Araw of Maynila, Araw of Kastila

Every year on June 24, Araw ng Maynila, I reflect on two things: first, the founding of Spanish Manila; second, why is it that when we talk about Maynila or Manila today, it’s always in the past tense?

When the late Carmen Guerrero Nakpil was chairwoman of the Manila History and Heritage Commission, she attempted to redirect the narrative by stating, with a wry smile, that the “Araw ng Maynila” should rightly be called ” Araw ng Kastila”. Each year, when Manila “celebrates” the founding of the city on June 24, 1571, it obscures the fact that the Spaniards, under Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, simply conquered an existing city, Maynila, from Rajah Soliman. When we visit Fort Santiago today, we must not forget that its foundations were piled on the ruins of Suleiman’s palisades. At the time of the Spanish conquest, there were other colonies around Manila, each ruled by different chiefs. Archaeological artifacts unearthed in downtown Manila, such as stone and jade tools, suggest settlements by the Pasig in prehistoric times. Chinese porcelains found in archaeological sites testify to our long relationship with China dating back to the 9th century. It’s more than a millennium of contacts. Philippine history should be taught to provide citizens with a long-term view that extends beyond 1571 when Manila was founded as a Spanish city, the capital of the Philippine Islands.

Manila takes its name from the nila which grew there abundantly; that’s why it was called “can[roon] Nor the. Those who insist it’s Maynilad with a “d” are spreading fake news. A “historian” cited Manuel Blanco’s “Flora de Filipinas” (first edition, 1837) as the source for Maynilad, but when you look at the beautiful colored plate of a later edition, the green plant is labeled as “Ixora manila” which botanists say is a synonym of Scyphiphora hydrophylacea CFGaertn. I wish Manila city hall will grow nila so people can see it live. When I was president of the City College of Manila, now Universidad de Manila, I took an image of the nila from Blanco’s “Flora de Filipinas” and put it on the college seal. I hope to see a nila before I die, as I have seen other historic plants like kiyapo as ornamentals in many urban gardens. This green aquatic plant with water-repellent leaves gave its name to the suburb of Manila known as Quiapo.

During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time downloading high resolution images of early Spanish maps of Intramuros and its suburbs (arrabales) from the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain, for my research and enjoyment . These maps taught me that Manila is not the Manila, Metro Manila, or Greater Manila that we know today. Instead, Spanish Manila was only “intra muros”, literally the area “within the walls”. The familiar parts of Manila today were previously “extramuros”, or outside the walls of Intramuros, and were considered suburbs or arrabales of the capital: Binondo, Ermita, Intramuros, Malate, Manila, Pandacan, Quiapo, Sampaloc, San Andres, San Fernando de Dilao, San Miguel, San Nicolas, Santa Ana de Sapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Mesa and Tondo.

In 1901, at the beginning of the American period, parts of Spanish Manila were remapped and some of its old districts were transformed into the province of Rizal: Caloocan, Las Piñas, Mariquina, Pasig, Parañaque, Malabon, Navotas, San Juan del Monte, San Pedro de Macati, San Felipe Neri, Muntinlupa and the Taguig-Pateros. Prior to Japanese occupation, Manila and Quezon City were merged into Greater Manila which included Rizal Province as detailed above. In 1975, during the first Marcos period, Metro Manila was created from the merger of Manila, Caloocan, Pasay, Quezon City, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Pasig, San Juan, Taguig, Valenzuela and Pateros. This was renamed the National Capital Region in 1978.

With other maps available online at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, and the British Library, London, it is possible to compare different maps of “Manila” over the centuries and trace the growth and development of the capital to the present day. So we ask: What happened to Manila? Why do we talk about it in the past tense?


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