A Cultural Tour of Metro Manila

FESTIVAL DAY.  An hour before sunrise, the palengke in Cubao and Divisoria begins to swell with early shoppers. The prayerful flocks inside the churches of Quiapo, Baclaran, and in the Sta. Clara Monastery in Quezon City. The rising sun lights up the preserved ruins of Intramuros and the elaborate façade of the Metropolitan Theater and the National Museum. In EDSA and Makati City, there is a choking traffic from the morning and afternoon rush hour and anarchy rules on the streets where sidewalk and roving vendors offer a wide-variety of street food from boiled and skewered bananas to santol and green mangoes with bagoong. There is a festival in front of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

From morning to sundown, Metro Manila is exploding with so many flavors and things artistic and cultural to experience so we asked artists, writers, and fellow travelers to provide us with a personalized cultural guide to our beloved national capital.

MANILA IN 24 HOURS. Famous for his contemporary rebulto on wood, Thirteen Artists Awardee and serial creative Riel Hilario provides this itinerary:

My 24 hours would start mid-morning at 10 AM. Breakfast in Intramuros area. San Agustin Church and its Museum, then its the Masters Hall at the National Museum. Lunch at the esteros of Binondo. Head out to Makati to the Pasong Tamo galleries. On to Ayala Museum and merienda at M Cafe. An easy walkabout in BGC. Head south to Conrad Hotel for some drinks. Sunset watching at the Bay. Perhaps a gala show at the CCP. So end the night there or back in Makati. Next morning, breakfast in Greenhills. Some galleries in the area. Exit Manila before lunchtime.

MANILA’S MERRY MIXES. Food historian and award-winning writer, Felice Prudente-Sta. Maria shares:

Sample folk food. Some names may sound Spanish or Mexican but the dishes have a Filipino heart and soul: tamales made with coconut milk; adobo cooked in palm or sugarcane vinegar; sourish and brothy sinigang; the savory, boiled, meal-in-a-pot pochero with native banana, cabbages, sweet potatoes and a flavor-layered eggplant relish; kare-kare oxtail stew with subtleties from peanut and annato. Don’t pass up a morning cup of thick chocolateh served with a sopas ranging from budbud or suman (finger shaped rice or millet with coconut milk and wrapped in palm or banana leaves), buttery ensaymada, or biscuits baked in a wood-fired oven. And don’t miss afternoon merienda with its array of baked goods ranging from street breads to fancy egg yolk-rich yema puddings.  Halo-halo, mix mix, a symphony of syrupy fruits, beans, custard and ice cream to which have been added textural punctuations like pounded and puffed rice called pinipig. Philippine rum and brandy are internationally acclaimed. Liqueurs from island citruses dayap, dalandan, and kalamansi and tuba wine from coconut palm stamp island happiness on the tastebuds forever.

A DOSE OF CULTURE. Staunch heritage advocate and the man behind FEU’s vibrant student concert performances, Martin Lopez recommends:

Start and end your day at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Build up your appetite by following the joggers around the CCP including up and down the main driveway. Cool off and have breakfast at Pancake House in Harbour Square across the CCP Little Theater. Return to the CCP to see what is on exhibit. Then, cross Roxas Boulevard and head to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and spend a couple hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. You can have lunch there. If you can still take in one more museum, spend the afternoon in the National Museum of Anthropology or the National Gallery of Art. Alternatively, you can spend your afternoon walking the cobble stoned streets of Intramuros. Catch the sunset from the roof deck of the Bay Leaf Hotel. You can have cocktails and dinner there. Finally, return to the CCP for a performance in one of its halls.

MANILA I’M COMING HOME. Artist, writer and editor of the iconic 10-volume Filipino Heritage, Alfredo Roces regularly flies from Sydney to Manila to attend art shows and meet fellow artists shares: 

Last time I was in Manila we did a quick tour of museums. As we were in Urdaneta Village we started with Ayala, then the CCP, then the Met and then the National Museum. That was interesting. I would say try to add Intramuros, Fort Santiago-San Agustin Church. Catch some current events. We saw the Artfair and an art auction. Divisoria is interesting.

EPILOGUE: MANILA SUNSET. So there, a personalized cultural guide to Metro Manila from our country’s art and culture authorities. So find some time to explore our national capital until sundown and watch how the tropical sun paints the city with that unrivaled incandescent golden glow that makes us sing:

Hinahanap hanap kita Manila
Ang ingay mong kay sarap sa tenga
Mga jeepney mong nagliliparan
Mga babae mong naggagandahan
Take me back in your arms Manila
And promise me you’ll never let go
Promise me you’ll never let go
Manila, Manila
Miss you like hell, Manila
No place in the world like Manila
(Manila by Hotdogs)

Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Manila American Cemetery


MCKINLEY ROAD. Serious, simple, and sprawling, this is the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Established a decade after World War II in what is known then as Fort McKinley, it is the largest resting place for American service men outside the United States.

The best way to reach the cemetery from EDSA is to go under the canopy of interlocking branches of old acacia trees along McKinley Road passing by the entrances of the Manila Golf and Country Club and the Manila Polo Club and then Sanctuario de San Antonio in posh Forbes Park.


FORT MCKINLEY. Historically, McKinley Road linked the Neilson Airfield to Fort McKinley. After World War II, Neilson airport was decommissioned and the Zobel de Ayala family converted the airport runways into Ayala and Makati Avenues and developed the surrounding area into today’s Makati CBD. Years later, Fort McKinley was renamed Fort Bonifacio.

From Lawton Avenue, like soldiers standing in formation the row after row of simple, white Carrara marble crosses can be viewed through the fence enclosing the cemetery.



AMERICAN BATTLE MONUMENT. Pass the unmarked marble headstones of  American soldiers who lost their lives in defense of the Philippines and East Indies during World War II is the American Battle Monument. The circular marble mall was designed by architect Gardner A. Dailey.  Etched on walls are the names of soldier whose dead bodies were never found. A bronze flower is placed next to the names of soldiers whose remains were later discovered.

The Philippines was a US territory when the Japanese began its surprise attacks to country. From 1941 to 1942, thousands of USAFFE troops and Filipinos died while defending the country from the invading Japanese forces.



WAR STORIES. There are large mosaics that recall the significant actions of the USAFFE in the Pacific, China, India and Burma. This part of the memorial where one can chance upon a war veteran retelling his experiences during World War II.

On Good Friday of 1942, the Japanese launch their final offensive. The battlefield was at the foot of Mount Samat in Bataan, where the USAFFE made its last stand.  After a week, the USAFFE forces surrendered to the Japanese. The Filipino-American prisoners of war were forced to march from Bataan to San Fernando Pampanga. This in history is known as the infamous Death March.


ART DECO CHAPEL. The cemetery chapel is decorated with bas-relief sculpted by Boris Lovet-Lorski. The façade depicts allegorical figures of Liberty, Justice and Country.

Columbia crowns the zenith, holding a child. Inside the chapel is a beautiful mosaic of flowers forever living in Art Deco style.

Published in: on October 23, 2016 at 4:50 pm  Comments (2)  

Art in the Park


CELEBRATE ART. Anyone should be able to own art. But prices of artworks nowadays are too prohibitive for common folks like me. The Art in the Park event organized by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines solves the challenge of making art by Filipino artists ‘affordable’ and reachable in a venue where there is a great amount of access.

Jaime Velasquez Park in Salcedo Village Makati is popular for its weekend market. But once a year, the regular food vendors give way to a gathering of selected art galleries and art groups for this annual celebration of Pinoy art.




ART WHERE IT BELONGS. Blending together with the lush greenery were large scale sculptural installations that transformed Salcedo Park as an exhibition of contemporary art.  Each sculptural installation was creatively placed in the flower beds along the walkway or were hanged or coiled on tree branches.

Greeting spectators is the happy-looking sculptural painting by Dex Fernandez. In the central walkway, we passed under Mac Valdezco whimsical plastic sculpture. Then there is the installation by Pete Jimenez that invites spectators to interact with his assemblage of found metal objects.



ART FOR SALE. Off course, the happiness is in seeing the enormous array of artworks on sale. Browsing at the original paintings, prints, pottery, sculptures, collectible toys, jewelry, wearable and useful art showcased in each booth has been an exciting learning experience.

In the process of looking at the works of young artists alongside with some of the established names in Philippine art, we are learning more about the current art scene. Events like this provide an opportunity to prepare and educate new generation of collectors who will perhaps together with our young, emerging artists be the key players of our future local art industry.



FOOD FOR THE SENSES. We also enjoyed most of the side activities. We watched Neil Arvin Javier performed his on-the-spot graffiti mural by the playground and the fishballs and fruit drinks at the food strip. Talk about multi-sensory impact!



EPILOGUE: FRIENDLY AND RELAXED.  To be immersed in trove of art is overwhelming. But given the relax atmosphere, we find it easy to ask about the art pieces that interest us and find out more about artists by casually conversing with artist Kidlat Tahimik, Charlie Co, and Ral Arrogante and the friendliest gallery owners like Albert Avellana and Dr. Joven Cuanang at the 2013 edition of Art in the Park.

Pia y Damaso

We’ve learned about the colorful characters of Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo during high school. In Greenbelt, Makati, we revisited the same characters at Ristorante Pia y Damaso.

Named after the controversial Doña Pia Alba and Padre Damaso Vardolagas, the restaurant serves mouthwatering cakes and desserts inspired by the iconic character from Noli and Fili.

With such names as Sisa’s Dementia, De Espadaña Quezo de Bola, Brazo ni Doña Vicki (as in Victorina), Ibarra’s Kiss, Maria Clara’s Velvety Cheesecake, Damaso’s Panaforte, Wicked Simoun, Pia’s Secret Passion, Salvi’s Canonigo, and even Guni-guni, a sugar free truffle cake with chocolate almond pastille, dark chocolate mousse, and ganache, desserts at Ristorante Pia y Damaso is a fun and sweet way to review Rizal’s timeless novels.

Published in: on September 3, 2010 at 4:21 pm  Comments (1)  

Caracol Festival

Caracol Festival as it is celebrated every third Sunday of January in Makati’s central business district is close to becoming a lot like a MGM grand extravaganza. But underneath the glitter and spectacle, the festival is in a way unique among Philippine fiestas since it honors Mother Nature and urges for preservation of her bountiful gifts.

Makati’s Official Festival

Unlike other traditional festivals that have begun centuries ago, the Caracol sa Makati was recently conceived. It started as a Fiesta Island program of the Department of Tourism in 1989 until on January 21, 1991, when the city government of Makati made it as its official city festival.

Caracol is a Spanish word for snail. The city of Makati has viewed the  shell of a snail as symbol of protection from the harshness of life and adapted the idea for its annual festival.

Tribal Competition

The Caracol Festival is held as a tribal competition among hundreds of students from participating Makati public schools. Representing different divisions and levels, each group consists of 30 to 50 performers.

Since the theme is about protecting nature and preserving Mother Earth, participants dress-up as colorful flowers, exotic plants, insects, aquatic creatures and forest animals. Judging categories include originality of costumes, choreography and overall performance. The main events are the street dancing contest and best in costume competition.

We arrived early for the main event. On Sunday at 3:00 P.M. a number of participants have assembled in the Gabriela Silang Car Park at the corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues preparing for the grand parade.

The assembly area was packed with revelers, media people, photographers and participants in loincloths and floral headdresses, bodies covered in body paint and gold dust and children in elaborate costumes.

The Grand Parade Along Ayala Avenue

About 4:00 P.M., the participants began moving to their formation along Makati Avenue and turning at corner towards Ayala Avenue. The first part of the parade consisted of various business organizations sponsoring the event.

After the parade of sponsors, one by one the tribes burst into the street. Each group went through a series of chants and ethnic to modern dance steps. 

The grand parade ended at the corners of Paseo de Roxas corner Ayala Avenue where the participants jumped, stomped, wiggled, swung and draw out the rhythm from the beat of the drums while the audience cheered intensely and the judges watched to their delight.

Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 12:01 am  Comments (3)  
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