Tuesday, 11 August 2015

"BARRIO OBRERO": The ruined, fogotten Valhalla

The ruined, forgotten Valhalla

It has long been felt that the centre for the activities of the National Government has to be outside Manila if not giving the existing area a total makeover. Having a growing population that lies growing demands, officials during those times have to expand, develop, renew in pursuit of tuning their colony with the times driven by knowledge and dignified labour in a way its past colonisers were driven by faith to save damned souls.

That as early as the American period, Daniel Burnham, an American landscape architect, drew a plan for a new government centre replacing those during the Spanish era. His first choice for an ideal site was the heights of BalicBalic, in Sta. Mesa Manila. However, according to sources, the scenic sunsets of Manila Bay lured Burnham back to Manila, specifically Bagumbayan and its neighbouring districts, for a bayside capital.

However, Manila grew rapidly into a hub of international trade and commerce. Sea was the prevailing mode of international transport during the period with air transport at its experimental stages, that somehow in the late 1920s many forward-looking individuals began seriously advocating for a new administrative centre.

Then comes Manuel Quezon. Being the President of the Commonwealth, the "Malayan Ataturk" made the first concrete move to build the capital outside Manila. The move may be both strategic and idealistic such as having a capital far from naval gun's reach and to expand urbanity in the still-barren suburbs outside Manila. At first, he ordered the acquisition of the Diliman Estate, with an area of 1,572 hectares, a rolling country northeast of the capital. His main aim was to take Social Justice into practise, providing inexpensive lots for the landless of Manila and to carry out low-cost housing, besides those of building a government centre, a one stop shop where government departments, including the congress, supreme court, and the presidency in one place. Manila was quite overcrowded that somehow enough to compel for a head of state. 
The National Assembly, then the legislature during the period, passed Commonwealth Act 457 in June 8, 1939, "Authorising the construction of National Government and other public buildings on a site to be selected by the President of the Philippines within a radius of 30 kilometres from the Rizal Monument of Manila, including the acquisition of privately owned lands and buildings", followed by a charter on October 12, 1939, under the Commonwealth Act 502. Plans for the new city were drawn up by A.D Williams and Harry T. Frost, planning advisers to President Quezon, and earlier communities, buildings, establishments had been set up in that once wooden, grassy countryside. 

However, those series of hard work and planning are being disrupted by the war and enemy occupation. The City has been dissolved, and replaced by a district that incudes Manila and few municipalities from Rizal Province: Greater Manila. The Japanese occupation even separated the city into two districts, that consists of Diliman and San Francisco del Monte. But despite the occupation, blueprints remained "at safe hands" that somehow used as reference several years later. 

After the war, nothing much has left of Manila, especially south of the Pasig. Heaviest hit was the government centres situated near Luneta, as well as Intramuros whose centuries-old houses being perished by the flames of battle. Virtually all the principal government centres were in ruins and thus, in dire need of reconstruction, requiring funds from the victors as immediately needed. The idea for a new capital, however, remined still, as then-President Roxas, in his Administrative Order No.5 which was made July 23, 1946, created a Capital Site Committee, charged with the duty of selecting the most suitable site for a capital. 
That committee, led by Senator Melencio Arranz, put in a whole year's work of investigations, hearings, inspection, amd research. In it, sixteen sites were considered for a new capital city, namely:

1.) Bataan
2.) Quezon City
3.) North Novaliches
4.) North Montalban
5.) San Mateo
6.) Antipolo
7.) Nagcarlan-Lilio
8.) Sto.Tomas-Tanauan
9.) Canlubang
10.) Tagaytay
11.) Baguio
12.) Iloilo
13.) San Pablo
14.) Los Baños
15.) Sibul
16.) Fort Bonifacio (then McKinley)

In the end, the final choice was the proposal Quezon had set its cornerstones, both in paper and in structure. Plus the underdeveloped hill and plateau country up to Novaliches watershed. Post-war developments would be at first trying to be faithful with the original plan, but certain modifications had to be proceed with the same goal as the original: of meeting the demands of the people. Few years later, it became the Capital of the new republic although most of the government structures were still in Manila especially those of the Congress and and the presidential palace situated at Malacañang. Government departments would soon move though, including the legislature that was during the Martial Law period at Batasang Pambansa.

"National Capitol" that was supposed to be at the Quezon Memorial Circle
However, those same few years after the war, that proposal undergoes alot of both major and minor changes, that somehow almost diminished the vision of the former President's dream of a happy "Barrio Obrero", a working class village in accordance to social justice. Martial Law had even moved the national capital back to Manila, yet made that post-war capital be considered as Metro Manila's administrative centre.  
But since its supposed goal has been dimished by outside factors leading to a city different from its beauteous ideals, lies its effects. Up till now, most once-strategic areas are taken over by private interest, most of which is mainly for commercial purposes; the growing shantytowns has also been a problem, yet ironically most of the residents "squatting" in some districts are those of working class backgrounds living as laborers if not engaging in livelihood. Development may have been promising to these people as the late Quezon idealised in the past, however, with private interest taking over with commercialisation as its purpose, it diminishes the objective for the less fortunate such as the need for affordable housing and livelihood, that oftentimes leading to scuffle with the authorities supposed to uplift the people in that once "Barrio Obrero" Quezon had envisioned.

That somehow made this person thinks that city has become a ruin and its intentions almost, if not truly forgotten. Not in its technical term such as full of rubbles, but having a populace, a generation ruined by system's self-interest as it dilutes, exaggerates, diminishes the utopic goals of the people behind the city, and somehow likely to be forgotten as it deemphasises through time. 

Ironically, one of the districts featured by the Roxas proposal has been developed and became Bonifacio Global City. Strange that the once Military reservation, grassy and mostly consists of stockades, was also part of the plan to become the national capital. However, it took generations to be developed- by private capital. Before that, Makati was developed under the Ayalas rather than the government; what a dismay though on the side of the latter!

People may oppose this as they both live and love the city regardless of the issues being tackled and people to be scrutinised; but personally, this writeup, based from pre-and post-war photocopies of books related to the city's earlier foundations, of its master plan and its intentions to create, would say that despite developments enough to brag, its original intention was really promising, such as a planned community where man enjoys life to the fullest.
If private realty companies afforded to advertise their subdivisions and condominiums, the city's original goal was almost the same yet it emphasisies social justice than private interests. With houses, well paved roads, communities trying to harness nature's wonder in accordance to its plan. Yet with war, ruins, reconstruction, and subsequent developments through the years, that plan and vision has been negated, if not reduced into a rhetoric tempered with infrastructures enough to brag with and be called as political gimmick by others, while seriously letting big interests take over as it scrawled over the maps and change its intentions beneath the word "development."

And the result? Sorry to say this, it is a mess compared to the well planned cities of the west and even the east, of Washington D.C. and Pyongyang with its well-paved roads, communities, and edifices of historical significance; while the Philippines's own is more of commercial nature thanks to those whose driving factor is unbridled interests. True that with all the taxes being collected from rich and poor alike the city became rich enough to bring services to everyone and be packaged whether it is a purely political gimmick or a state social policy. True that with famous personalities from the political arena to the silver screen, the city has been made an abode of stars and notorious assholes; 
but again, the result is a mess, Behind its well known structures lies a ruin with a forgotten purpose, and behind those who trying to brag about development really negate its vision and mission, in which its creators and its idealistic contributors was trying to put in the map. 

Source: Quezon City Community Library