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.





Ang Malaking Puso ni Baby Eugenio…may karinderya sa Fort Santiago (Intramuros, Manila)

Ang Malaking Puso ni Baby Eugenio

…may karinderya sa Fort Santiago (Intramuros)

Ni Apolinario Villalobos


Sa unang tingin, aakalaing suplada si Baby dahil tisayin ang mukha at halos hindi ngumingiti, subalit kapag nakausap na ay saka pa lang makikita ang tunay niyang pagkatao – malumanay magsalita at hindi man ngumingiti ng todo ay madadama sa kanyang pananalita ang kababaan ng loob.


Nang umagang napasyal ako sa Fort Santiago, napadaan muna ako sa kanyang karinderya sa gate ng parking lot at habang nagkakape ako ay biglang napunta ang usapan namin tungkol sa buhay, lalo na ang kanyang mga karanasan sa pagpalipat-lipat ng puwesto. Ayon sa kanya, dati ay isa siyang typical na sidewalk vendor dahil nagtitinda siya sa mga maluluwag na puwesto tulad ng nasa likod ng Immigration Bureau, Ancar Building, gilid ng Jollibee at UPL Building, hanggang sa natiyempuhan niya ang puwesto sa gate ng parking lot ng Fort Santiago. Nalula ako nang sabihin niyang 46,000 pesos ang upa niya sa isang buwan sa puwesto. Upang makahabol sa bayarin, maliban sa pagluluto ng mga ulam, tsitserya, kape, soft drinks, at biscuit, ay pinangasiwaan na rin niya ang pag-asikaso sa parking lot.


Habang tinutulungan siya ng hipag niyang si Bing sa pagluluto at pagsisilbi sa mga customer, tumutulong naman si Arbi na anak ni Bing sa pag-asikaso sa parking lot. Pero kapag kasagsagan na ng pagsilbi ng pagkain at iba pang mga gawain sa karinderya ay saka naglalabasan ang iba pang umaalalay kay Baby.


Mabuti na lang at medyo nakuha ko ang kalooban at tiwala ni Baby kaya maluwag siyang nagkuwento tungkol sa buhay niya. Ang asawa na dati ay nagtatrabaho sa National Treasury, ngayon ay nagpapahinga na lang sa bahay dahil humina ang katawan at nagpapa-dialysis isang beses isang linggo. Sa kabuuhan, dalawampu’t apat ang nasa kalinga ni Baby – mga tinutulungan niya at bilang ganti ay tumutulong din sa kanya. Anim dati ang anak niya, subalit namatay ang panganay na kambal, kaya ang natira ay apat.


Labing-siyam na taong gulang si Baby ng mag-asawa. Tubong Masantol, Pampanga, siya ay nakipagsapalaran sa Maynila hanggang sa magkaroon ng pamilya. Ang nakakabilib ay ang ibinahagi niya sa aking kuwento tungkol sa mga taga-ibang probinsiyang nakipagsapalaran sa Maynila na ang iba ay mga seafarer na umistambay habang naghihintay ng tawag mula sa inaaplayang manning agency para sumakay sa barko, at kanyang kinalinga. Sa Intramuros ay marami ang ganitong mga nakikipagsapalaran sa Maynila dahil hindi kalayuan sa Fort Santiago ay ang opisina ng union nila. Marami ring mga manning agencies ng seafarers sa loob ng Intramuros. Upang makalibre sa tirahan at pagkain ay tumutulong-tulong sila sa karinderya, hanggang sa sila ay makasakay ng barko. Ang ibang seafarers na galing sa probinsiya ay napansin kong umiistambay naman sa Luneta o di kaya ay sa isang lugar na itinalaga sa kanila, sa labas ng National Library of the Philippines.


Ano pa nga ba at ang karinderya ni Baby ay mistulang “halfway home” o “bahay-kalinga” ng mga probinsiyanong seafarers. Hindi na maalala ni Baby kung ilan na ang kanyang natulungan na ang ibang nakakaalala sa kanyang kabutihan ay bumabalik upang magpasalamat, subalit ang iba naman ay tuluyang nakalimot sa minsan ay tinirhan nilang karinderya sa Fort Santiago. Nangyari ang ganitong pagkakawanggawa sa loob ng limang taon hanggang ngayon, sapul nang siya ay mapapuwesto sa bukana ng Fort Santiago.


Para kay Baby, na ngayon ay 58 taong gulang, pangkaraniwan na sa kanya ang pag-alalay sa kapwa o maging maluwag sa kanilang pangangailangan. Napatunayan ko ito nang biglang may lumapit sa kanya upang magtanong kung pwede silang kumain sa karinderya subalit hindi bibili ng pagkain dahil may baon sila. Walang patumpik-tumpik na pumayag si Baby, kahit pa sinabi ng nagpaalam na dalawampu sila. Ibig sabihin ay gagamitin nila lahat ng mesa at silya, kaya walang magagamit ang mga kostumer. Pero bale-wala kay Baby ang lahat…okey pa rin sa kanya. Mabuti na lang at napansin ng hipag niya na ang porma ng grupo ay parang sasali sa programa para kay Jose Rizal dahil nang araw na yon, December 30, ay paggunita ng kanyang kamatayan, kaya iminungkahi niya sa lider ng grupo na upang hindi sila mahirapan ay sa piknikan, sa loob na mismo ng Fort Santiago sila kumain dahil mas presko at marami ring mesa at upuan, at ang lalong mahalaga ay ilang hakbang na lang sila sa lugar na pagdadausan ng programa kung saan sila ay kasali.


Ibinahagi ni Baby na hindi man siya mayaman sa pera, ay mayaman naman siya sa pakisama. Natutuwa na siya sa sitwasyon niyang ganoon. Mahalaga sa kanya ang pagtulong sa kapwa bilang pasasalamat sa Diyos dahil sa ibinigay sa kanyang mga biyaya. Nakapagpundar na silang mag-asawa ng isang bahay na katamtaman lang ang laki sa Molino, Bacoor City (Cavite).

Baclaran Creek: Ugly Stain on the Philippines’ Tourism Image

Baclaran Creek: Ugly Stain on the Philippines’

Tourism Image

by Apolinario Villalobos


Nothing can be one hundred percent clean, sanitized, germ-free, well-kept, etc., to show a pleasant image. But in exerting an effort for such end-result, consistency should be exercised, as failure to do so could be tantamount to being negligent.


Among the ugliest manifestation of the Philippine government’s negligence and inconsistency is the creek at Baclaran which is fringing the northern edge of the purported “business-tourism showcase” of Metro Manila – the cornucopia of condominium buildings, malls, office buildings and the supposedly biggest casino in Asia. Practically, the creek that serves as the catch basin-cum-open drainage of Pasay and Paraἧaque that flows out to the Manila Bay, shows it all. How can the Department of Tourism proudly declare that Manila is a clean city with the obnoxious filth floating on the stagnant creek in all its obnoxious glory greeting the arriving tourists from the airport on their way to their hotels along Roxas Boulevard? Is this progress as what the Philippine president always mumbles? How can such a short strip of open drainage not be cleaned on a daily basis, just like what street sweepers do to the entire extent of the Roxas Boulevard?


It has been observed that every time a government agency’s attention is called for not doing its job well, it cries out such old lines, as “lack of budget” and “lack of personnel”. But why can’t they include such requirements every time they submit their proposed budget? In the meantime, as regards the issue on the maintenance of the city waterways, national and local agencies throw blames at each other, trying to outdo each other in keeping their hands clean of irresponsibility and negligence!


During the APEC conference which caused the “temporary” bankruptcy of commercial establishments in Pasay and Paraἧaque, as well as, local airlines and lowly vendors by the millions of pesos, the creek was almost “immaculately” clean with all the floating scum scooped up and thrown somewhere else. But as soon as the delegates have left, the poor creek is back to its old self again – gagged with the city denizens’ filth and refuse.


Viewing the Baclaran creek is like viewing the rest of the waterways around Metro Manila, including Pasig River, as they are all equally the same filthy picture of neglect, irresponsibility and inconsistency of government concern! One should see the nearby creek at Pasay where the Pumping Station is located, with an “island” that practically developed out of silt, garbage and clumps of water lily! Some days, the short length of artificial creek is skimmed with filth to make it look clean, but most days, it is neglected.


In view of all the above-mentioned, why can’t the national and local government agencies concerned co-operate and do the following?


  • REQUIRE the daily cleaning of the creek by assigning permanent “brigades”, just like what they do for the streets. If there are “street sweepers”, why can’t there be “creek scoopers” and “dredgers”?


  • REQUIRE the vendors with stalls along or near the creeks to maintain the cleanliness of their respective periphery so that they are obliged to call the attention of irresponsible pedestrians who do not show concern. Each stall must be required to have a garbage bag or bin, as well as, broom and dust pan. Their negligence in carrying out such obligation should be made as a basis in revoking their hawker’s permit.


  • REQUIRE government employees with sanitation responsibilities TO GO OUT OF THEIR OFFICES AND DO THEIR JOB, and not just make reports to the City Administrators based on what street sweepers tell them.


  • DREDGE the creek regularly on a yearly basis, not only when flooding occurs during the rainy season, which is a very repugnant reactionary show of concern on the part of the government. The yearly dredging of the waterways would eventually “deepen” them to accommodate more surface water during the rainy season, and even bring their bed back to their former level.


The costly effort of the national government in putting on a pleasant “face” for Manila every time there is an international event, as what happened during the APEC conference, may elicit sympathy and grudgingly executed cooperation, but there should be consistency in it….otherwise, it would just be like sweeping the house, only when visitors are expected, or worse, sweeping the dirt to a corner to hide them.


Cooperation between the government authorities and the citizens is necessary. However, as there is a clear indication that the concerned citizens, such as vendors and pedestrians, lack discipline, the government should take necessary steps in imposing measures to ensure their cooperation, albeit by coercion, so that whatever sanitation projects may have been initiated can be consistently maintained, for the benefit of all.


If littering on the ground can be prohibited with appropriate penalty, why can’t the same be done for the sake of the waterways? If ever local government units have passed such measures why can’t they be imposed authoritatively and consistently?



To Blog and Risk Losing Life, Friends and Kinsfolks or Not to Blog and Remain Nice to All…and Stay Alive

To Blog and Risk Losing Life, Friends and Kinsfolks

Or Not to Blog and Remain Nice to All…and Stay Alive

By Apolinario Villalobos

The difference between “blogging” and “contributing” is that while the former gets published in the web of the information technology, the latter gets printed on papers. However, their common denominator is the “purpose” which is to “share”…a risky endeavor, especially, if what are shared concern politics, corruption, and religion. The risk is on losing one’s life, kinsfolks, and longtime friends.

In our province, Marlene Garcia Esperat, a courageous mediaperson lost her life when she exposed anomalous transactions in a government agency. The obviously hired killer had the gall to enter her house and pumped bullets into her head, to make sure that she was disabled for life. That’s one risk, made real – losing one’s life. Similar stories get splashed on pages of tabloids and broadsheets that many people do not take seriously, as they are perceived to be just ordinary incidents akin to road accidents and apprehension of drug pushers.

Bloggers cannot limit themselves with shares about fashion, literary, foods, travel, photography, etc. Sometimes they have to touch on controversial matters, such as politics that include corruption, and religion.  Blogs on these topics may affect the bloggers’ sensitive relatives and friends. Bloggers, therefore, wonder why, all of a sudden, some relatives and friends shy away from them. Some find themselves ignored by friends and buddies since grade school, as well as beloved relatives.

This unfortunate reality is happening to all bloggers. I found this out when I attended a small gathering of bloggers, during which blogging updates were passed around. Two bloggers shared that their sites were hacked, and another started getting threats via facebook messages when he uploaded blogs shared from other sites, about a controversial politician from their province in the north. Expectedly, the sender uses a fictitious personality.

Bloggers are just human instruments of the information technology, so that what they do should not be taken against them. A lot of sacrifice is made, aside from exhaustive effort in coming up with blogs, not to mention the precious time spent and money saved from scrimping on other necessities. Some bloggers earn, but most do not…as they bring out ideas, mainly due to their ardent love for writing and sharing.

Intrepid Me….a tribute to travel bloggers

Intrepid Me

(Tribute to tireless travel bloggers)

by Apolinario B Villalobos

At the crack of dawn

While the rest of humanity

Are still curled up in their bed

I’m already up, eager, excited;

I hit the road, buoyed with lightness –

Letting my feet just carry me on

As I unwind my pent up energy

That gives me a feeling of ecstasy.

With cell phone, notebook and pen

Camera, batteries, biscuits, candies

Towel, extra shirt, coins and bills –

All backpacked, I trek over hills;

A shot here and there, mesmerized –

A stop here and there, hypnotized –

Only aahs and oohs, I say nothing more

As the searing sun, I patiently endure.

The world is my home, it’s where I belong

I let no oceans and seas hinder me, there are ships

I let no great distance distress me, there are airplanes

I let no meager funds discourage me, I can scrimp

I let no insufficient language daunt me, I can make signs

I let no difference in culture deter me, I can learn

I let no difference in climate frighten me, I can adapt

This is me, intrepid me, my desire to explore is my map!

The Threat of Uncontrolled Tourism…signals the downfall of Philippines’ Last Hope

The Threat of Uncontrolled Tourism

…signals the downfall of Philippines’ last hope

By Apolinario Villalobos

Due to the unbecoming effort of the Philippines to become a prime tourist destination in Asia, it disregarded one important factor in this kind of industry – control of infrastructure. One glaring ruthless result of this is the virtual “rape” of Boracay Island. The tiny island fringed with white sand beaches is now suffering from the onslaught of the uncontrolled rise of 5-star hotels and resorts that resulted to the pollution of its water due to overflowing septic tanks. The once pristine and clear waters are now covered with layers of muck and algae.

What happened to Boracay can happen to any other touristic destinations around the country. The problem lies in the failure of the Department of Tourism to spearhead and advocate eco-tourism which is what the Philippines, as a third-world country, needs. The people behind the desks in the offices of the agency seem to have forgotten that not all tourists require luxurious hotels and resorts. These people thought that for a destination to be attractive, it must have 5-star luxurious facilities, that is why, they keep on encouraging investors to put these up in prospective and thriving destinations.

During the 70’s, “backyard tourism”, the precursor of “eco-tourism” has been advocated, primarily, by Philippine Airlines in cooperation with travel agents and the earlier eco-oriented personnel of the Department of Tourism. The idea was to give the opportunity of managing the needs of the tourists to the locals. In line with this, establishment of comfortable facilities, not the type of multi-storied hotels and expensive resorts, were encouraged. The backyard tourism was conceptualized to preserve the exemplar setting of the destination, thereby, preventing the drastic alteration of its landscape. Also, the locals are given the chance to show what the real Filipino hospitality is like. But those former people of the agency are gone, supplanted by another set of personnel with a different outlook.

With agriculture gone because of the once rice fields giving way to malls and condo buildings, slumping fishing due to the problem with China in the West Philippine Sea, denuding of forests due to careless logging, and exhaustion of mineral deposits due to incessant ventures of foreign stake holders, the only hope left is with tourism…but at the rate another form of abuse is going, the Philippines will be finally left with nothing else that can be seriously called “industry”, and which Filipinos can be proud of.

Ang Kapangyarihan ng Pera

Ang Kapangyarihan ng Pera
Ni Apolinario Villalobos

Ang buhay ni Hesus ay tinapatan ng tatlumpong pirasong pilak. Sa halagang yon, siya ay namatay sa krus na paraan niya sa pagligtas sa sangkatauhan. Ibig sabihin, kung hindi dahil sa tatlumpong pilak ay nakasadlak pa rin tayo sa ating kasalanan hanggang ngayon.

Ang kapangyarihan ng pera ay hindi matatawaran. Maraming pamilya ang nabuwag at magkaibigang nagpatayan dahil dito. Mayroon ding napariwara dahil pinagpalit ang kanilang dangal sa kinang nito. Mayroon pang nagsugal ng buhay, makahawak lamang ng ilang bungkos ng salapi. May mga taong dahil nasilaw sa pera ay bumigay kaya nalaman ang tunay na layunin kahit anong pilit nilang pagtatakip dito.

Ang mga bansa ay pinapatakbo ng pera, kaya kung alin sa kanila ang may pinakamarami nito ay itinuturing na makapangyarihan. Sa pamamagitan ng pautang ay natatali nila ang utang na loob ng mahihirap na bansa upang maging kaalyado nila.

Pera ang pinapakilos upang magkaroon ng mga nakamamatay na imbensiyon ng tao. Ito rin ang ginagamit upang masira ang buhay ng dating matitino na nalulong sa bawal na gamot, lalo na ng mga kabataan sa nagsimula ang bisyo sa alak at sigarilyo. Ito rin ang dahilan ng pagiging suwail ng mga anak na dahil hindi masunod ang luho ay natutong maging tampalasan sa kanilang mga magulang.

Subali’t kung iisiping mabuti, ang layunin ng pera ay upang mapagaan ang buhay ng tao, dahil nang nagkaroon siya nito ay hindi na niya kailangan pang magbitbit ng kanyang kayamanan tulad ng bulto-bultong ginto, pilak, alahas, at mga hayop gaya ng ginagawa noong unang panahon. Ngayon, ang kailangan ng tao ay ilang pirasong papel at barya na pera, tseke o credit card, at maaari na siyang mamili o maglakbay.

Hindi dapat isisi sa pera ang mga hindi magandang nangyari sa buhay ng tao. Ang hindi magandang paggamit sa pera ang dahilan kung bakit nasira ang tao.