Ang Barbero sa Liwasang Bonifacio

Ang Barbero sa Liwasang Bonifacio

Ni Apolinario Villalobos

 

Nakasakay ako sa jeep papuntang Pasay nang matanaw ko ang isang barbero sa isang bahagi ng Liwasang Bonifacio (Lawto Plaza) at hindi alintana ang mga tao sa kanyang paligid habang naggugupit ng buhok. Bumaba ako mula sa jeep upang umusyuso lalo pa at nakita ko ang mga “kalakal” na nakalatag hindi kalayuan sa kanya. Ang mga “kalakal” ay mga junk items na napupulot sa basura o maayos pang gamit na pinagsawaan ng may-ari kaya napapakinabangan pa. Mahalaga ang mga ganitong nakalatag para sa mga taong naghahanap ng mga piyesa ng kung anong gadget na hindi mabibili saan mang tindahan o di kaya mga murang gamit.

 

“Dodong” ang pangalang sinabi ng barbero sa akin at galing daw siya sa Cebu kaya maganda ang usapan namin sa Bisaya. Kanya rin pala ang mga kalakal na nakalatag sa hindi kalayuan. Natiyempuhan ko sa mga nakalatag ang cellphone belt pack na gawa sa soft cowhide at nabili ko sa halagang beinte pesos lang. Nakabili rin ako ng backpack na pang-estudyante na ibibigay ko sa isang bata sa Leveriza, Pasay,  sa halagang treinta pesos. Swerte pa rin ako sa isang pares na safety shoes na pambigay ko sa isang guwardiya sa isang hardware store sa Recto malapit sa Divisoria dahil nakita kong halos nakanganga na ang suwelas ng kaliwang sapatos niya, at nabili ko sa halagang otsenta pesos lang. Ang guwardiyang ito ang tumulong sa amin noong last week ng Nobyembre nang mag-ikot kami ng mga kasama ko sa lugar na yon upang mamigay ng regalo sa mga bata.

 

Dahil sa kahirapan ay natigil si Dodong sa pag-aaral kaya hanggang grade four lang ang inabot niya. Tumulong siya sa kanyang tatay sa pangingisda at kung hindi sila pumapalaot ay nakagawian na niyang umistambay sa bahay ng kapitbahay nilang barbero upang manood habang nanggugupit ito. Madalas din siyang utusan ng barbero na nag-aabot sa kanya ng pera kaya para na rin siyang nagsa-sideline. Sa kapapanood daw niya ng panggugupit ay natuto siya pero ang una niyang ginupitan ay tatay niya. Okey naman daw ang resulta kaya ang sunod niyang ginupitan ay kuya niya. Sa kapapraktis ay natuto na siyang manggupit kaya kung may lakad ang kapitbahay nilang barbero ay sa kanya pinagkakatiwala ang mga kostumer nito.

 

Labing- anim na taong gulang siya nang mamatay ang kanilang tatay kaya lumipat sila ng kanyang nanay sa bahay ng kanyang kuya na may pamilya na. Dahil dagdag pasanin sila, madalas na sa palengke siya umiistambay upang mangargador. Ang bangka kasi nila ay naibenta nang magkasakit ang kanilang tatay. Dahil sa pangangargador, nakakakain siya sa maghapon at nakakakapag-uwi pa ng pagkain para sa kanyang nanay, at kung malaki ang kita ay namamalengke pa siya na ikinatutuwa naman ng kanyang hipag.

 

Nang minsang may magyaya sa kanyang tindero upang maisama sa Maynila dahil bibili ng generator, sumama agad siya. Mula noon, palagi na siyang isinasama hanggang naisipan niyang pumunta sa Maynila na nag-iisa. Masuwete siya at sa barko pa lang ay may nakilala siyang makikipagsapalaran din kaya silang dalawa ang nagsalo sa hirap na dinanas pagdating sa Maynila. Mula sa pantalan ay naglakad sila hanggang sa Divisoria. Tinipid nila ang perang baon kaya madalas ay tumitiyempo sila ng kaning tutong para mahingi at ulam na lang ang babayaran kapag kumain sa mga maliliit na karinderya. Kung minsan daw ay dinadaan nila sa biro ang paghingi ng libreng tutong.

 

Sa kalalakad nila ay nakarating sila sa Liwasang Bonifacio at doon ay nadatnan nila ang iba pang nakipagsapalaran sa Maynila na walang matuluyan kaya kung gabi ay kanya-kanya sila ng hanap ng sulok upang matulugan. May nagbenta sa kanya ng gunting na original na “Solingen” at panggupit talaga ng buhok kaya laking tuwa niya. Ang binili na lang niya ay maliit na salamin at dalawang suklay – full time na barbero na siya! Sa simula, barya barya lang ang tinatanggap niya dahil sa pakisaman at para may maipambayad lang sa may-ari ng banyo sa Intramuros kung saan sila naliligo at naglalaba. Nakakaipon din siya ng pambili ng pagkain. Unti-unti ay nagtaas siya ng singil hanggang naging treinta pesos na. Nang lumaki ang kanyang ipon ay namili na rin siya ng mga kalakal na inaalok sa kanya ng mga “scavenger” at mga istambay na nagtitinda ng gamit, hanggang makaipon siya ng maraming kalakal na nilalatag niya araw-araw.

 

Biniro ko siya na hindi lang siya barbero kundi nagba-buy and sell pa. Kapag nakaipon daw siya ng malaki ay uuwi siya sa probinsiya nila at bibili ng bangka upang makapangisda uli pero manggugupit pa rin daw siya. Excited siya sa pagkuwento dahil makakasama na niya uli ang kanyang nanay.

 

Ang punto ko rito ay ang kaalaman o skill na maaaring pagkikitaan tulad ng natutunan ni Dodong na pagbabarbero kaya kahit dayo siya sa Maynila ay nabuhay siya nang marangal, hindi naging magnanakaw o palaboy. Marami pang ibang skill na maaaring pag-aralan tulad ng pagma-manicure at pedicure, o di kaya ay pagmamasahe at pagda-drive, pati pagluto. Hindi dapat ikahiya ang mga ganitong kaalaman kaya hangga’t bata pa ay mabuting matuto na.

 

 

 

The Shabby Scenes from the Airport Terminals and the Derelict Intramuros and Liwasang Bonifacio

The Shabby Scenes from the Airport Terminals
and the Derelict Intramuros and Liwasang Bonifacio
By Apolinario Villalobos

The problem with the Department of Tourism is that, while it promotes touristic destinations in the countryside, it forgot Manila which is supposed to be the gateway. The agency is proud of the oceanic theme park at the back of the Luneta grandstand and also the “dancing fountain”. But those can be found anywhere as they have become ordinary fixtures of parks, with some provinces even having more picturesque and enticing dancing fountains. The tourism people seem blind to the shabby scenes from the airport terminals that surely catch the eyes of incoming tourists on their way to their hotels along Roxas Boulevard and Makati Business Center.

From the Terminal 1 and 2 for instance, what catch the eyes are big bill boards and ramshackle shanties of barangay Pildera. The patroness of air voyage looks forlorn with the neglected shrubs at the base of its pedestal. Trees that line the street are untrimmed. Pieces of garbage dot the ground with wilting grass due to neglect. From Terminal 3, the same monotonous view greets the visitors as they drive down Andrews Avenue toward Baclaran and Tramo. From terminal 4, the short distance to Airport Road of Baclaran is worst, especially, as one exits towards Roxas Boulevard, with both sides of the street lined with run-down beerhouses.

The clusters of modern edifices that are filling the reclaimed Manila bay are being developed by owners of the business establishments, themselves who are mostly foreigners. In this regard, the Department of Tourism has no right to claim the credit for the fast transition of the once grassy reclaimed land.

Intramuros at the northwest terminus of Roxas Boulevard is supposed to be the historical showcase of the city, together with Liwasang Bonifacio or Lawton Plaza. Unfortunately, both are awful disappointments. What makes Intramuros interesting a bit, are just the presence of Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church, and some of its streets lined with old houses that are not even refurbished to improve their antiquated facades. What worsen the disappointing landmark are the filthy skeletons of neglected government buildings and stinking nooks of the once formidable walls and their imposing bastions.

Liwasang Bonifacio’s conspicuous landmarks are the Post Office Building and the fountain behind the statue of Andres Bonifacio. But the grounds are always littered with refuse. The public toilet is perpetually closed and has become the abode of vagrants. The police precinct under the flyover lacks decency in appearance, though, fairly clean. The vacant lots have become dumping grounds for practically everything. The once glorified Metropolitan Theater because of its exquisite beauty is now an eyesore. Entrances and exits to the underpasses are lorded over by vagrants and rugby-sniffing street urchins. Ironically, the Manila City Hall, is just several meters away!

Several years ago, a foreign student blogged the dirty public toilets that stink due to the absence of water, with cracked and grimy tiles, lack of tissue paper, doors without lock, and lack of lighting fixtures. Instead of being thankful, the government reacted negatively, threatening the poor student with deportation unless he apologized publicly which he did, when all he wanted was just to call the attention of the negligent government agencies, particularly the Department of Tourism and concerned local government units.

And now, the Department of Tourism (DOT) is located in a busy section of Makati, and housed in a building – far from the people that it is supposed to assist. Its location can be accessed with much difficulty due to heavy traffic along the way. The agency should have made use of common sense in relocating itself within the “tourist belt” to serve its purpose with propriety. If the DOT is renting and how much, I dare not say more…

Manila Metropolitan Theater

Manila Metropolitan Theater
…its history and story of neglect
By Apolinario Villalobos

A country without a cultural landmark is just like a basket that can’t hold water. Nothing is left to stand for the past, be it significant or not. Events just happen and forgotten, and for this, the people’s culture suffers. Many countries, though how small they are, have won the respect of powerful ones because of their rich past, made tangible by whatever remains.

The Philippine’s rich past has made its people look for an outlet which took form in plays, songs, poems, paintings, sculpture and other artistic expressions. The admixture of the eastern and western influences, have surfaced in all these expressions. Foreign influences which left their respective sediments in the country nourished cultures which are distinctly different from each other. These are however, consolidated by the Filipinos in a compromising effort to have just one that could be identified with them.

That was the benevolent intent which was magnified during the administration of Ferdinand Marcos. The Metropolitan theater was then, beginning to gain momentum in its effort for revival, as plays and concerts were again held, but unfortunately cut short when the feisty president was deposed.

Despite its sorry state today, it is important that Filipinos know how such neglected important edifice came to be.

The Metropolitan Theater that sprung up on an area of 8,293.58 square meters at Liwasang Bonifacio (formerly, Lawton plaza), embodies the several periods that saw the metamorphosis of the country. The unpretentious environment in which the expressionistic framework of the theater took shape is just a stone’s throw from the Bonifacio monument that stands witness to rallies of disgruntled students and workers. It is also a few steps from Mehan Garden, once a popular recluse of Manilans on weekends.

Its colorful and massive façade reflects its mute desire to stand firm and solid despite the challenges posed by turbulent years that rocked its structure more than five decades ago. The month of February in 1945 saw the crumbling of its roof as a result of bombings and shelling by the Allied Forces during the liberation of Manila from the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army. Its walls however, withstood the barrage of both the allies’ and enemy’s fires.

But the theater’s story before the dark years of WWII was something else. It was full of struggle and challenges that just strengthened its foundation. In 1924, with an appeal from Mayor Earnshaw, an area of 8,293.58 square meters was leased by the government of Manila to the Metropolitan Theater Company, represented by Horace Pond, Antonio Milian, Leopoldo Khan, Manuel Camus, Enrique Zobel and Rafael Palma. The land then was used as a flower market of Mehan Garden. It was an untrimmed and not so pleasantly landscaped area that gave way to the theater.
The concerted effort of various communities of Manila that comprised of Americans, Chinese, Spanish and Filipinos, bolstered the hope of the crusading artists. A magazine, Manila’s Philippine Magazine, carried encouraging write ups on the proposed theater in its effort to gain support from its readers. Stocks were sold by the Philippine International Corporation at Php100.00 and Php50.00 to raise the needed fund which was one million pesos.

The project inspired many artists. Almost everybody was concerned and did not hesitate to offer help. One of these early sympathizers was Juan M. Arellano, a leading architect of the era, and who was sent to study in the United States with Thomas W. Lamb, an expert in theater construction. His sojourn in the United States marked the birth of a unique theatrical design which stood for the Filipino’s artistic traits. A brother of Arellano, Arcadio, contributed his skill in decking the structure which took form shortly after the cornerstone was laid in 1930.

What took shape was what the Phlippine Magazine editor, A.V.H. Hartendorp called modern expressionism. Flagstone paths were cut across lawns greened by tropical creepers and shrubs. On each side of the rectangular theater were pavilions separated from the main hall by open courtyards.

The theater’s façade truly expressed the richness of the Malay culture imbibed in the ways of the Filipinos. Colorful were the glasses that made up the big “window” and the tiles on both sides of the façade. Philippine plants in relief added exoticness to the theater’s face which was crowned with traditional Muslim minarets. Additional oriental accent was provided by shapely sculptured figures of two women who seemed to be preparing to take flight.

The theater’s interior equaled the exterior’s magnificence – wide marble staircase, mural paintings by Amorsolo and modern sculptures by Francisco R. Monti. The latter was an Italian sculptor, who practiced his trade in the country in the early 1930s. To give a feeling of spaciousness, boxes were eliminated. Relief figures cast shadows on the proscenium. Elongated lamps of translucent glass in the shape of bamboo stalks filled up the empty wall on both sides of the hall. The translucent stalks pointed to the ceiling that burst with a cornucopia of mango fruits and leaves.

The auditorium’s facilities were excellent, although the seating area could only accommodate 1,670, quite small for a fast-growing city like Manila. Its lighting, acoustics, air-cooling system and dressing rooms were all excellent and almost faultless. However, there was no understage and the orchestra pit was too narrow.

Dramatic Philippines was responsible for the showing of outstanding plays that made the theater famous. Very active members were Francisco Rodrigo, Emma Benitez and Narciso Pimentel. The theater’s stage was also grace by the zarzuela queen, Atang de la Rama.

Even when the country wallowed in the misery of subordination by a foreign power during the WWII, the theater continued to draw art lovers. It was used by members of the Volunteer Social Aid Committee (VSAC) as a front in raising funds for the underground movement against the Japanese. This group of artists likewise acted as secret mail carriers for Manilans who would like to get in touch with relatives detained at Capas and Cabanatuan. These Manila girls, some of whom were Conchita Sunico, Helen Benitez and Pilar Campos, went to the extent of spending for their own clothing materials which were then designed by Matilde Olmos, the best modiste of European clothes during that time.

The scarred Met which lost its roof during the liberation of Manila in February 1945 held on to what remained. Unfortunately, the transition period did not give much impetus to those who were previously active in theatricals. Of the several establishments housed by the Met, only the Magnolia Rendezvous, an ice cream kiosk held firm. Meanwhile the building underwent painful changes from a boxing arena into a cheap motel and gay bar, basketball court, garage and warehouse, until finally, into a home for half a hundred of displaced families.

It was in such a sorry state when a new breed of artists surfaced and made an appeal to the government to help salvage the Met. Their plea awakened the public from its long indifference and sheer neglect of a priceless heritage. Trouble between the artists and a group of enterprisers ensued when the latter proposed its demolition to give way to a modernistic commercial complex. A petition was submitted to the National Historical Institute to stop the sacrilegious hand and recognize the theater as an historical landmark.

The timely mediation of Mrs. Imelda Marcos gave assurance to the artists’ victory over their destructive opponents. The Met was finally restored to its pre-war grandeur and has been called the Manila Metropolitan Theater. Its seating capacity was increased from 1,670 to 1,709.
To augment its finances, galleries that fringed the outer structure were rented out to shops that sold handicrafts, restaurants, studious and a night club. Bigger rooms on the second floor were furnished for receptions and meetings. Even the auditorium was leased to a movie company which showed three-dimensional films whenever the theater was free. Once again, shows and concerts were held.

The recovery of the theater was, however, short-lived. The emergence of the modern Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theater, modern cinema theaters and other cultural and artistic venues signaled again its slow deterioration. Groups of concerned artists joined hands to prevent its continued relapse to no avail….until, finally, it is back to its former state of gross neglect that we woefully see today.

To date, the veteran show host, actor and comedian, German Moreno is practically moving heaven and earth in his effort to revive to life the dying theater.