Manila Metropolitan Theater…its history and story of neglect

Manila Metropolitan Theater

…its history and story of neglect

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

A country without a cultural landmark is 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 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 landmark came to be.

 

The Metropolitan Theater that sprung up on a 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. Today, Mehan Garden is part of the Universidad de Manila campus.

 

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. 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 side 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 sell 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 protect it from intruding street dwellers, the periphery of the structure is fenced with board on which are pasted scenes of its former glory.

 

 

 

The Bird Festival of Tacurong City (May 12-13, 2017)

The Bird Festival of Tacurong City (May12-13, 2017)

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

The just concluded Bird Festival of Tacurong City, held on May 12 and 13 has been a resounding success with several travel bloggers and prominent personalities who are nature lovers in attendance. A contingent from ABS-CBN from Davao City also covered the duration of the affair which included activities such as forum on birdwatching and nature conservation at the Notre Dame of Tacurong College, photo exhibit at the bridge area of Fitmart, bazaar, and art exhibit highlighted by actual application of tattoo on willing visitors, by local tattoo artists at the parking ground of the sanctuary.

 

The Baras Bird Sanctuaty is located in the barangay of Baras which is a few-minute drive from the downtown area. Owned by Rey Malana and subsidized by the city government, it is situated along the eastern bank of Kapingkong River. Bamboo groves and madre de cacao trees or “kakawate”, many of which are more than 50 years old provide home to the indigenous and migratory birds from mainland China and neighboring Southeast Asian countries. But, dominant among the avian population is the locally known “tagak” or heron.

 

The sanctuary started as an ordinary “farm” of the Malana family with bamboo groves providing shade to the long stretch of the river bank. When Rey who took care of the property observed the steady arrival of birds which eventually enhanced the increasing population of the indigenous ones, he decided to protect them.  Foremost of his restrictive policies is the non-entry of vehicles beyond the entrance shaded with the branches of trees and bamboos creating an impression of a tunnel. This is necessary to prevent the disturbance of the bird, especially, the nesting ones.

 

Due to the popularity gained by the sanctuary, thanks to the discreet visit of bloggers who shared their experience among their followers, the local government under the stewardship of Mayor Lina Montilla, initially, provided support. Later, the local tourism office headed by Ms. Emilie Jamorabon, tried hard how to harness the popularity to boost their tourism effort. With the early festivals having shown encouraging results, Ms. Jamorabon sought support from friends for the rest of the festivities that followed.

 

The avian festival has decidedly boosted the tourism program of the city which to date is already gaining ground due to the mushrooming of inland resorts located along the peripheries of the downtown area, most especially, in Baras and New Passi, home of the internationally-known Monte Vicenteaux Resort. According to Ms. Jamorabon, more plans are being conceived to encourage birdwatchers from other parts of the country to visit Baras. Among the plan is the putting up of viewing posts and accommodation facilities that would follow the concept of “nature tourism”.

 

The Baras Bird Sanctuary, is the first-ever community- protected avian haven in southern Mindanao. It provides a serene oasis in the midst of vast palm oil plantations that stretch from Montilla, Katungal, up to New Passi. From the air, the canopy of the palm trees looks like a stretch of dark jade panorama….no wonder the winged creatures found solace among the branches where they built their nests to mark their well-chosen home!

 

The Bankerohan Public Market of Davao City

The Bankerohan Public Market of Davao City

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

Literally, “bankerohan” has a connotation as a place where boatmen converge as “bankero” means “boatman”. Appropriately, the public market is located by the bank of the main river that traverses the city. As in any Philippine community and historically, the river or a coastal village are considered as the center of trading. Unfortunately, lately, Bankerohan, the bustling riverside trading community of Davao City, gets inundated during the worst onslaught of heavy rains without let up for days.

 

Unlike other cities, Bankerohan has maintained its typical Oriental bazaar atmosphere to which the city dwellers have melded well. Spread throughout its periphery, various products from neighboring towns are sold side by side with local delicacies, prominent among which is the “puto maya”. The delicacy is actually two kinds of sticky rice, the white and the “tapul” which has a delectably purple color partner. The two varieties of rice are steamed separately. “Puto maya’s” is best eaten with “sikwate” (hot chocolate with thick consistency) prepared and cooked in “hornio”. While it slowly cooks to the right consistency, a half-submerged “baterol” (wooden stirrer) is rolled between the palms to keep the preparation from going into a rolling boil. A serving of “puto maya” costs Php10, while a cup of “sikwate” can be had for Php15.

 

If the durian is in season, a whole ripe fruit can be purchased from any of the stalls and eaten on the spot, for Php30 while marang would cost as low as Php20. Other local fruits that fill the fruit stalls are big-sized guava, golden pomelo, rambutan, papaya, several varieties of papaya. Durian preserves such as candies, jams and jellies also fill the shelves of the fruit stalls. Vegetables and marine products are strictly controlled to maintain their prices, as well as, those of rice and corn grits.

 

As dusk falls, makeshift stalls for used clothing begin to dot the area near the Mercury Drug Store. Practically, all kinds of clothing merchandise are priced between Php10-20. Hectic trading activity reaches its climax as midnight approaches. But, the traders do not fold up their stalls until 6AM hoping for the coming of last-minute buyers.

 

In the evening, the market resonates with warbles from wannabe singers who try their best to garner a “10” verdict from videokes that are the come-ons of carinderias. Everybody enjoys for as long as the no-smoking policy is observed. Aside from the videoke machines, the carinderias also pride in their cheap foods displayed in trays. Prices range between Php15 to Php35, with the vegetable dishes being the cheapest and those of beef and pork the more expensive. Grilled fish, especially tuna belly, head, and its innards are also available which go well with the beer or tuba (coco wine).

 

From Bankerohan, the cheap hotels along Claveria are a few meters away. Public transportations can be taken at several designated jeepney stops distributed around the market, so that strangers need not worry. And, most especially, there is nothing to fear while commuting from this busy section of the city to any part, even the suburbs, as taxi drivers of Davao City are the most trustworthy in the whole Philippines!

The Consistency of PAL-Davao in Maintaining the Airline’s High Quality of Service Standards

The Consistency of PAL- Davao in Maintaining

The Airline’s High Quality of Service Standards

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

Davao station of Philippine Airlines is considered as the hub of its operation in Mindanao and lately, its scope extends to the neighboring Asian countries. As I have worked with the said company for a little more than twenty years and left it during the early years of the new management’s take over, I can very well say that I have an idea of what had been and what are being done as regards the customer satisfaction which fortunately has been maintained due to the consistency of the airline’s high standards.

 

According to Mr. Vic Suarez, the new Head for Mindanao Sales Area, the airline will not compromise its high standard by scrimping on other aspects of operations as some sort of an offsetting, most especially, by offering low fares, except the seasonal promos. High quality of service can only be assured if there is enough manpower that can attend to the requirements of customers. As can be observed, all ticketing offices and the check-in counters at the airport terminals are adequately manned by equally vibrant personnel of Macro-Asia. Mr. Suarez is supported by Ma. Leana Sanga, Secretary; Edgardo Ramos, Staff Assistant; and Ricardo Ambrosio, Sr. Market Planning Analyst.

 

If international cuisine has its “fusion” dishes concocted based on different cultural influences, PAL has its “fusion service”. It is my own terminology and I came up with it in view of the harmonious co-operation of service providers and the held-over organic PAL employees. As in Manila, this unique and harmonious fusion of effort is also found in the operation of PAL in Davao. The ticketing office at the Davao airport is manned by the organic PAL employees, while the check- counters, load control, and the Mabuhay Lounge are manned by the young staff of Macro-Asia. Behind them, such as the Airport Service Manager, Ms. Ludy Bagares and the Customer Service Officers are all organic PAL employees. Helping them out in the overall operation is Excellent, the manpower agency that provided the aircraft cleaning crew, janitorial and porter service.

 

The Customer Service Officers who have spent a good number of years with PAL are Leonilo Abella, Ernie Adrias, Archie Batu, Karlo Respicio, Marlon Rosales, Allen Dizon, Art Migalben, and Anthony Paradela, with the last four mentioned also handling Cargo.

 

The Macro-Asia Supervisors are  Charlie Erojo, Erwin Tongco, Dennis Tiamson, Rommel Covarubias and June Dalisay. The Passenger Services Agents is Ruben Maglaya; and Cargo Service Agents, Ben Arcayan and Julbert Nolasco. The ramp area is handled by the Ramp Service Agents, Ruel Catao, Cyril Pollaris and Joel Montales, while the Ramp Equipment Repairman is Lambert Lazaro.

 

Ms. Bagares expressed that so far, their operation is smooth and without any hassle as the traditional and high PAL standards are maintained to ensure that the customers get the commensurate worth of what they paid for to reach their destination safely.

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The First and Last Book of Mr. Ricardo G. Paloma…The Cordillera Tourism Master Plan

THE FIRST AND LAST BOOK OF MR. RICARDO G. PALOMA

…The Cordillera Tourism Master Plan

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

Mr. Ricardo G. Paloma, “Tatang” to his subordinates is well-remembered for his patience, thoroughness, and flow charts. He is so systematic that anything that had got to do with PAL operations were covered with a flowchart so that mishandling of passengers, baggage and cargoes can be easily pointed out along the way – from the time plane tickets were cut up to the time the passenger has left the airport terminal; from the time a baggage has been checked-in to the time it has been claimed at the destination; and from the time a cargo has been accepted for shipment up to the time it has been claimed by the consignee. Even phone calls were monitored together with the length of time involved in attending to the callers and from such transactions, their “requirements” should be noted and taken up during sales meetings.

 

He was also engrossed in the state of the Philippine tourism industry, particularly, on how PAL could contribute to its development. In this regard, the Tours and Promotions Information Center at the Terminal 4 (formerly, Domestic Airport) was set up and headed by Mr. Vic Bernardino as Manager, with pioneer staff, Ed Buensuceso, Mayee Santos-Cuenco, Thelma Villaseἧor, John Fortes, Reggie Constantino, and Alex Enrile. The TOPIC Magazine was used as research and information tool to promote local tourism, with Alex Enrile as the Editor. I was fortunate to have taken over the job of Alex Enrile as Editor when he left for the United States. I just joined PAL for barely a yera then, with Tablas station as my first assignment. Later on, the PALakbayan Tour Program which “segmentized” the traveler according to his needs was conceptualized and sold as a tour package, both to the domestic and international tourists. He was also regularly consulted by the Department of Tourism which earned him the recognition as, “Mr. Tourism”.

 

I did not know that ever since I started contributing my poems and essays to the dailies and magazine even while in Tablas, Mr. Paloma had instructed his secretary, Bill Trinidad to clip and collect them. I came to know about what he did when he summoned me to his office on his last day as SVP-Finance, an extended job after he retired as VP-Sales, Philippines. I found him and Bill packing up. While I was taking coffee that he, himself prepared, he opened an attaché case and showed me the contents – original copies of clippings that caught me by surprise. I did not even know that my materials were published because I had no time to check them. As a consolation, he had them copied and gave me the duplicates. He also gave me his first Parker pen which was given to him by his wife, according to him.

 

Several months after he left PAL, I was surprised when his driver visited me in my new office at S&L Building, along Roxas Boulevard in Ermita, because during the time, our Tours and Promotions group was integrated into the International Sales-Philippines which was under Mr. Rene Ocampo and later on, Mr. Archie Lacson as RVP-Philippines and Guam, after a brief stint with the Metro Manila Sales which was then, under Mila Limgenco as Senior Asst. Vice-President. The driver told me that Mr. Paloma was in the car parked at the egress of the building and he would not like to come up, so I went to him only to know that he was inviting me to a lunch at the French Baker at the Greenbelt Park, across the Vernida Bldg. where we used to hold office. He was aware of my diet so he chose his favorite Frenchy bakeshop-cum-restaurant, just to be sure that I would have my salad.

 

Over the lunch of salad and bread downed with coffee, he asked me if I had the time to edit some documents for him, to which I immediately said yes. With that, he gave me a brown envelop with documents. When he brought me back to S&L, he told me while smiling that more are coming to which I said, no problem. From then on, at least once a week, he would have me fetched at my office for lunch at the French Baker in Makati. The driver would also deliver to me batches of documents for editing.

 

After a lull of about two weeks he fetched me again for lunch after which he showed me a neatly bound book, “The Cordillera Tourism Master Plan”. What he told me while handing me the book and which I could not forget was, “you inspired me to do this”.

 

He had three copies made, one for me with a dedication, another copy for the Department of Tourism, and the third copy for his library at home. Many months transpired and our lunch became infrequent, only to learn that he was sick. My fault was that I did not find time to visit him….only at his wake. To compensate for my irresponsibility, I made a poem and essay for him. Both saw print in the PALiner. I know that those who know Mr. Paloma will agree with me that he was a great employee who started from the ranks as a porter, PAL ever had…our one and only “Tatang”.

 

Anna Bermudo: Kindness Behind a Pretty Face

Anna Bermudo: Kindness Behind A Pretty Face

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

When I took a respite at a Jollibee joint in Divisoria, particularly, corner of Sto. Cristo St., due to my heavy packs, I found out that I needed a separate bag for some items intended to be given to one of my friends in Baseco. It was then, that I noticed one of the crew who was cleaning tables. I told her my problem, without much ado, she left and when she came back, she had a paper bag which was just what I needed. Her prompt assistance impressed me, despite her doing something else during the time. She practically dropped everything and attended to me, although, customers were beginning to crowd the room.

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My appreciation for such kind act, made me ask her permission if I can share it with friends. She shyly hesitated, but I had my chance to take her photo quickly, when she began to clean my table. She thought I was joking when I aimed my cellphone/camera for a quick shot. I found the photo to be hazy when I checked it at Baseco, so I came back to the burger joint. Luckily, I found her having a late breakfast in a sidewalk food stall near Jollibee. I practically begged her to allow me to take a clearer photo, explaining to her that what I am doing is for the benefit of others who might be inspired by people like her. Fortunately, she conceded and even cooperated by giving information about herself.

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Although merely, a high school graduate, she courageously left her hometown in Zamboanga to seek a “greener pasture” in Manila several years ago. She had no chance of pursuing her studies, as she had been helping her family by sending whatever amount she could afford from her wage when she found a job. I could see that her right attitude has earned her a well-deserved job in the world-renown Filipino burger outfit which is also acknowledged for its fairness in dealing with employees.

 

Anna is pretty, an attribute that could land her a much better-paying job in cafes that could be double or triple compared to what she is earning in Jollibee. But I could surmise that despite temptations from friends, that always happen to pretty girls from the countryside, she opted to work in a family-oriented establishment. Her clean and smooth face is not covered even by a thin swipe of rouge, and she wears no jewelry, not even a single stainless ring. Her simplicity has accentuated her pretty face…. that veils an innate kindness.

 

 

 

 

Rene Pastrana: Grocery Store Manager Who Can Melt the Anger of an Irate Customer

Rene Pastrana: Grocery Store Manager Who

Can Melt the Anger of an Irate Customer

By Apolinario Villalobos

 

One morning, when I purchased some goods at Isetan grocery store along Recto Avenue in Quiapo, I had an unfortunate experience that almost spoiled my day. Rather than talk to any of the rank-and-file staff, I looked for the store manager, whom I found to be Rene Pastrana. Before I could blurt out my complaint, he broke the ice by asking with a smile, what he can do to make my shopping comfortable. His stance immediately pacified me. After relating to him my dissatisfaction, he gave me an assurance that he will do his best to patch up the “loophole” in their operation.

 

What touched me was his unabashed confiding that he knows what to do because he started his career as a “merchandiser”, which actually, was the focus of my complaint. Instead of anger, what I felt was sympathy while listening to his story. It could be a ploy on his part to divert my focus, with which he was successful. On the other hand, I selfishly thought, that his story could be another blog material that could inspire aspiring Filipinos.

 

According to Rene, he left his island-province of Marinduque after graduating from high school. When he arrived in Manila, he immediately looked for a job, with a plan to proceed with his college studies by all means. He fortunately found a job as a “merchandiser”, which sustained his studies, until he finished Computer Science.

 

His diligence in job, pushed him along his career path with unusual expediency until he became manager of Isetan’s grocery store, charged with its overall operation. He has been in the job for the past twenty years, his earnings from which have also helped his family back home, in Marinduque.

 

Rene could well be considered as a self-appointed “ambassador” of his province in his own way because he does not hesitate to promote it as a veritable tourist destination every time he gets the chance. This he did to me, when he shared touristic information about the island. His effort proved helpful to me, as what I knew about the island have all been updated, especially, about the islets with resorts.

 

In appreciation of all his effort to pacify me and giving me updates on Marinduque, I told Rene to count me as among the convinced patrons of Isetan grocery from then on. He practically “captured” another patron for their grocery because of his amiable and brilliant sales technique not found in sales training manuals…I know that, because, I have also been a “sales person”, myself.

 

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