It was an endeavor that begs a good explanation. But for my friends and I, or at least I assumed at that time, it was worth two Saturdays off our schedules, some degree of effort and a minute portion of our sanity.
One boring evening many years ago, we hatched a plan to visit all the 16 city halls in Metro Manila. We threw in Pateros, which is the only municipality in the National Capital Region, for good measure.
The premise back then was to see NCR, the overcrowded, much-maligned yet deeply misunderstood megalopolis in Luzon from another perspective – one in particular that’s different from the towering skyscrapers, sprawling malls and chi-chi condominiums that now dominate its landscape. Back then, we wanted to see the soul, the spark and the reason why at least 12 million Filipinos call this place their home.
We started with the northern half of NCR. From Quezon City, we breezed through Marikina, San Juan, Manila, Caloocan, Valenzuela, Malabon and ended up in Navotas. Transfers involved a combination of train, jeepney and trike rides. We initially avoided taking cabs, but inevitably we had to as these bought us some time to proceed to our next pit stop.
My personal favorite in this part of our Amazing Race-esque journey is the Manila City Hall. Beautifully radiant in the afternoon sun, it whispers of a bygone era that’s not hard to miss the more you look at the building’s intricate architectural details.
The next leg was a bit challenge for us maybe because the MRT does not extend all the way to Muntinlupa, the southernmost part in NCR. In my unimportant opinion on things such as urban development, mass transport ushers in convenience and growth to the cities it covers. Just take a look at the condominiums or malls that crowd around every train station along EDSA and you’ll get what I mean.
From Makati, we took a bus-jeepney combo to Muntinlupa and then hopped our way to Las Piñas, Pasay, Parañaque, Taguig, Pateros, Mandaluyong and then back to the Binay bailiwick. “Hopped our way” is quite an understatement as this involved navigating through narrow backroads that only jeepney drivers have intimate knowledge about.
It also took us awhile to reach our last stop because we made unplanned yet welcome stopovers at the New Bilibid Prison and at the St. Joseph Parish Church for the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ. Looking back now, we should have included other heritage sites in our previous trips but that would have us taken us an entire year to comb through all of them. Add the glorious foodstops and it will cost us our combined lifetimes.
The last sentence is a stretch of course. But what I’m driving at is that there’s more to Metro Manila than the air-conditioned malls that are now ‘tourist spots’ in their own rights. To some extent, they are now landmarks too such that if you’d ask anyone what to see in Pasay, he or she will probably blurt out ‘MOA.’ That reality, when malls already embody what your beloved city is all about, is slowly creeping in I’m afraid.
Were my friends and I any wiser after this madness? I am not sure. All I know is that I’ve been to all the city halls in Metro Manila. Some of them may lack character, but all of them offered me somehow a glimpse of the city they represent – what it is like and what it could still be.
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