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Looking Back
Pre-Spanish Manila

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:36:00 06/25/2008

Filed Under: history, Places, Human Interest

Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, chair of the Manila Historical Commission, used to say that the June 24 celebration of the ?founding? of Manila was not really ?Araw ng Maynila? [Manila Day] but rather ?Araw ng Kastila? [Spanish Day]. Now that the non-working holiday has passed and Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim has laid those commemorative wreaths and handed out the traditional awards?Outstanding Manilan and Patbubay ng Sining?we can perhaps reflect on what this celebration really means. Should our view of the past stop with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi? And, of course, Fray Andres de Urdaneta whose 500th birthday we celebrate this year? Should we reckon the birthday of the ?distinguished and ever loyal city? from the foundation of what was to develop into Spanish Manila?

We tend to forget that Spanish Manila was the area contained within the walls?hence ?Intra-muros.? The Manila we know today is a bigger place made up of Quiapo, Sta. Cruz, San Nicolas, Binondo, Sampaloc, Malate, Ermita, Tondo, etc. These were actually suburbs (?arrabales?) or districts outside the medieval walls?hence Extra-muros. June 24 marks the foundation of Intramuros, not the Manila or even the Metropolitan Manila we know today.

I have always supported Ms Nakpil?s revisionism and I am happy that sometimes we actually succeed. For example, the end of the war in the city in 1945 used to be?and is still sometimes?referred to as the ?Liberation of Manila.? Ms Nakpil lived through the horrors of that war: her first husband was one of many men in the area rounded up and executed. The ?Liberation? she called the ?Battle for Manila.? The change in name opens our eyes to the collateral damage: the civilians and non-combatants murdered in the last days by desperate Japanese soldiers in the cruelest ways. Today the city remembers those dark days as the ?Battle for Manila.?

When Ms Nakpil?s lips purse to form that famous wry smile, I know a witty comment is forthcoming. It is that smile I remember when I tell my students that history is not always what textbooks reveal. History is more complicated than we think, because every historian has his own take on the past. Every generation writes its own history. There are as many histories of Manila as there are historians.

Ms Nakpil does not want us to forget that Manila is older than the Spanish conquest. When we celebrate the ?foundation? of Manila on June 24, we must remember Soliman and the palisades that protected his city. Legazpi did not lay the foundations of Manila, he built over an older, pre-colonial city.

This may also explain why Manila has a proper name from a plant that used to grow there?hence ?may nila.? There is no such thing as ?nilad,? yet there are persistent misinformed souls who keep using the wrong term.

I took a class on Philippine pre-history under the late E. Arsenio Manuel and he used to rant and rave about seeing our past from our viewpoint. His most radical plan was to conduct a thorough archaeological excavation of Intramuros in order to find the remains of Soliman?s palisades. The problem was that to do this, we would have to sacrifice the remaining walls.

I asked him: ?Can?t we leave perfectly good ruins alone? How sure are we that we will find Soliman?s fort under Intramuros??

He said that Intramuros was a small price to pay to find our pre-Spanish roots.

Fortunately, the walls are still there to remind us of the past. So controversial are these walls that the City of Manila wants to gain control of it from the Intramuros Administration (IA). One wonders what the fuss is all about because the mayor of Manila sits on the IA board. All taxes and permits are handled by Manila, and even basic services like garbage disposal are also under the city. Perhaps we should all agree that Intramuros is physically within present-day Manila, but it belongs rightfully to the nation and its preservation should be lodged in a national government agency.

In May 1570, Legazpi was in Panay Island and he sent Martin de Goiti to a place called Maynila. A report was furnished Legazpi that documents what they saw:

?The town was situated on the bank of the [Pasig] river, and seemed to be defended by a palisade all along its front. Within it were many warriors, and the shore outside was crowded with people. Pieces of artillery stood at the gates, guarded by bombardiers, linstock in hand. A culverin shot at us, and close to the houses of the natives were four Chinese ships.?

This is pre-Spanish Manila. It was inhabited. It had a government of its own. Those Chinese ships were anchored there, meaning there was some trade going on, though the document said the Chinese complained to the Spaniards regarding the conduct of the Manileos. Goiti asked to meet Soliman but was met by Rajah Matanda, with a retinue so large and grand that they mistook him for Soliman.

Most of the towns, cities and provinces around the country reckon their foundation date from a period within the Spanish colonization. Following the example of Manila, we should push the parameters of history a bit further to discover our pre-colonial past. Filipino historians from Rizal to Agoncillo have been pushing for a change in viewpoint and a rewriting of our history.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu.



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