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Why not bring back the old street names?

Now that Mayor Isko Moreno has cleaned up Manila’s major streets, he can take the next step in changing the landscape of the capital by forming a committee to review all streets renamed in the last 50 years and, if possible, restore the older, more historically significant street names.

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines has a wonderful phrase to describe old street names, as having been “sanctified by usage.” Like many things in life, street names are everyday things you see but hardly notice; these are markers of history, echoes of a distant time, that should be left alone and allowed to remain unchanged, except for very good reasons.

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I know this is opening Pandora’s Box, but shouldn’t all the streets in historic Intramuros remain the same as they were as of August 1898, when the Spanish surrendered Manila to the Americans? If we go back to the original Intramuros street names, then Andres Soriano will revert to Aduana, the centuries-old street where the former customs house was located. Surely there are new developments more appropriate for Soriano. A potential snag in this scheme, though, will be replacing Heneral Luna with Calle Real; that will have nationalists arguing against going back to our colonial past.

We have no problem with the Japanese occupation because they were so hated that when the Philippines was liberated, all the Japanese-named streets went back to their original names. With the US occupation, it’s a bit tricky. Are we open to the return of former Malate-Ermita street names that remind us of the soldiers of occupation that arrived on our shores? Do we remove Adriatico and restore Dakota? Change Engracia C. Reyes to Arkansas, Josefa Llanes Escoda to California, Felipe Agoncillo to Colorado, Maria Orosa to Florida, Pilar Hidalgo Lim to Indiana, FT Benitez to Kansas, Jorge Bocobo to Nebraska, G. Apacible to Oregon, and Leon Guinto to Pennsylvania? Of course, these illustrious Filipinos are more relevant than the names of various American states, but these also refer to a point in the past that we should remember, whether we like it or not.

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Where and when do we draw the line? Despite the anti-Spanish bent in Philippine history, España street remains because the deed of donation for the land states that the street on it should be named for Spain. Dasmariñas is one of the few existing streets that are named after Spanish governors-general. The rest have been renamed, like: Bustillos, from Fernando Manuel de Bustillo Bustamante y Rueda, renamed Figueras after a postwar labor secretary; Echague, from Rafael de Echague y Bermingham, renamed Carlos Palanca, a Chinese businessman whose real name was Tan Quien-sien; and Folgueras, from Mariano Fernandez de Folgueras, renamed Carmen Planas, the first woman councilor of Manila.

Of the American governors-general, only Harrison and Taft remain, with the latter almost getting changed to Diokno or Aglipay. William Cameron Forbes is at least remembered by the premiere gated village in the country, because Governor Forbes, pronounced “Por-Bes,” was renamed Lacson to honor the late colorful mayor of Manila.

An area in Sampaloc is associated with Jose Rizal. It has place names like Dapitan and Calamba; pseudonyms like Laong Laan and Dimasalang; obscure writings like Makamisa, Metrica and Retiro; characters in his novels such as Maria Clara, Elias, even Crisostomo and Ibarra, which should be one street instead of two.

There was a unity and sense to the street names that were ruined when some were renamed after obscure individuals whose significance, or lack of it, should be seriously reviewed.

Greenhills gated communities are named after presidents of the United States, a part of San Juan’s winding roads refer to European sites in World War I, San Lorenzo Village in Makati has streets named after Filipino artists (many of whom would be later named National Artists of the Philippines), Urdaneta Village has streets named after those in Intramuros, Magallanes has streets on the Magellan expedition, Forbes Park and Dasmariñas Village have streets named for the trees and flowers planted on those streets. All this a legacy from Fernando Zobel.

Last but not least, BF Subdivision in Las Piñas has streets named after Filipina beauty queens!

Perhaps one reason for our short memories is that our historic landscape is not permanent, always changing with the frequent and indiscriminate renaming of our streets.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, Isko Moreno, Looking Back, Manila old street names, national historical commission
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