies the modern life that every Filipino wants to have a taste of, at the same time bringing them back to the richness of their heritage as a people. For Filipinos anywhere in the world, Manila will always stand as the capital of their historical legacy and the epitome of Philippine pride.
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