Thursday, March 1, 2012

Manila Transitio 1945: Remembering the day that changed Manila forever

Organized by Celdran Tours, Manila Transitio 1945 is an event commemorating the Battle of Manila fought from February 3 to March 3, 1945 by American, Filipino and Japanese army. After the battle, Manila was regarded as the second most devastated city in the world, second to Warsaw, after the World War II. More than 100,000 Filipinos died in the battle, around 10% of the entire population of Manila, resulting to what is presently known as the Manila Massacre. After the war, Manila had never been the same. 

Sixty seven years after, one man led us all to remembering once again the day that changed Manila forever. 
It's going to be a sunset tour for all us last February 26, 2012 with Mr. Walk This Way, Carlos Celdran. At 4:00pm, we assembled in front of the Fort Santiago ticket booth. Minutes after, the event was started with the singing of the Philippine National Anthem.
And then Carlos started to talk. Armed with a lapel mic and visual materials, he gave us the most insightful and most amusing history class we ever have attended. In this picture, Carlos showed everyone the symbol of Manila during the Spanish Era. A Chimera, a mythological symbol for illusion, is at the center of that symbol.

More than 200 people attended the Manila Transitio 1945 event last February 26, 2012. They're from all walks of life. Most are Filipinos, some are from the US. There's even a Buddhist monk who attended the event. It's a good crowd that day!

When the Spanish came to the Philippines, they built a fortress called the Fort Santiago. An image of Santiago Matamoros or St. James of the Moors was etched at the facade of the fortress. According to the legend, St. James appeared as a warrior on his white horse to help the Christian army of King Ramiro I of Spain against the Moors. Until today, St. James is the patron saint of Spain.

Before the Spanish Era, the Pre-Hispanic Filipinos were Moslems. 
Contrary to what the Spanish did to the Filipinos, the Americans taught the Filipinos their language. They were taught English. Now this was part of a bigger strategy. Carlos said, "Because we were supposed to be made to the image of the United States. We were supposed to be the 50th state."

Carlos also said, "Thanks to the United States! We now have a national hero!" Now this is insightful. Jose Rizal was an artist, a doctor, a poet, a scientist, a writer and etc. In short, he was westernized. For an ordinary Filipino during that time, his image was boring. Remember that the Filipinos were clamoring for a revolution, for a real change. Why would the Filipinos choose him as the national hero?

But we didn't! It was the United States. But the question is why? Why the diplomatic, the educated and the peace-loving Jose Rizal? Why not the revolutionary Andres Bonifacio? Was this part of a bigger picture again? Was the United States "softening" our warring tendencies during that time?

This got me thinking. 
We offered a short prayer for the souls of the more than a hundred thousand Filipinos who were killed in Manila during the World War II. Across us actually stood a white cross which was dedicated to the many Filipinos who were buried there, nameless.
Carlos enlarged this picture of an American bomb landing somewhere in Manila. Apparently, it wasn't just the Japs doing all the killings of the Filipinos during the Battle of Manila. This American bomb, along with the other armaments which devastated the former "Pearl of the Orient", has its own share of murder.
Carlos was mimicking Gen. Douglas McArthur complete with a hat, a pipe and the infamous photo which was even made a life-sized replica in Leyte. The photo showed Gen. Douglas McArthur along with his troops dramatically stepping unto the Philippine shores to fulfill the promise he made more than two years before the photo was taken. "I shall return."

Apparently, this photo had to be taken thrice. It's part of the drama.  
We walked upon the walls of Intramuros. I wonder how the Walled City looked like before the Battle of Manila. The Philippines was the "Pearl of the Orient". It must be THAT beautiful and prosperous during that time. I yearned for Manila of the past which I haven't even seen.

This was the prison cell where Jose Rizal was jailed before the day of his execution.
On the other side of the river is Binondo, home of the Filipino-Chinese in Manila. During the Spanish Era, Binondo was called Parian. As said, the Parian is one canon ball away from Intramuros. It was a place where non-Christian Chinese settled. The Spanish had to keep them in one place due to the alarming growth of their population during the 16th century. They were allowed residency in Manila as long as they convert to being Christians. Those who refused conversion had to settle at Parian.
Carlos stood at the tranvia with an enlarged image of the San Agustin Church. During the World War II, this was the only structure in Intramuros that was spared. All the rest had to be flattened. It was said that someone placed a red cross on top of the church- symbolizing that the structure had to be spared. It'll be a great war crime to destroy it.

San Agustin Church is now regarded as the oldest church in the Philippines.

To cap off the whole walking tour, we were treated with halo-halo! The Philippines was compared by Carlos to this all-time favorite Filipino dessert. Like a melting pot of many culture and ethnicity, the Philippines can be compared to the halo-halo which is composed of many ingredients and flavorings. Yum!

That night, the beautiful music of the Mabuhay Singers filled the air in the heart of Manila again. They sang a lot of Kundiman songs that the younger ones like me may not be familiar with, but truly enjoyed listening to. It was so much fun to see them perform!
After a short while, Carlos showed us how to light the flying paper lamps or the spirit balloons to be released in a short while. This is one of the highlights we all awaited for.
We held our spirit balloons in front of Fort Santiago.

And then one by one, the spirit balloons all rose to the air and into the night sky!
Like stars at night, they shone. It was truly an amazing experience!
While the spirit balloons all rose above the ground, a beautiful rendition of the patriotic song, "Ang Bayan Ko" was given by the awesome Mabuhay Singers. They were the real stars that night!
My spirit balloon took a couple of minutes more before it took off. And when it finally did, the feeling was inexplicable. It was actually the last lamp to rise. I think I might join Manila Transitio 1945 again next year.

Special thanks to Carlos and his team for organizing this wonderful event.

God bless Manila! Long live the Philippines!

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