O’, Ma Nila: A Cambodian intern’s reflections on the Philippine capital

/ 03:04 PM August 01, 2016

Editor’s Note: Inquirer is currently hosting its second set of Cambodian students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh who are in the Philippines for the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) Internship Program. The students are in the country to observe how Philippine media works. Their exposure to the country’s media industry — and its role in nation-building and democracy — will hopefully help them become better journalists in the future. Below is a copy of an essay written by Vearyda Oue about his stay in Manila last year. Vea, together with fellow intern Chab Mikthona, was an enthusiastic trainee who was not afraid to explore the country’s capital, which is both known for its bright lights and urban blight. His essay, which highlights both the good and the bad, was lightly edited for clarity. KS

A SLUM in Baseco, Tondo in Manila, with high rises in the background         EDWIN BACASMAS

A SLUM in Baseco, Tondo in Manila, with high-rise buildings in the background EDWIN BACASMAS

O’, Ma Nila


Landing at night at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, I witnessed, from the plane, the candle-like lights of the city. This spectacular image signaled to me that something big was lying ahead and I had to be ready for it.

As I took a taxi from the airport to a hostel in Mandaluyong, I noticed the metropolitan development of the city, something I’d never experienced in my country, Cambodia.


Skyscrapers, flyovers, mega structures, and business centers were being built everywhere. Traffic was considered quite tolerable until my ever-smiling taxi driver told me it was only because I arrived here on a weekend when most roads were normally free. I smiled at him and said, “Let’s see.”


The taxi drove through an underground tunnel, allowing me to witness another aspect of this metropolitan city – scavengers. It is not surprising to me to see scavengers on the street because I’m quite used to seeing them in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, but it is not very common when the taxi driver pointed at the scavenger and tried to talk about corruption in his country — Aquino this, Binay that.

I decided to do my own fact-checking. According to 2012 World Bank data, 25.2 percent of Filipinos are living in poverty. This is 7.5 percentage points higher compared to 17.7 percent of Cambodia’s population living below the poverty line. To put it in perspective, I did some simple math and surprisingly found out the number of Filipinos living under poverty line was around 24.37 million people. The number (of poor people) could form a bigger country than Cambodia in the aspect of population (editor: Cambodia’s population is currently at 15 million).

I find people of this Chosen Land very friendly and welcoming


Despite that sad fact, I find people of this Chosen Land very friendly and welcoming.


They always wear a charming smile as they converse with me, radiating a kind of warmth that melts my heart. I sound so cheesy, yet I mean it.

Most of their words are spoken with “po,” a way to show respect and politeness. For example, I hear “salamat po,” “bayad po,” and “para po” whenever I ride a jeepney.


In case you are not familiar with a jeepney, it’s a mode of transportation available exclusively in the Philippines. A jeepney looks like an extended jeep with very classic paintings and graffiti. It’s so lengthy that it can accommodate up to 20 people. A jeepney ride will cost you a minimum of 7.50 Philippine Pesos.

The price is very cheap, like other transportation options in the city. A tricycle ride in Manila costs 14 pesos while a seat in a UV express van costs 20 pesos. Meanwhile, a bus ride can cost you around 20 pesos. Another available mode of transportation is the Manila Rail Transit System, locally known as MRT or the train, which costs 15 to 20 pesos per ticket.

The low price of the transportation means something. Manila city is known as the most densely populated city in the world with the density of around 40,000 people per square kilometer as opposed to Metro Manila’s density of 19,000 persons per square kilometer.

I did try to take the train — I could barely breathe.

To serve the 12 million population of Metro Manila affordably, the mode of transportation should be able to allow a big number of people to commute in one go. The MRT can be the best option for this. However, each coach is usually filled with people, leaving very little spaced left.

I did try to take the train — I could barely breathe. I don’t understand why all the time in MRT, I always see people stand or sit with their eyes shut. Though, I really can understand it when a Filipino friend said to me, “I would rather walk for miles than take MRT.”

However, you can always take a taxi. To anywhere. Though, it will cost a lot if you’re traveling during rush hour. During the rush hour, people are seen streaming out of nowhere. Well, many come from nearby buildings. In a matter of minutes, traffic becomes heavy and streets are jammed with cars, motorbikes and jeepneys. The taxi driver at the airport gave good advice: If you don’t like getting stuck in traffic during rush hour, keep you chin up and walk.


Walking can be a good thing to do in Manila. Food in the Philippines are mostly oily and meaty, and sometimes salty. If you don’t walk a lot here, the protein, calories and fat in your cells will make you fat, or worse, cause you to suffer a stroke. Be very cautious but don’t you worry if you think you cannot eat Filipino foods. There are fast food restaurants everywhere in the city, from international franchises such as McDonald, KFC, and Burger King to locally famous Jollibee. Korean, Japanese, and Thai restaurants are also widely accessible.

Manila is a city for the curious soul.


Manila is a city for the curious soul. The diversity of lifestyle helps you learn more about the city. The poor and the rich are in the same district, like the ancient and the modern parts of the city. Despite the country’s economic development, there are still homeless people sleeping on the streets while, in the same area, high-class businessmen and politicians walk and drive their luxury cars. In almost every corner of busy roads, there are street vendors, who (probably do not have a permit) sell various kinds of cigarettes and candies. Some sidewalks are littered with cigarette butts. Mind your lungs. And roads.


When it comes to tourism, Metro Manila is  home to the biggest mall in Southeast Asia as well as several other malls, which are also among the  biggest in Asia. If you want to shop, there’s nothing you cannot find in those tremendous malls, except for illegal stuff that you can find just outside the malls.

I also see Manila as a historical destination for cultural visitors. The oldest existing university in Asia, University of Santo Tomas (the Growling Tigers), which was established in 1611,  is still roaring very proudly today. The walled city of Intramuros also features the fascinating history of the Philippines during the Spanish colonization. Last but absolutely not the least is the Luneta National Park, commonly known as Rizal Park. Located there is the Philippines’ most iconic structure — the Rizal Monument, which is dedicated to José Rizal, patriot, and martyr of old.

It recaptures the sense of nationalism of the Filipinos. It’d be great to listen to Lupang Hinirang at that place while the big Philippine flag waves against the wind in all its glory.

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TAGS: MANILA, Poverty, Tourism, traffic
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