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  



ERMITANEO. While walking along Mabini Street under the glaring mid-morning sun, a street-side vendor selling yosi, candies, bottled water, along with excavated Asian ceramics, rusty Maranao kris, and ethnic Kalinga necklaces invited me to check out his merchandise. Welcome to Ermita’s antique district.

Antiques, tribal artifacts, and folk art are beautiful objects with intrinsic and historical value. They give hints at our culture and can inspire a feeling of connection to the different periods in our history. They are expensive providers of inspiration. That is why I visit antique stores in Ermita mostly to satisfy my visual cravings for our ancestral heritage more than to shop.



NUESTRA SEÑORA DE GUIA. I usually start my walks around this district in its Church that houses the oldest antique statuette of the Virgin Mary in the country. When the Spanish arrived in the seaside village of Lagyo, the old name of Ermita, the natives were found venerating a wooden icon set atop a clump of pandan plant. Its head and shoulders were carved from narra and body from molave with fading swirls of blue, red, and gold. The men sent by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi were quick in convincing the villagers that the image of the Nuestra Señora de Guia was brought by angels.

A chapel was built not far from where the image was found. This same chapel went through several reconstructions and expansions on the same site along Del Pilar Street. High on the main altar of the present Ermita Church is the original antique icon now glowing in golden robes, bedecked with jewels, curly wig and crown, and holding a baston de mando that was presented to the image by a galleon commander for saving his ship from a storm upon the invocation of Ermita’s titular patroness. The original provenance and how the image of the Nuestra Señora de Guia ended up in the beach in Ermita centuries ago remains a mystery.



REPRO AND ORIG. The priced items in Ermita stores are the rare santos, colonial jewelry like the tambourine, excavated pottery and ceramics, tribal artifacts that were used in rituals like the bulol, old wood furniture like a mesa altar from Baliwag, a galinera from Batangas and a lamesa from Bohol.

They are sold side-by-side with copycat versions.  A seasoned antique hunter can easily spot a well-made reproduction from an authentic piece inside a crowded antique store at a glance or at close inspection.



GALLERY DEUS. Antique dealers and their reliable
storekeepers are good mentors on how to spot a repro versus an authentic piece. Multi-awarded playwright Floy Quintos is always an exciting company at Gallery Deus. His store at the Faura Center specializes in antique santos and tribal art.

In one of my visits, he sends me an Ifugao spoon with a polished patina that according to Floy cannot be copied not even by the best fakers. But more to the patina and encrustation on the surface of an object, the intangible spirit of an antique santo or an old bulol cannot be captured in a fake.



SPOT THE REAL ONES. Housed in the stately pre-war Casa Tesoro is Maria Closa, an antique store that specializes in tribal artifacts from the Cordilleras. This antique store is airy, filled with light, and well-curated enough that it can be mistaken for a museum. On pedestals are darken Kalinga jars next to massively heavy kinabigat. There is a display shelf of bulols in different age and sizes and a table lined with ritual boxes, spoons, and plates, and Ifugao baskets.

To train the eye and instinct to spot real antiques and tribal art, Gallery Deus and Maria Closa are the stores to visit when in Ermita.



MABINI STREET. Close to the antique stores are art stores that sell framed paintings on canvas depicting folk and rural scenes bursting with tropical colors. This has become the character of the Mabini Art Movement, a genre in Philippine paintings that took its name from Mabini Street. In one of my recent walks, I took a photo of a group of artworks sunning at a corner along Mabini. It reminded me of artist friend Jose Yap Baguio who spent painting his last works under the lamp post near Ermita Church.

It was also on Mabini Street in 1966 where Paul McCartney with his group the Beatles chose to spend the afternoon as tourists after ignoring the invitation of the Marcoses in Malacanang. In one of the art stores along Mabini, McCartney bought a painting by Ben Cabrera for 70 pesos!



UNUSUAL BREAK IN 1973. On my way to Mabini Street one morning for my usual rounds of antique window shopping, I dropped by Solidaridad hoping to catch National Artist for Literature F Sionil Jose. He wasn’t in the bookstore but read about this short narrative entitled Memento of Martial Law. Framed with a Sheafer fountain pen, it tells about an unusual break in that took place in bookstore a year after the declaration of Martial Law.

EPILOGUE. Visiting stores in Ermita is a delightful way to learn our culture and our historic past.

Published in: on January 4, 2017 at 4:55 pm  Comments (1)  

Pista ng Santo Niño at San Beda

Pista ng Sto. Nino San Beda

RED IS OUR COLOR. Current and former students of San Beda College know that red is our color and the last Sunday of January is the Pista ng Santo Niño.

It has been a tradition that only at this time of year that the image of the Santo Niño de Praga is taken down from its niche high in the main altar of the Abbey of Our Lady of Monserrat in Mendiola. Devotees form a long line to have the chance to touch and kiss the carved image of the Holy Child before it is mounted to its silver carroza for a solemn procession around the San Miguel district of Manila.


STO. NIÑO DE PRAGA. Not too many people know that during the first Pista ng Sto. Niño in 1904, a framed picture of the Holy Child was taken to the procession in lieu of a carved statue. The exquisitely carved statue of the Santo Niño de Praga that we see today was commissioned by famous santero Máximo Vicente for the Benedictines of Mendiola.

The cult of the Holy Child in the country began four centuries ago.  The image of the Sto. Niño that arrived in the Philippines with Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, that was recovered  and re-enthroned by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and enshirned today in the minor basilica in Cebu is the oldest Christian image in the country. The Sto. Niño de Cebu is believed to have been carved in Flanders in the 15th of century and was presented as a baptismal gift to the converted Queen Juana.


Pista ng Sto Nino San beda

FIRST PISTA NG STO. NIÑO. The Benedictine monks began to spread the devotion to the Santo Niño de Praga in the Philippines only during the last turn-of- the-century. Its first devotees were the students from the Colegio de San Beda who establish the Confraternity of the Infant Jesus. The traditional procession of the Sto. Niño with the image made by Maximo Vicente as the focus of devotion was first held in January 20, 1905.

The solemn tradition lives on today with devotees forming a long line under the magnificent murals and paintings of the abbey. It is a moving scene to witness how the young and old have a quick moment to touch, kiss and say a prayer to the Santo Niño before it is taken to the procession.

Pista ng Sto. Nino San Beda Manila

Pista ng Sto. Nino

EL CAPITAN GENERAL DE LAS ISLAS. With the peeling of the church bells, the Santo Niño is brought to the silver carroza waiting by the church entrance. A huge crowd in red clothes cheers as the carroza bearing the Santo Niño is pulled and joins the procession.

Red is the color of San Beda College since its students are traditionally known as Red Lions. If this passionate and heroic color has any connection to the Santo Niño, it must be that red symbolizes the color of the General. Remember that when the Santo Niño was introduced in Cebu, he was given the title as El Capitan General.

Pista Santo Nino Procession San Beda

Pista ng Sto Nino procession

SOLEMN PROCESSION. While most Sto. Niño festivals around the country are known for the mardi gras-type of parade, the Santo Niño procession led by the Benedictine community and San Beda College students and alumni is simple and sober. Joining the Santo Niño de Praga in the procession are images of Benedictine saints like St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Bede or popularly known as Venerable Bede and the patroness of the abbey, Our Lady of Monserrat.

EPILOGUE. As the procession inched its way around the San Miguel district, participants recite the rosary or exchange pleasantries as this event is also a reunion among the alumni of the college.  It is an important event that proud Bedans look forward to for us reconnect with our  brothers and reflect on the values that we’ve learned in school.

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 12:49 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Escolta Saturday Market


HEYDAY. It must be the history, the remaining turn-of-the-twentieth century architecture, or the dusty bits and pieces of memories romanticized by great grandparents that led a group of artists into reviving the vibrancy of Escolta, not as the country’s premier high street as it was in the 1900s but this time as an accessible and popular cultural and artsy center in good old downtown Manila.

The recent staging of the Escolta Saturday Market where vintage items were sold in what used to be the site of the fashionable Berg’s Department Store in the 1930s is an attempt to bring back old world Escolta in its heyday and perhaps the first step in making generations familiar of that forgotten place and time.



NOSTALGIA ESCOLTA. But to say that we have forgotten about Escolta is an understatement. For one thing, our generation is not fortunate enough to live in that era when Escolta became the country’s classiest shopping destination. That’s why it is not surprising to learn from some people that they do not feel any connection or relevance when passing by this short thoroughfare in Manila today.

However, nostalgia can strike us when looking at old photos of Escolta. Its rows of opulent shops, which were actually traditional bahay-na-bato with sliding panels of capiz windows on the second floor and huge glass display windows at street level where all conceivable caprichos and overpriced imported luxuries were sold.



PHILIPPINE’S FIRSTS. The famous emporium La Estrella del Norte and La Puerta del Sol which marked the east and west entrances of the narrow thoroughfare, introduced the first bicycles, cameras, phonographs and the trendiest and most fashionable home furnishings to the biggest spenders of that time.

A good find in the Saturday market were the mugs with images of vintage cars and bicycles printed on them. This fittingly recalls when La Estrella del Norte brought in the first automobile in the country called a Richard, which was bought by a certain Dr. Miciano –an affluent physician.



PRIMERA CLASSE. La Puerta del Sol is said to have sold the finest European décor and household ware. In 1875, it introduced the term tulipan referring to gas lamps with tulip-shaped glass chimneys. In the 1920s and 1930s, Escolta shops selling all kinds of gas lamps made of glass were generically called tulipan. Just like in the Saturday market, everything for sale has been generically called pre-loved vintage items.

Other high end stores like H.E. Heacocks and Oceanic were known for the exquisite household items. While Fashionable clothes were displayed at Berg’s, quality leather and shoes were stocked at Hamilton Brown or Walkover Shoes.


Escolta Saturday Market Calvo Museum

ESCOLTA HERITAGE. It was also in the twenties and the thirties when art nouveau and art deco design elements were incorporated in the architecture of Escolta’s landmark buildings like the Crystal Arcade, Capitol and Lyric Theaters, Calvo, Natividad, Burke, Regina, and Perez-Samanillo (First United Building). Some of these buildings are now gone and only be seen in old photos and in miniature models at the Calvo Museum.


DREAMING ESCOLTA. Pre-war Escolta only reigns in the memory of those who were fascinated by its grandeur. With the old glamor gone, the Escolta we know today is just a narrow street in Manila with decrepit art deco and art nouveau structures just waiting to be revitalized for adaptive reuse as cafés, restaurants, wineries, art galleries, art schools, culinary schools, creative workshop venues, exhibition spaces for art fairs and trade shows, boutiques, vintage and antique shops, bookstores, music stores, graphic design studios, photography studios, band rehearsal studios, etc. etc.

EPILOGUE. The successful staging of the Escolta Saturday Market is an inspiration to those who have all of the above in mind. Our generation can now start looking forward to a time and period when an accessible and popular, still old world yet artsy Escolta is thriving and pulsating once again in good old downtown Manila just like during its ‘forgotten’ heyday.

La Loma Cemetery

CEMENTERIO DE BINONDO. One of the places I always wanted to visit in Manila is the Campo Santo de La Loma. I’ve seen in old pictures the intricate wrought iron grill gate that led to the funerary chapel set in what they refer in the olden days as Cementerio de Binondo.

The Cementerio de Binondo was located approximately three kilometers away from the arrabal of Binondo, in the hilly area that was then part of the arrabal of Santa Cruz. Hence, Cementerio de Binondo was eventually called la loma or the hill, which makes up the cemetery complex of Cemeterio del Norte, the Manila Chinese Cemetery, and La Loma Cemetery. Of the three cemeteries, La Loma Cemetery was the first to be established.

CEMETERY ARCHITECTURE. The only way to the centuries-old funerary chapel was a good walk following the path that snakes through the cemetery compound. All the time I was diverting my son from imagining the Walking Dead by pointing out the different architectural styles found on the tombs and mausoleums.

The style and ornamentation in the memorials range from Gothic and Neo-classic to Art Deco. We found tombs and mausoleums that were recently built, but what make the cemetery-scape interesting are those that show years of exposure to the natural elements.

CAMPO SANTO DE LA LOMA. At every turn, we stop to see the details in the mausoleums with spires and the tombs with stone sculptures of Grecian goddesses in anguish and angels looking up to the heavens. These monuments crowd the cemetery lending the feeling of walking around a statue garden.

The La Loma Cemetery was built at the time when landscaping of cemeteries became popular in England and France.  Before the garden cemeteries were established, the dead were buried inside churches. Evidence of this practice is seen today in grave markers on the floor and walls of old churches. The banning of the practice of interring the dead in churches following the sanitary standards of the time led to the creation of landscaped cemeteries that were set outside town or city limits.

BEATI MORTUI. We found the site of the old cemetery gate. What is left of the intricate wrought iron gate we saw in old pictures are the stone pillars with still discernible stone relief of human skulls and crossed bones. From the gate, we walked towards the medieval chapel. Funerary mass is no longer held in this baroque chapel. A new church dedicated to St. Pancratius has been built near the main road.

The church facade has detailed carvings. Above the main door are elaborate carvings with the year 1884 and a marker with the Latin text Beati mortui qui in domino moriuntur which translates to “Blessed are the dead who die in the grace of Lord.”

EPILOGUE. The chapel stood ancient, covered with moss and overgrowth. Its adobe walls muted gold in the afternoon sun. It was warm, but the breeze suddenly became chilly. It was days before November 1.

-All Saints Day 2012

Published in: on November 1, 2012 at 12:00 am  Comments (11)  
Tags: , ,