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Manila, Queen of the Pacific

8 June 2011

This short was filmed in 1938 and was narrated by Paul Devlin. This glimpse into pre-war Manila speaks of the contrast between the developments ushered by the American and Spanish colonialists. You can find more history videos here.

The audio transcript follows.

Manila, capital and largest city of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, rises on the shore of the bay, into which the Spaniards sailed in 1570; and where in 1898, Admiral Dewey achieved one of the greatest naval victories in history — the Battle of Manila Bay. As headquarters for American commercial interests in the Orient, Manila has been transformed from a sleepy Spanish town into a modern city. Inter-island ships serving the archipelago of some 7,000 islands, berth along a cave of the Pasig River that flows to the center of the city. From the sterns, fly both the American and Philippines flags for the Commonwealth government is still under the protection and advise of the United States.

Much of the local trading is carried on in “kaskos”, flat-bottom boats which are poled through the many canals and waterways of Manila. Each “kasko” has its family, whose life is spent beneath its thatched roof of bamboo or palm, veritable water gypsies in a climate that is kind to all.

Manila is really three cities in one: Old Tondo, home of the Philippine masses; modern Manila, born of American development; and Intramuros, walled city of the Spaniards.

The last, built on the south shore at the mouth of the Pasig River, is surrounded by two and a half miles of wall, which begun in 1590 worked for centuries bulwarks against invasion. The moat encircling the wall was filled in for sanitary reasons by the Americans, and is today a drill ground, a recreation area and a golf course. The walls and bastions are excellently preserved and have withstood even earthquakes which at times, laid ruin the old city. In the bastion of the Royal Gate is Manila’s famous aquarium. The Parian Gates is the most notable of the city’s five, which until 1852, were all closed at night.  Within the walls, little has changed since the Spanish rule. The main shopping street, Calle Real, chiefly catering to tourists, presents a picture of busy activity and colorful traffic. The projecting balconies and grilled windows are reminders of old Spain.  The Franciscan church, more than 200 years old, is one of the many places of worship within walled Manila, for the Spaniards converted the Filipinos into the only Christian peoples in the Orient, long before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.  A bodice with huge sleeves of cloth made from pineapple plant and a long skirt, the train of which is tucked into the front of the belt, is the typical dress of the Filipino women.  Facing quiet McKinley Square is the Cathedral, built in Byzantine style a little more than 60 years ago, added to other cathedrals destroyed by earthquakes.

On the north shore of the Pasig River is Tondo, the oldest and most densely populated quarter. Here the masses live, and here also is the modern business area of the city. In this section are the greatest contrasts. Fine, skyscraper office buildings and banks, among crumbling, thick-walled ancient structures. Broad, straight streets, and narrow, crooked ones. Canals teeming with boat activity, and paved streets with modern traffic.  Traffic in all parts of Tondo is heavy and difficult to control. With swiftly moving autos abreast “caromatas”, the two-wheeled native conveyances drawn by active Philippine ponies.  The oldest and still the main business street of Manila is the famed Escolta, a congested narrow thoroughfare, five blocks long, which parallels the river, between Plaza Moriaga and Plaza Goiti. On it, stays most of the fine shops and department stores of the city.  Another important thoroughfare is Rizal Avenue, named in the memory of the great hero-martyr, Dr. Jose Rizal, who was executed by the Spaniards in 1896, two years before the coming of the Americans.  There are many arcaded sidewalks in Manila. For although sunstroke in unknown, it is more pleasant and cooler to keep in the shade during the heat of the day.  Each section of the city has its market, where practically everything used by the Filipinos can be purchased. In the Yangco Market, a bazaar devoted exclusively to Filipino products, almost every locally-made article can be secured.  The two-wheeled “caromata” and “caritela” are the principal conveyances of the Filipinos. These carriages accommodate two and six persons, respectively. Little straw protectors are placed on the wheel when the passenger mounts or descends.  The Philippine beast of burden is the “carabao”. There are more than two and a quarter million of these patient, hard-working animals in the islands. And their slow pace is appreciated by their easy-going masters. In addition to modern motor transportation, the horse-drawn bus still holds an important place.

The Pasig River is spanned by four bridges. Jones Bridge, surmounted by Filipino figures is the newest. The graceful arch stands on the site of the old bridge of Spain.  The spacious and dignified Post Office overlooks the river and faces upon the Plaza Lawton where the Burgos Drive begins. The Burgos Drive, a magnificent wide boulevard follws part of the sunken garden of the old city moat. Near its middle stand the superb Legislative Building, completed in 1926 at a cost of two million dollars. Today, it is the seat of the new Commonwealth Government. In front of it, over the course laid out around the walls of old Manila, modern Manila plays golf.  A residential section where many beautiful homes and the best hotels are situated is Ermita. The famous Manila Hotel, overlooking the bay is one of the finest air-conditioned hotels in the tropics. In Ermita are also the buildings of the University of the Philippines, a government institution which embraces wide fields of learning and offers excellent educational opportunities to all.  Contrasting greatly with the narrow, irregular streets of Spain’s Manila are the wide, well-paved boulevards of the American city. Great shade tree over arch many of the avenues; and palms or colorful, flowering trees line other arches. Dewey Boulevard, the pride of Manila, is built upon reclaimed land along the shores of the bay, an idea location for many of the residences of which the city boasts. Among them is that of the American high commissioner. The spacious house with its gardens and patio is often the scene of social splendor.  Situated on the north bank of the Pasig River are the executive offices and home of the President of the Philippine Commonwealth. In a mansion built as the suburban residence for Spanish Governors, a Philippine chief executive now directs the whole government of this island Commonwealth, an archipelago fast changing from a dreary Spanish colony into a modern, agricultural, industrial and independent country.

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