Miracle in Makati
Contrary to popular belief, Makati is not just the commercial and business district of the Philippines. It is not just a former swampland masterfully developed by the Zobel de Ayala family in the middle of the last century into a city of skyscrapers, glitzy malls and high-end gated communities (Forbes, Dasmariñas, Urdaneta, San Lorenzo and Magallanes).
Makati has another side, bordering the Pasig River, known as the poblacion or Old Makati, described by some as the navel of the city, better rendered in Filipino as the “pusod ng Makati,” just as Quiapo has been described as the “armpit” of the nation. Poblacion, by its Spanish name, evokes the past and the historical part of the city which grew from a 17th-century Jesuit church that used to house a venerated image of the Virgin Mary, the Virgen de la Rosa (Virgin of the Rose), as famous then as the image of Nuestra Señora de la Paz y de Buen Viaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) venerated in Antipolo. At one time, according to an early friar chronicle, the Virgen de la Rosa had a reliquary in her torso that held believed strands of the Virgin Mary’s hair.
From the church on a hill, dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, emanate small streets that led to the growth of Poblacion. It is in this community that many Spanish-Filipino traditions have survived and that are best experienced during the Holy Week: religious processions, pabasa, etc. All these remind the glamorous part of the city that before Makati became part of what is now Metropolitan Manila, it was a suburb of Spanish Manila because it was located outside the walls of Intramuros. (If we are to believe Wikipedia, the name “Makati” had nothing to do with an itch or being itchy, but with the tides. There is no primary source given for the story about Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, in the 16th century, exploring the swampland and coming upon some inhabitants asked for the name of the place. They are supposed to have replied “Makati, kumakati na!”—a reference to the receding tide of the Pasig River. From then on it became known as Makati, and later, San Pedro de Makati.)
A more fanciful etymology of Makati is to be found in the notes (apuntes) on the Philippine Revolution that Julio Nakpil (1867-1960) deposited with T.M. Kalaw in the prewar National Library. Nakpil was a musician who composed “Marangal na dalit ng Katagalugan” (1896), an anthem for Andres Bonifacio that we would probably be singing today if Emilio Aguinaldo had not become president of the First Republic and chosen “Lupang Hinirang,” composed by Julian Felipe in 1898, which is our present national anthem. Nakpil married Gregoria de Jesus, widow of Bonifacio, and their son Juan Nakpil was named National Artist for Architecture. In a sheet giving the etymologies of Philippine place names, Nakpil wrote:
“San Pedro Macate should read San Piro Makati.
“Our ancestors related that on the eve of the town’s fiesta the image of the patron saint was put out in the atrium of the church for sunning. Through carelessness a passerby threw away the butt of his cigarette that landed on the image, burning it and reducing it to ashes. The sacristan-mayor in the midst of his quandary succeeded to find and engage an old man who had a striking resemblance to San Pedro, including his baldness, to substitute for the burnt saint.
“Very early following day, which was the feast day, the sacristan-mayor placed the old man dressed as San Pedro on the stand in front of the central altar. The principal Mass began and the sacristan-mayor was very happy for what he had done, inasmuch as the living San Pedro did not move. Moreover he was saved from an embarrassing situation and he said to himself: “Tila nga tunay na San Pedro ang p…y” (The fool does look like the real San Pedro). It occurred to him to test the resistance of his immovability. He caught some wasps and, introducing himself stealthily under the stand, he let one wasp loose inside [San Pedro’s] gown. One of the parishioners, a woman, said to the one beside her: “Tingnan mo si San Pedro at kikisapkisap ang mata (Look at San Pedro, his eyes are blinking).” He was beginning to feel the itch and he was struggling not to let his body move, but his eyes did as a reaction to the wasp’s sting. The other woman, seeing how he was winking, replied: “Aba! Totoo nga nagmimilagro yata (Indeed, it seems he is really performing a miracle).”
“The very naughty sacristan-mayor turned loose a second wasp and, not satisfied with this, let loose two more [under the saint’s gown]. The poor San Pedro, no longer able to endure the sting, went down his pedestal and ran away from the church. The sacristan-mayor chided him: ‘Why did you go down? That was not our agreement.’ San Pedro replied: ‘Sinisipit ako nang maraming putakti sa hita at sa xxx at hindi ko matiis ang kati at totoong makati (Many wasps were stinging me on the leg and on the … and I could not endure the stings because it was very itchy).’ So the holy orator said from the pulpit: “Tingnan nyo si San Pedro! Milagro! Milagro (Look at San Pedro, a miracle, it’s a miracle)!’ And from then on the town has been called San Piro Makati.”
Nakpil warned us that he may not be correct and left the resolution to historians. Both etymologies of Makati have no historical basis, but they are, at the very least, interesting stories.
* * *
Comments are welcome at [email protected].