Welcome to the Gates of Hell
“Abandon all hope ye who enter here” – Canto III The Gate of Hell, Inferno
Quite recently, our great old capital, Manila, was reluctantly pushed in the limelight when bestselling author, Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons) described Manila in his latest book, Inferno, as the ‘Gates of Hell’. I haven’t read the book yet; all my money I spent on my brief tryst with Bacolod so I managed to get a copy of the excerpt from news networks and here it is:
Brooks, who has been working with humanitarian groups, went to the Philippines for a mission to supposedly feed poor fishermen and farmers on the countryside.
She expected the Philippines to be a “wonderland of geological beauty, with vibrant seabeds and dazzling plains.”
Upon setting foot in Manila, however, Brooks could only “gape in horror” as “she had never seen poverty on this scale.”
She said her “dark depression” flooded back, with pictures of poverty and crime flashing through her eyes.
“For every one person Sienna fed, there were hundreds more who gazed at her with desolate eyes,” the book read.
One after the other, the book described chaotic Manila: “six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, horrifying sex trade.”
The book described the sex industry as consisting mostly of young children “many of whom had been sold to pimps by parents who took solace in knowing that at least their children would be fed.”
“All around her, she could see humanity overrun by its primal instinct for survival…When they face desperation…human beings become animals,” the book read.
The book went on to detail a turning point in Brooks’ life. “I’ve run through the gates of hell,” she said.
– Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/lifestyle/05/21/13/dan-brown-calls-manila-gates-hell-novel
Is it a mortal sin as Pinoy that when I read the description, I wasn’t imbued with strong sense of self-righteous anger towards Dan Brown on how could he blatantly stamped Manila as the Gates of Hell for the whole world to read?
In Tagalog, I am dedma. I’ve come upon stronger and uglier descriptions of Manila in my lifetime, some by foreign authors, most by Filipino ones. I even irrelevantly called Manila as the ‘belly of the beast’. You might say I’m lacking in nationalistic spirit or I am indifferent to its impact on the tourism of my country but come on, even without Dan Brown’s description which I might add, in his purely fictitious book, most of the world still thinks Manila is a densely populated city of ungodly traffic, crime and corruption. All poor opinions of Manila boil down to three words: Sad but true.
Prior to World War II, the old Manila is thousand times different than the present one. We are called the ‘Queen City of the Pacific’ or the ‘Pearl of the Orient Seas’. The city is visited by many foreigners either to settle or to study here. I’ve seen some old photos of Manila, of the well-paved roads, the glistening buildings in Makati, the clean and well-maintained Baywalk running along the Manila Bay. More than forty years later, time and circumstances drastically changed Manila’s face but I can’t deny that some of its beauty is still ever present in some areas. There’s still the sophisticated beauty of Makati Avenue, the rising towers in the Fort Bonifacio, Eastwood and Ortigas. We still have the Luneta Park, though different from its original state, is often visited and enjoyed by tourists. The well-preserved Intramuros and Fort Santiago. The clean and wide roads and sleek architecture in Pasay and many things more. If you have been living in Manila for years, you’d find yourself acquainted with its dark nature as well as its inner twisted beauty most people couldn’t see.
Dan Brown immortalised Manila in his book with that description but hasn’t there been any city shown in poor light that remained as it is? New Delhi has been repeatedly shown in the media as a gritty and overly populated area where people don’t give a hoot about hygiene but did the residents reacted? And look at India now? It’s the rising Elephant of Asia which receives millions of tourists every year.
You might clamor that Manila, being the capital city, represents the whole Philippines as a whole. I beg to differ. Manila won’t be a justifying factor when tourists wanted to go to Boracay, or to Palawan, or to Cebu or Davao. In the end, it’s not Manila that defines the Philippines. How can you incorporate that reasoning in an archipelago of 7,000+ islands? The tragedy of Manila lies in the fact that over the years, it has grown in a gateway of opportunities and dreams, only to smack you down with false illusions. Many would leave their lands and homes in the province to come to Manila in search of work or proper living, only to be shunned away and forced to live in sewage areas near the rivers, forced to swallow down acts of immorality just to bring a small piece of food in the dining table.
In a way, I might have to agree with Dan Brown. Such allusion has never been more correct. Manila still has a long way to go to stand in the ranks alongside Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Seoul and Hong Kong. For as long as its residents are forced to unleash their demons driven by desperation to get their next meal or send their children to school everyday, for as long as people remained indifferent to the surroundings around them and continued to gorge in their selfish acts, Manila will and always will be the Gates of Hell.