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Looking Back

The Binondo of Rizal’s ‘Noli’

/ 05:05 AM January 24, 2020

Curiosity is second nature to me; it drives my research whether in a library or walking aimlessly around town. For example, To Suy, a hardware store that specializes in nuts and bolts, has many branches, with its first or original store located along Tomas Mapua Street in downtown Manila. Its text-heavy signage proudly declares the store as the “King of Screw.”

You need not look far for proof that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, because across the street is the competition: Tee To Suy, which bills itself as the “Screwmaster.” These stores definitely give new meaning to the phrase “you’re screwed.”

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My recent trips to Chinatown started from the need to trace and photograph the places associated with Jose Rizal, like the site on Calle San Fernando where Teodora Alonso, the hero’s mother died; and Calle Estraude, where Francisco Mercado, the hero’s father, died. I also planned to see the birthplace of the tragic, hot-tempered Antonio Luna on Barraca Street (formerly Urbiztondo). It is significant that while Luna was of Ilocano ancestry, he was born in Binondo and adopted the pen name

“Taga-ilog,” the root of the word “Tagalog.” Sad to say, I did not get to these sites because I got sidetracked following a fictional literary figure around the real streets of Chinatown.

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After plotting the place names mentioned in the opening chapters of the “Noli me tangere,” I followed the path of Crisostomo Ibarra. He left the house of Santiago de los Santos, better known as Capitan Tiago, on Calle Anloague (now Juan Luna) and walked toward the Plaza de Binondo (now Plaza Calderon de la Barca), and turned right toward a Calle Sacristia (now Roman Ongpin Street) on the side of Binondo Church. As he crossed Calle

Rosario (now Quintin Paredes Street) toward Sacristia, childhood memories came flooding back, and Ibarra remarked that little had changed in the years he had studied abroad; the iron grill he bent and the loose tile on the stone pavement were still there as he remembered them.

At the corner of Sacristia and San Jacinto (now Tomas Pinpin Street), Ibarra hailed a cab that brought him to the Fonda de Lala. References to this actual hotel, run by Ramon Reyes Lala, can be found in early 20th-century Manila commercial directories that listed it as “Fonda Francesca de Lala Ary, Calle Barraca” [the French Hotel of Lala Ari on Barraca Street].

It amuses me to imagine Rizal being transported to present-day Binondo in a time machine, because he would be disoriented by the traffic and pollution. He might even be run over by a reckless jeep or motorcycle. At the very least, he would be confused, because the landmarks of his time, with the notable exception of Binondo Church, have been replaced by high-rise buildings. Rizal might get lost because all the streets mentioned in the “Noli” in 1887 are different in 2020. Calle Nueva is an old street name recently changed by law into Yuchengco Street. While it was argued that Nueva (New) is generic and Yuchengco should rightfully be honored, the change of name obliterated the history of the “new” street created centuries ago to ease traffic toward Escolta. In another life and another time, as chair of the National Historical Commission, I held off approval for the change to Yuchengco Street and only caved in when a legislator, through a third party, threatened to cut my agency’s budget to one peso.

Anloague (Carpenter) was changed to Juan Luna in line with the Filipinization of our history as reflected in our street names. Sacristia referred to the location of the Binondo Church sacristy; the name gave way to Ongpin, while San Jacinto was changed to honor the first Filipino printer, Tomas Pinpin.

However, how did legislators weigh the street name Gandara, which honored Jose de la Gandara, Spanish governor-general from 1866-69 who initiated the establishment of the telegraph, lighthouses and mining in the islands, against the name of the jurist Sabino Padilla? How, in heaven’s name, did the politician from Abra, Quintin Paredes, merit a street name replacing Rosario, which once honored the Nuestra Señora del Rosario, patroness of Binondo? I’m not particularly religious, but in this case, how can a senator be worthier than the Mother of God?

If the maverick Manila Mayor Isko is willing to rock the boat, perhaps he can study the restoration of old street names, those that were in use for at least a century and have been, to use a felicitous phrase, “sanctified by usage.”

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TAGS: Binondo, Jose Rizal, King of Screw, Tomas Mapua Street
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