VOICE FROM THE SOUTH
By FR. EMETERIO BARCELON, SJ
Intramuros when I was a child had many beautiful memorable areas. I still reached the Ateneo in Intramuros before the fire which burned the memorabilia of Jose Rizal. There was an elevated passageway across the street to San Ignacio Church. Across the San Ignacio Church my family had an old building and when you entered the gate you were greeted with a whiff of musty air that reflected the centuries of its existence. It had a quadrangle in the center which made a draft up that kept air flowing in the building.
Then there was the American Army Armory which had a basketball gymnasium where the NCAA games were played. In the one square kilometer of Intramuros, there were more than 15 churches. This made the Visita Iglesia on Maundy Thursday easy. You were able to visit all the churches in about two hours.
Then in late 1940, you had the spectacle of Austrian Jews sitting in the sidewalks. These were part of the contingent who were given by President Quezon visas to escape the pogrom of Hitler. These were part of the four thousand who got entry into the country. Most of them found work immediately when they arrived. I remember one family who had recommendations from the Jesuits in Austria who were hired in the Ateneo. The wife served as telephone operator at the main gate of the Ateneo and the husband worked with the maintenance crew. Their son was a student who also beat the bass drum in the military band that played for the school. Their name was something like Moudry.
In 1571, when the Spaniards came to colonize the islands in the name of their king, Philip II, they decided to build a walled city on the south side at the mouth of the Pasig River opposite the Tondo domain of Rajah Soliman. It was a walled enclosure whose ramparts still exist. It was also surrounded by a moat. During the American era this moat was converted into a golf course, which still exists to this day. It was one square kilometer like the cities of Europe. It was the city that loaded the galleons that crossed over to Mexico full of Chinese silk, gold, and fine china. In return they were loaded with Mexican silver, European goods, and missionaries. These were the prize targets of Dutch and English pirates since they were loaded with treasure. But when they made the journeys safely, they enriched the city of Manila which was really Intramuros. It was a walled city on the east side of Manila Bay which was protected at the entrance by Corregidor. Its beautiful sunset is as good as any in the world.
At Intramuros’ northwest corner they built Fort Santiago which is now a museum. Jose Rizal spent his last nights there. It was there he wrote the magnificent Ultimo Adios and married his wife Josephine Bracken. In 1945 the Japanese command rounded up all the male inhabitants of Intramuros then released them. They were rounded up a second time and led to one of the dungeons of Fort Santiago, locked up and left to die. There were about two thousand whose bones are there in Fort Santiago.
Recent legislation tried to recapture the memories of the Spanish city of Intramuros with a regulation that new structures would be built only with Spanish motif. This has prevented the walled city to be developed properly.
In that month of February, 1945, the Japanese command made a stand in south of the Pasig river. I remember watching the American howitzers from Sunken Gardens in the north bombarding
Intramuros and the districts of Ermita, Malate, and Paco until it was the most destroyed city in World War II outside of Polish cities. Intramuros was left in ruble except for a few buildings like San Agustin Church.