In the vicinity of the Gates of Hell

Makeshift tent of streetfolk along Timog Ave near GMA Center
First they were just daytime resting places, temporary parking spots for makeshift trash carts that competed in vain with SUVs and big cars for sidewalk space. Increasingly, the carts became sleeping cots with covers, like doghouses on wheels. In the rainy season the exposed ones turned into makeshift tents, like doghouses wearing raincoats. Many homeless folk have started to make the sidewalks along Timog Ave and EDSA their home, especially near the GMA Center. Not that there's a significance of so many homeless folk living near one of the biggest media centers and a historic road this side of Metro Manila. But there's irony simmering just below the surface.

“Manila deserves the tag ‘Gates of Hell’, when a man kills himself on the MRT tracks, and inconvenienced riders simply groan and say, ‘Namerhuwisyo pa.'”

That recent remark, posted recently on my Facebook page, was my little contribution to the fast-growing social media commentary among Filipinos that seethed around Dan Brown’s latest book, Inferno. Some Filipino observers had whipped up a titanic controversy out of a 3-page passage that described poverty-stricken Manila as the seeming gate of Hell in the eyes of the novel’s major protagonist.

For now I won’t dwell on the broad range of Philippine social-media reactions triggered by this issue. Here I merely want to share my own thin slices of insight into what our metropolis has turned into. Continue reading “In the vicinity of the Gates of Hell”

When Agham Road led elsewhere

JV in DeQuiros PDI column 001
To my utmost satisfaction, Conrad reprinted my letter in full a week later in his column. I had misplaced my copy of that issue. This morning, however, it reemerged, yellowed and brittle, from a closet of old files that I was cleaning out. Its contents might be of interest not just to the younger generation of PSHS scholars, but to student activists who, I hear, are still doing the same kind of mass work among the squatter colonies of North Triangle as we did 40 years ago.

I hear The Bourne Legacy is shooting a few sequences along Agham Road in the North Triangle area of Quezon City’s central district. I suppose some film scenes will utilize the communities’ slum-housing conditions, which represent perhaps one of the starkest contrasts between abject poverty and cosmopolitan glitz this side of Metro Manila.

Portions of this sprawling area have now been cleared of so-called squatter communities and replaced by sleek malls, carparks, and office buildings. But there remain urban poor pockets that continue to remind us of how this part of the city looked ten years ago.

Nay, twenty years ago. Nay, forty years ago, when the road now known as Agham (“Science”) Road was just a gravelly dirt track that led to God knows where.

Continue reading “When Agham Road led elsewhere”