Category: Culture

El Hogar Filipino

Downtown Manila – Escolta

This is the first of a three-part series on the places in Manila your mother warned you about. “Downtown Manila” used to be the old cultural and commercial center of the capital. Roughly, it includes some parts of Quiapo, Carriedo, and Sta. Cruz.

In the ’60s and the ’70s, the best restaurants, movie houses, and shops were found in these districts on the right bank of the Pasig River. Then time marched on, and these historic places slowly deteriorated. Escolta, dubbed as Manila’s Queen of Streets, is one such place.

Manila’s Queen of Streets

Now home to many street urchins and pickpockets, Escolta used to house important financial institutions at the turn of the 20th century. These include Manila Stock Exchange, HSBC, the Insurance Commission, Prudential Bank, and Monte de Piedad, which is considered as the country’s first savings bank.

As the country’s premier business district, Escolta was the preferred address for the headquarters of many local and multinational companies in the first half of the 20th century. Department stores, movie houses, theaters, office buildings, film production houses, restaurants, and fashion boutiques can also be found there.

View from Jones Bridge
View from Jones Bridge

The first half of the 20th century saw the rise of the city’s first skyscrapers along Escolta. One of these, and my personal favorite, is the El Hogar Filipino Building. Built in 1914, this iconic structure was designed by Ramon Irureta-Goyena and Francisco Perez-Muñoz in the beaux arts style. According to tradition, El Hogar was erected as a wedding gift by a Spanish conde to a scion of the Ayala de Zobel clan. It housed a financing cooperative, the offices of Smith, Bell and Co., and the Ayala Life Insurance Company.

El Hogar Filipino Building
El Hogar Filipino Building

This beautiful building survived the carpet-bombing by American soldiers during the Second World War, as well as a number of earthquakes. However, its fate hangs in the balance today, as it is under the threat of demolition. The city government of Manila must hate beautiful things.

Capitol Building
Capitol Building

Another personal favorite is the Capitol Building Theatre, which was designed by National Artist Juan Nakpil in 1934. A good example of an Art Deco theater, Its façade features a bas-relief of two muses created by the Italian sculptor Francesco Ricardo Monti. I read on Wikipedia that its lobby featured a mural created by Victorio C. Edades, Botong Francisco, and Galo B. Ocampo. Today, some shops still operate on the ground floor, but the theater has long been closed.

Slow Decline

In the 1960s, the number of establishments along Escolta dwindled as banking and financial institutions moved to Ayala Center in Makati. In the ’80s, moviegoers moved on to newer movie houses in shopping centers such as Quad and Isetann, while shoppers flocked to the RTW stores in Carriedo, Quiapo, and Baclaran. Syvels and Ketch were soon surpassed and replaced by C.O.D. and Shoemart. Some buildings were abandoned while others were occupied by new stores, companies, and restaurants.  Escolta was no longer the vibrant commercial hub it used to be for close to a century.

A New Revival

As early as 2011, the city government and other stakeholders have been talking about attracting businesses, particularly BPOs, back to Escolta. In an interview with Businessworld, Dominic Galicia of Dominic Galicia Architects, the dialogue “[aimed] to broker a marriage between two of the country’s strongest resources: our BPO industry, and our 20th-century heritage architecture, the best examples of which are located in the Escolta neighborhood.” (I’m not sure what has become of that; I hope we can see this become a reality within the decade.)

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to follow the news on ongoing efforts to revive Escolta. You can also connect with organizations that advocate cultural preservation, such as Escolta Revival Movement and Heritage Conservation Society.

Better yet, take a jeep or a bus to Sta. Cruz on a weekend, and take snapshots of the breathtaking structures along Escolta. If more and more people show interest in this side of Manila, maybe the city government will eventually realize its worth.

South Cotabato (Part 2 of 3) – Lake Sebu

October 2014 – After the fun night of singing and dancing, we were ready to discover the rest of South Cotabato. We started our day early to catch the sunrise over Lake Sebu.

Punta Isla Resort, Lake Sebu

That day, I was awoken by the sound of rustling leaves and chirping birds. It was a cool, breezy morning, and I felt like the day was full of promise. Our habal-habal drivers (led by Kuya Mark Meyen, 09752705199) arrived at around 6 AM, so we had to skip breakfast. Our drivers whisked us to a high point that overlooked the lake. Then, we zipped across beautiful hilly landscapes to get a closer view of Lake Sebu at Punta Isla Resort. On the way back, Kuya Mark brought us to the T’boli Museum, a small traditional T’boli house with a few trinkets and artifacts. (My friends bought a few beaded accessories there. Make sure to visit it when you can, it’s interesting.)

We made a quick trip back to SIKAT, where we had a filling breakfast of fried rice, egg, and fried eggplant. After an hour, we were back on the road, zigzagging our way to the Seven Falls of Lake Sebu, a nature park with, er, seven waterfalls. We went on a quick trip down to Falls No. 1 and 2 (I forgot to ask why they called it that. Probably for the benefit of tourists.)

Falls No. 1, Lake Sebu

Seven Falls, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato
Magnificent Falls No. 2 in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Photo by Lovely

After marveling at the simple beauty of Falls No. 2, we went to one of the most unforgettable parts of our trip: the highest zip line in Southeast Asia! I’m not fond of heights (I would never fly if taking the bus were an option), but all my friends were excited about it, so I had no choice but to join them. Good thing I did – it was absolutely amazing. For about 40 seconds, we glided above hundreds of acres of lush forests, and we saw a glimpse of 3 out of the 7 falls in the nature park, and a breathtaking rainbow. (Though I had no choice but to trust the equipment and ignore the screeching and hissing of the ropes.)

Highest Zipline in Southeast Asia, Lake Sebu
I’m not as scared as I look; I’m just terrified I might lose my glasses here. (Photo by Joan)

(After we finished the first leg of the zip line, we had to wait for about half an hour at the platform where we had to jump off for the second zip line. One of the employees had to power up a generator, which he needed for his PC. He needed to ask us which of our photos should he print. It’s depressing to see for the first time how serious the energy crisis in Mindanao was.)

We rested for a bit and had buttered corn before we set off again. Next stop was Lang Dulay’s workshop, where we saw rolls and rolls of beautiful t’nalak and their weavers.

Lang Dulay's Workshop in Lake Sebu

Unfortunately, Lang Dulay was not home; she was away to see a doctor for her regular check-up (she’s 98 years old, according to them). In any case, her apprentices were happy to answer all our questions.  They even showed us the process of making t’nalak — from the backstrap loom to what they call “pagpaplantsa,” where they scrub the woven cloth with a cowrie shell to give it that distinct shimmer that I so love in t’nalak.

Lang Dulay's workshop, Lake Sebu
Posing inappropriately with the t’nalak designed by Lang Dulay (Photo by Lovely)

After we bought some souvenir, our kuya habal-habal drivers drove us back to Bob Nowong, where we had some more tilapia and seafood. We also tried their chopsuey, which I find to be pricey but good.

Bob Nowong, Lake Sebu

We had a long ride ahead of us, so we went back to pack our bags and say goodbye to the people at SIKAT. If there’s something that I regret about this trip, it’s that we only spent a night here in SIKAT. I felt like a tourist, which is not exactly a good feeling. I wish I could have stayed longer so that I could learn all that I can about the t’nalak, the stories of the T’boli as a people, their songs, dances, epics, and chants.

SIKAT, Lake Sebu

I’ll definitely be back to spend more than a week in Lake Sebu to do just that.