Coming home

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I’m back in Manila after a little over a month in Sydney and upon arriving at my house and spending the first night here, I noticed myself going through it again — a depressing feeling coming over me. I’ve noticed this pattern occurring every time I come back to Manila: I return to the Philippines feeling disoriented and kind of  sad, like my heart and mind are forced  to be in two places.

While everything here is familiar, it is way too familiar. I am not talking of friends or relatives but the place in general. Nothing seems to change for the better. I think of the contempt that familiarity supposedly breeds as I see the decay and mayhem when I drive through different parts of the city. There is an inertia in this city that drags my spirit down as I see the soot on the buildings, the snarl of traffic, the general disorder that is the normal state of affairs here.

In many places, I see the classic sign of entropic decline, as if the city has stopped taking care of itself and is allowing itself to wither and disintegrate. I seriously ask myself if it is just my mood at the moment or if I have become that type of Filipino who one often meets abroad who does not see anything good in this country anymore.

I know the answer can’t be any of that because I know I do love this country. Perhaps it is the privilege of being able to travel a lot and live in another place and see how much more charming, benign and beautiful many cities are compared to Manila. If a few articles ago, I wrote about what I would do if I had the power to change things nationwide, this time I would like to indulge the idealist/control freak in me and ask questions and make suggestions on how things in Metro Manila can be made better in little and big ways. I write this without looking at the costs involved. All I know is that they will make this city so much more livable and esthetically pleasing. My suggestions:

1)  The MMDA should issue a directive that orders all structures, buildings and establishments along main roads to be freshly painted every five years and for their immediate surroundings to be kept sparkling clean. There must be a department or bureau that will issue esthetic guidelines to rethink or re-imagine Metro Manila and give the city character and a look that is positive. There are places in India, Israel, Greece and other countries where the building code stipulates the colors that every establishment must use. That’s not a bad idea to follow. If we have to give tax rebates for the city to get spruced up, let’s do it. But enforcement must be strict with heavy fines imposed for non-compliance.

2)  Re-zone the city so that commercial and residential areas are clearly separate.

3) Finally phase out jeepneys and old buses within a short period of time — no more than three years. They have had their glory days. It’s now time to modernize transportation so that there are less cars on the road. And more trains, please.

4) Make the main roads billboard-free. Many major cities in the world show off their city buildings, public art and architectural structures along their main thoroughfares, not display crass pictures of celebrities hawking products and services.

5)  Scrub the public walls and roads so that they look brighter. Put art in as many places as possible. One of the most amazing sights for me was seeing the Moscow subway for the first time in 1990. It was bedecked with chandeliers stripped from the palaces of the Czars when the Communists took over. It was also quite impressive to see big proletarian art decorating the underground corridors.

6)  Build bigger statues and monuments that people can actually mill around. Recently, I saw the new statues along Roxas Boulevard and I thought they were incredibly puny. Some of them were so tiny they were practically just life-sized representations of the people they honored. In effect, they projected a smallness, not the bigger-than-life greatness of the people they were intended to extol. It’s not hard to imagine that many of the statues go largely unnoticed by people passing by in their cars. And they are in areas so cramped, people can hardly congregate around them.

7)  The media should project the city and its people more realistically and with more dynamism. And they should feed the cultural soul of its citizens.

One of my pet peeves is FM radio in the Philippines, which seems quite divorced from its local setting in the way it conducts itself. FM radio stations should drop their emulation and adoration of the US formats and play more OPM, current and not-so-current favorites. And even better, the disc jockeys should stop putting on American accents and make us listeners feel like we are in America. It would be great if they put on a more local flavor. Listening to some of them makes my hair stand on end. The way they try so hard at sounding like their LA counterparts makes me (and a lot of people I know) cringe. The airwaves should express what we are as a people, not emulate our ex-colonizers!

8)  And can our TV newscasters please stop sounding like sensationalistic bad news bears? GMA-7’s Mike Enriquez and everyone at ABS-CBN sound like they are out to scare and terrify us. The whole siren-like, in-your-face approach to news seems primarily to elicit fear, panic and depression among viewers in place of simply informing them. I believe that more calm and objectivity, not to mention less shrillness and overacting on the part of those who deliver the news, can make life less stressful and more bearable and still keep us informed.

9)  Promote the virtue of silence in the streets. Our streets are way too noisy with people honking their horns on the road in traffic and when they “announce” their presence as they get home. People who walk along the streets at night talk too loudly and seem unmindful that people in their homes may already be sleeping. Generally, we could all be more considerate of our neighbors by toning down our noise level in public.

10)  Clean up all the waterways so that they can  be beautiful once again and be used for public transport at the same time. Don’t tell me it’s not possible. The Thames in London used to be a cesspool but, with political will, they cleaned it up.

11) Where we can put the phone cables and power lines underground, let us do so that we may see the skies without these ugly lines obstructing our view. Believe me, this simple act will transform any neighborhood into a cleaner one.

I know there are readers who will be dismissive of all these suggestions. I myself would have scoffed at such an article years ago. I would have dismissed it as a rant of someone who has the option to live somewhere else. Perhaps. But I believe that the reason why many Metro Manilans, or Filipinos nationwide, are inured to ugliness and decay is because they do not see the slow deterioration of their lives. In my case, brief absences make my senses more alive to the changes and I can really see the decline. It’s no different from seeing people on TV every day versus seeing them only once a year. You notice age catching up with them more when you don’t see them often.

Lastly, like everyone else, I have heard all the logical excuses as to why change cannot happen. We have analyzed enough and have been paralyzed as a result for way too long. I believe though that the imperative for things to change is greater than all of the excuses for us to find ways to go around and finally do what needs to be done.

* * *

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26 thoughts on “Coming home”

  1. “Lastly, like everyone else, I have heard all the logical excuses as to why change cannot happen. We have analyzed enough and have been paralyzed as a result for way too long. I believe though that the imperative for things to change is greater than all of the excuses for us to find ways to go around and finally do what needs to be done.”

    Logic alone has never been humanity’s greatest asset. Logic was the one who made the bomb, wasted the environment, enticed wars, and yes, the list goes on.

    Think Arete.

  2. All that seems to be featured in the Philippine news program Bandila broadcast in sbs here in Sydney is bad news. Seeing all the ugliness and chaos in tne news videos leaves me depressed, sad and embarrassed for our people. I recently migrated here two years ago and i am not excited yet to come home. Im starting to miss family and friends terribly though but i would rather have them come for a visit instead so that they can experience for themselves the beauty and the good life here. Myself being an architect, i absolutely agree with what you have pointed out about the unpleasant visual condition of Metro Manila’s streetscapes. This is unfortunately just a reflection of how messed up we really have been for a long long time now, im left wondering if we can ever get our act together as a nation.

  3. Hi Jim!

    Someone once told me a story about a Filipino seaman, who almost fainted with sorrow the first time he visited other countries. He couldn’t believe how beautiful it was out there, and how different it was in the Philippines. It’s as if he suddenly regretted he was born a Filipino. Heh.

    I haven’t been out of the country but I’m sure you are right in thinking the way you do toward the Philippines. I hope the government gets to read the suggestions you gave. 🙂

  4. I agree with everything and about the station war,I think they have to stop worrying about their ratings but help each other to give a show that’s really worth watching,i mean with quality,i’ve been here for a year and what i saw on tv everyday is a piece of trash,a fraud,and really,watching tv is just a waste of time.

  5. Actually I sum it up quite simply. In a place like Sydney, you tend to take for granted how much you could do OUTDOORS — until you come back to Manila.

    In Manila, within five minutes of standing in the street, your nose gets encrusted with black booger, your skin starts to feel like flypaper, and your hair takes on the consistency of Amy Winehouse’s do.

    Funny too how an earlier commentor mentioned Bandila. I don’t know if it’s just me, but isn’t this show the most grotesque news program on the planet? It’s got all these bells-and-whistle sound effects that come with every scene change and the over-reporting of often trivial stories demonstrate obvious over-ABUNDANCE of cheap college-educated labour to write stories and crew-up their mobile units.

    If Bandila has become the face of Pinoy-style TV news reporting that the rest of the world sees, then we are in REAL trouble.

    Binabandila nga talaga ang tackiness ng Pinoy ng Bandila.

    My point is, a powerful multinational company like ABS-CBN presumably is able to hire the cream of Pinoy artistic talent. And if Bandila represents the best this cream of Pinoy creative talent can come up with, well, all I can say is Jeez.

  6. Haha… you should try living in Phnom Penh Jim. Whenever I go home to Manila from Cambodia, I feel like I’m in heaven. Traffic here is so chaotic that Manila traffic seems like an orderly peaceful haven. 🙂 I’d also take the jeeps and buses anytime rather than the tuktuks and motos here. 🙂 And zoning? Little children ride their bikes and their roller blades in the main thoroughfares here. Nakikipagbanggaan with elephants and oxen. It’s really anarchy! Gosh, I even miss those bloody billboards.

    As for radio stations – I’d give a kingdom for any, absolutely any sort of Filipino or English radio station! 🙂

    Of course, it’s quite sad that I’m comparing the Philippines to a country that is still reeling from more than thirty years of civil war.

    Oh, I totally agree with those tv newscasters. Parang parati may sunog… “BABAENG NAGLULUTO, NATALSIKAN NG MANTIKA… PATAAAAAAAY!” Parang ganon lahat ng rinereport. 🙂

  7. I have never been a fan of the 2 big stations. They don’t educate and are responsible for instilling the images of hopelessness in our people. Imagine that millions watch their news programming, leaving us with a glum perception of our future. And they have the gall to call what they are doing “serbisyong totoo” or “service for the filipino people”.

    What is that all about??

  8. It might seem plastic to some that you’re putting much effort in changing the aesthetics of the city but I agree that art and architecture is reflective of one’s soul. In this case, the face that Manila has reflects the kind of soul that brings it to life. And there’s not much life there.

    And BTW, maybe Filipinos with money should start using it by hiring architects who are willing to adapt tropical designs. It saddens me that new houses/buildings are springing to life which are so westernized (greek columns, french windows, mediterranean porticos etc) that it just looks so fake against the hot sun of the tropics. The San Miguel Building was built with “tropical” concepts yet it looks wonderful. We don’t need western buildings. We need Filipino buildings to show off the Filipino soul.

  9. I’ve been living in Melbourne for about 3 months now, and one of the things that continue to blow me away is how Melburnians are managing to keep this city clean and picturesque. Both the Treasury Gardens and the Yarra River are just a short stroll away from where I work, so I usually eat my lunch either in the park or by the river. It’s invigorating! Sometimes, while sitting on a bench by the river, I wonder if early Filipinos also enjoyed this communion with nature back when the Pasig was not yet as polluted as it is now… And by the way, I learned that the Yarra River was also polluted not too long ago, but they cleaned it up. It can be done!

  10. “Finally phase out jeepneys and old buses within a short period of time — no more than three years. They have had their glory days. It’s now time to modernize transportation so that there are less cars on the road. And more trains, please.”

    Totally agree. More trains, less of those stupid buses. Peste bus.

    Spread Pinoy Pride. Start with ourselves.

  11. 1985 when I left Philippines and was only in my mid twenties, I made a list entitled ” Things I would like to do before I reach 40″…The main items in my list includes giving my young family a good life abroad ( now accomplished ) and secondly to be able to be proud of the country I loved most, the Philippines…but I guess I may say this is a pipe dream….

    Did anyone seen the movie ” Bucket List”? This to sum it up reminds of the brevity of life, “Carpe diem”… work hard.. play hard..embrace life… pursue the things that truly makes us all happy…

  12. Ayokong ayoko ang Bagong Taon at maingay na public transport at kotse. I do not want to add to the negativity at pessimism mula ating bayan. *weary sigh*
    Kung tayong lahat had the power to reform ang ating bansa’t bayan totally from top to bottom.

  13. I miss manila terribly. The chaos, the smog, the jeepneys, the loud clatter of people around me. I just feel that in Manila, I belong. I am always surrounded by people. In Sydney, it’s an entirely different story. But I know that I just need to go through this to find myself and hear myself out without all the noise in my life. I’m just trying to be brave to face whatever Life would throw me. Until then, I will need to live.

  14. Sometimes I’d rather watch foreign news programs on or in cable channels because I am impressed by the reporters’ presentation on information– cool, calm, collected. Even way back college days, when we made our own TV News Program as part of the requirements, we did present our news in a more calm way-far way different from the typical radio-style news reporting we have on local channels. Turned out, our work have been appreciated by those who watched our VIDEO FESTIVAL. Since then, I realized how effective composure is in giving out information. I realized that being calm in saying things is better than to sound like you want the recieving end to panic, to show how shocked they are, and to make them more sad than to the news itself.

  15. ganyan din naramdaman ko nung umuwi ako last year, pero 1 year palang akong nawawala sa Pilipinas, di ko ma-explain yung naramdaman ko noon, basta ang alam ko gusto ko nang bumalik dito sa california. mahal na mahal ko ang pilipinas, handa kong ibigay ang buhay ko para sa pilipinas, pero napapaisip ako minsan kung does it worth it? napapagod na nga din akong mag-blog about the filipinos, parang mamamatay na lang yata akong puro paghahangad na lang para sa pilipinas, parang hindi ko yata matatamasa sa buhay ko. nakakalungkot.

  16. Yes, more of mass transportation like trains. This will move people faster avoiding the traffics in major thoroughfares. The PNR must be revived as soon as possible and set aside politics. We already have a history of running railways system so why not pursue this. Countries like China acquires new high speed train that runs from Shanghai to Nanjing for less than 3hrs. The distance of two cities is like 270kms and in the Philippines it’s like Manila to Bicol. Today’s train technology is respects environment and can reduced traffic in the city center.
    The government must put a stop on constructing light rail transit above ground. They should start digging instead. The hanging concrete city rails seem to enclose the roads making pedestrians hard to breath and make the space too tight. Imagine in the future 10 lines of metro way flying over the sky of Manila. Hmmm, not a good cityscape sight cityscape if we are to revive Manila.
    Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo must be transferred somewhere far away from Manila say in Rizal or Aurora. Modern cities base their military prowess outside the city. The acres of land of the camp should be metamorhed to public parks with lush trees and planting, open lawns, tropical gardens with ponds and cascades to serve as breathing space like NYC Central Park or the People Parks of China. Imagine Filipino would go there to do classic picnics, unwind and believe that life and being a Filipino is beautiful. (No large religious or political gatherings though should be allowed because the plants need to grow well first.)
    The media especially the TV, yes them, people should also start reevaluating themselves. We need more cultural shows and I mean cultural in a profound sense. Enough of cheap gossip shows running on Sundays, and Wowowee that gives falls hope to the people, and news that creates fear and pollute the minds of the people.

    Yun lang po.

    Jim, I miss TATAK PILIPINO. It’s score still humming in my mind.

  17. Thanks for lamenting the way I feel everytime I go back home. I can never quantify the eagerness and excitement I feel on my trip back to the Philippines only to be squashed the moment I step at immigration. Deppressed as you put it is the right word. I go home to the Philippines
    in order appreciate the things I take for granted here in Northern California!

  18. Hi Jim.

    Exactly the same sentiments we (IT workforce at least) here in Singapore lament about our country. We can’t help but compare the order they have here Singapore against our ‘bahala-ka-sa-buhay-mo’ attitude in our country.

    If only Filipinos are exposed to the beautiful places outside the Philippines, maybe Filipinos will realize that we could be like them or even better.

  19. I think the attitude of most people (*not all*) that left comments on this post sums it up — why the Philippines or Manila is the way it is. We Filipinos like to complain about things and we don’t necessarily do anything positive to help improve the issue. I wish that we could generate change towards positivity and improvement instead of resentment towards our beloved country. We could start by being a little patriotic. I have lived in different parts of the world and what I’ve noticed is the concern that people have for their country and I think that’s what we lack. We tend to be different living abroad than at home. I just think that if we did our own bit towards improving the state of our country, although minute, we will see the difference in a few years.

  20. Ms. M, pointing out the wrongs and ills of a city does not make anyone less patriotic.
    the points raised are valid and should not be construed as being resentful.

    i have been sending a significant portion of my earnings to a number of philippine-based charities (as my family in davao does not need support) to offset the guilt i have for leaving my country. and although i don’t have the data, majority of us filipinos living abroad send large portions of our earnings to the philippines which significantly, positively impacts economic growth sa bayang pilipinas.

  21. It is just not possible for me to ignore the poverty, inefficiency and corruption in government, the on-going media circus of our brilliant politicians, disasters caused by the continues rape of the environment and all other misfortunes plaguing our beloved country as vividly presented in our tv news programs abroad.

    Now to express disgust, pain, desperation, embarassment, anger and sadness from these realities, and to voice it out loudly, is a cry for help, a howl of protest, all because of an intense desire for change. This sudden self discovery of natinalistic fervor i can only attribute to either a love for country or just a mid-life crisis i may be going through. Seriously, if this newfound passion and sense of purpose isn’t patriotic, i dont know what is.

  22. Hi Jim,

    I looked at all your suggestions for the beautification of the Philippines and then I wondered when you had written this. May 2008. Please try visiting again. You’d be pleasantly surprised. 🙂

    I live down South, so when I go to work, I take the SLEX route. MMDA has been painting all the houses/establishments along the SLEX (overly) bright shades of pink, yellow, and blue, All those places along the SLEX are getting the most fiesta-like makeovers they’ll ever get!

    Also, on the other side of the SLEX, you’ll come across this interesting building (forgot what company owns it), but it is determined to be proudly Pinoy. June 12 – practically FESTOONED with the Philippine flag. And, as a permanent fixture atop their gate is a beautiful Inang Bayan statue waving a flag. She is very large and in charge. 🙂

    About those trains – no new ones yet being rolled out, but the railways have been given a thorough cleaning. All the squatters have been relocated (for their own safety!) and now only green grass and freshly-painted stations can be seen (not sure if this is true for the whole line, but in Makati, the railway is a LOT prettier.)

    What else…oh, those telephone lines and electric lines? I’ve seen roadwork being done in Makati and Manila, doing exactly that – burying all those criss-crossed lines underground. (Let me just plug right now: Wireless Bayantel rules! It works, just get used to the iffyness from time to time, it’s still new. But it saves lotsa money and I know I’m not adding wires to our already-littered horizon).

    After Bagyo Milenyo, lots of billboards (especially near the airports) have been permanently removed. Their metal frames are still there, but the ads themselves are no longer tolerated. Hehe. Yey!

    And as for art! MMDA covers up rude and ugly graffiti (I say rude and ugly because in some places, graffiti is really an art and an expression of the times, but I certainly don’t consider things like “Die bakla” to be graffiti art at all!). I’ll say this though, MMDA art is nothing great. A few patterned blobs, squiggles, and circles comprise their cookie-cutter art styles, but hey, at least we don’t need to censor our walls. I have seen stone-art though, on some walls along EDSA. MMDA also, but what they’ve done is make embossed cement art of banana trees and other native plants. Those I like – very simple and dignified. 🙂

    So, come back home Jim! See all the sights you’ve been wanting to see! I’m only 22 but I haven’t lost hope in the Philippines! 😀

  23. Vega, that is good to hear. I go home almost every two months and i do notice the changes. I still have to look at the trains though. I am glad that MMDA is doing something about he many problems.. I’m a big fan of MMDA most of he time. And no, I haven’t lost hope at all.

  24. I’m glad you specified that you were talking about Manila, but a lot of the people who left comments failed to distinguish between Manila and the Philippines. Those who make sweeping generalizations about how ugly the Philippines is based on Manila should be reminded that Manila isn’t the Philippines. I go out of town every few weeks and every trip leaves me breathless about how beautiful the Philippines is.

    And if you want to stop feeling that “the Philippines isn’t progressing” drive to Subic via SCTEX the next time you’re here. You’ll forget that you’re in a third world country.

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