The last time I ventured inside the vast Manila Cathedral was when I was in 2nd year college and had no idea of the historical relevance of the place. Yesterday, I bore witness to the grand re-opening of Manila’s cultural and religious jewel, the seat of the Catholic influence in the whole Philippines and a great heritage treasure we should cherish regardless of religion or absence of.
The Manila Cathedral sits at the center of Intramuros, the historic walled city, in the gardens of Plaza Roma in front of the Fort Santiago. It is one of the last cultural buildings that had retained its former glory and grandeur. Unlike the San Augustine Church, the original Cathedral didn’t survive the bombing of Manila during WW2 like most of the city’s old Hispanic buildings. Much of the old church was destroyed but the original plan and design were retained for old times’ sake.
Even before the destruction of the churches in Cebu and Bohol due to the 7.8 magnitude quake that struck Visayas last year, it is already a great concern for the church administrators and Manila city officials to preserve the Cathedral for future disasters. Starting from 2011, the Cathedral was closed for retrofitting so it can withstand strong shockwaves from earthquakes. Donations and pledges are made and after two years, the Cathedral is now ready to open its doors to the local worshipers and foreign tourists. Undoubtedly, it will be another precious collection to Intramuros’ rich heritage for non-Filipinos to see.
Forgive the blasphemy but I have to say this: Manila Cathedral, you are a heck of a sexy architecture and I hope your glory lives as long as there is still a Philippines.
The reopening of the Cathedral provided an excuse for a small college barkada reunion. And when you’re in a historic, solemn place with your nerdy, history-buff friends, discussions and stories are bound to be serious, if not philosophical.
Jayson, wearing his green-striped polo shirt tucked in his pants, has to sneak away from his work as a reporter to the local paper just to catch the event. When it comes to Philippine history, he’s the rockstar ever since our college days. Rene (my other friend) and I can only listen and nod agreeably when he’s spewing angry tirades and rants about anything from people ignoring and ambushing the performing Rondalla dancers once the doors of the Cathedral are opened, to the conspiracy involving the Bangsamoro peace deal. He knows the history of Intramuros in the palm of his hand and if there’s anyone who loves Manila inside and out, despite its blatant flaws, it’s him.
When you’re with a friend like Jayson, you will feel guilty of not being Filipino enough. He’s as precious as a heritage building: Few but true. That’s the most poetic description I could think of about a friend.
So late at night after the mass, as we strolled around the cobbled pathways of Intramuros, getting drunk over the mellow streetlights and melodic clamps of moving calesas, we engaged in our favorite pasttime of asking ourselves of what had gone wrong in Philippine history that condemned us in this culture of mediocrity and inferiority.
And the reason why I wrote down this anecdote is because of Jayson’s tirades. According to his lengthy but interesting exposition, even before the Spaniards came, the islands are already governed with several clans and tribes, each had the habit of waging war and killing each other off. In pre-Hispanic Manila alone, there are already three kingdoms thriving: The Kingdom of Maynila, Tundo and Namayan. Tribes across Luzon pledges loyalty to the Kingdom of Manila, but they are ruled autonomously, each with different leaders who seldom cooperate with each other.
“The Spaniards didn’t understand the complexity of the political system in the archipelago.” Jayson explains. “They didn’t understand that there’s a culture of strong regionalism in each island, in each province. Most people recognized Lapu-lapu as a hero of Cebu but Cebu and Mactan are ruled by different datus then and each held a bitter grudge against each other.”
What the Spaniards did, Jayson explained, is they rounded up all these kingdoms, tribes, clans, islands in one country in such a rush despite the obvious disagreements and grudges, hoping the hodge-podge would call itself a nation.
“Nasa dugo na ng mga Pilipino ‘yan.” (It’s in our genetic code). Jayson continues. “We inherently sided with the community than pledge our support to the greater society. That’s why we have political dynasties ruled by rich families in each region or province until now. It is in our nature to be ‘loyal’ to this people. The lack of education didn’t help our situation.”
That observation can only come from someone who spent so much time thinking about the Philippines, and there’s no question that Jayson is like that.
The discussion moved from Filipino society to the Spratly Island tension against China. Rene pointed out that if there’s one thing that unites Filipinos, it’s the presence of a common enemy perceived as an invader or a bully, as what majority call China these past few weeks.
“Well, at least we have to thank China for that,” I quipped. “Without China the ‘bully’, we would be busy pulling each other down.”
“Mabuhay China!” we cheered, and a couple who were busy making out at the corner just sent us weird looks.
We enjoyed the sated calm that follows after the orgasmic discussion. Who knew having threesome could be so gratifying?