Perusing the map of Luzon, one cannot help but notice the truism that geography determines to a large extent the fate of cities.
In the case of Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, previous settlers in the 1250’s had the good security and economic sense to establish a settlement along the banks of a great river that flows toward the sea, ensuring grain and fish for their survival.
And survive they did for more than 300 years in the Tagalog-fortified polity they called “Maynila.” The area’s deep and protected harbor also bodes well for the flourishing of commerce and trade, from ancient times to the present.
The wave of colonialism in Europe brought to the settlement’s shores the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi with modern tools of battle, defeating the place’s last indigenous Rajah, Sulayman III, in the Battle of Bangkusay.
Beginning with only the area corresponding to present-day Intramuros or Walled City, Legazpi claimed the territory for the Spanish Crown, initially as a province of Mexico.
While colonialism brought its social ills to the Philippines, it also gave this country its national character, and Manila its international standing as a 16th century trading hub. The rulers of Tondo from the north (which later became part of Manila) were kings who were active trade partners of the Song and Yuan dynasties of China. Later on, two centuries of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade brought much-needed goods from Europe, Africa and South America across the Pacific to Southeast Asia. Manila, alongside Mexico and Madrid were the world’s original set of global cities, predating the rise of New York or London as global financial centers by hundreds of years.
Looking at Manila now, we see a capital city that is a microcosm of the Old and the New World, with Spanish-era and American-regime architecture, culture and values competing with what is truly native Filipino. It has remained a bastion of the Catholic faith, with its centuries-old churches, even as the city opens up to people of various faiths and races.
A succession of competent leaders of modern Manila — Arsenio Lacson, Antonio Villegas, Ramon Bagatsing, Mel Lopez, Alfredo Lim, Joseph “Erap” Ejercito Estrada and Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso gave their best public service and lasting legacies to the city and the Manilenos.
Tomorrow, June 24, 2022 is the 451st anniversary of the founding of the city by Legazpi. It is historic as well as auspicious that the new mayor of Manila is a lady physician, Dr. Honey Lacuna-Pangan. The fact that Manila will have its first woman mayor since its establishment four and a half centuries ago is a testimony to the advancement of women in modern Manila society.
Vice Mayor Lacuna-Pangan partnered well with Mayor Isko Moreno in successfully tempering the Covid-19 pandemic in the city, with projects such as quarantine facilities, mass vaccination drive, and distribution of subsidies and food aid to all residents. Several awards received by the city from various organizations validate Manila’s forward-looking plans for economic recovery, urban renewal and transparent governance.
This year’s celebration of Araw ng Maynila should underscore the importance of continuity and service, as Isko Moreno hands over the torch of governance to Honey Lacuna.