Encircle the Cities By the Countryside: The City in Philippine Writing
[Revised version in Chapter 6 of E. San Juan, Crisis in the Philippines (Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, 1986]
UNLIKE THE WESTERN industrialized metropolis sprung from the eleventh- and twelfth-century burg (bourg, borough) of the nascent merchant class built in a circular pattern outside the walls of the medieval monastery or ecclesiastical enclave, the city of Manila (now Metro Manila, embracing Quezon City, the official capital, and adjacent suburbs and subcities) was “founded” by the Spanish conquistador Miguel L6pez de Legazpi on May 19, 1571 on the ruins of an Islamic settlement, the fortified hamlet of “Maynilad” ruled by two native rajahs.
I want to emphasize this initial and initiating fact as the constitutive element of difference between the Western conception of the city and the Philippine (in a sense peculiarly Third World) approach. For the truth is that it was not through the clearing of wilderness to establish guilds and market-fairs, but through organized violence and the forcible imposition of feudal Christianity and theocratic authority that the scaffolding of the Philippine cities–not just Manila–was erected. In retrospect, this twofold motion of negation and gestation–a dialectical unity of opposites–significantly parallels the artistic process itself as a double movement of exclusion and synthesis, and subsumes the linguistic phases of metaphor and metonymy (see Jakobson 1956).1
Suffice it for the limited scope of this inquiry to extrapolate the nature of three centuries of Spanish subjugation of the Philippines from Legazpi’s ritual act of concluding a peace treaty with the vanquished Muslim chiefs whose town was reduced to ashes, with the artillery of twenty-odd vessels presiding over this reconciliation. The treaty demonstrated to all the collusion of the Cross and the Sword, the church and the state. But the narrative of the chronicles suggests an inverted anachronism, or more precisely a kind of conflation of two socioeconomic formations: the tribal-communal and the mercantile-capitalist. We are told that to symbolize taking possession of the land, the Spaniards ceremonially lopped off the branches of a tree; but the Filipino chiefs, instead of enacting the performance of a traditional blood pact to signify their vassalage to the Spanish monarch, chose to have a public notary attest to their irreversible conversion (Cushner 1971, 67).
I submit that we have, in this telltale foregrounding of the written contract in the native consciousness, a seminal conjuncture whose archaeology has not yet been fully explored, the elements of an interpretive model of the city, its integrity and protean manifestations, in literature. This motive would derive from the proposition that a city whose genealogy is inscribed in a contract forged from conquest and expropriation can reproduce itself in literary form in two ways: first, as a metaphor of the primordial unity and sacred origin of social life, celebrating the victor and its numinous or mystical aura; or second, as a metonymy/synecdoche, a differential or displacing technique correlating action and thought, a strategic guideline or theory animating practice and the future projects we contemplate.
Conversely, the projects evolving will dictate in the process the narrative of the making of contracts, coalitions, parties, etc. In Philippine literature, if I may anticipate what follows, the city of history, as the raw material worked into ideology and thus overdetermined in its meanings and implications, contains within itself a dialectical mode of resolving historic contradictions-not just in the mechanics of literary form but in the logic of their content-only insofar as the writer abandons the mythic potential of the city and pursues its metonymic thrust and direction.
This mediation on the city, on “Manila” as one term of the opposition of which the other could be virgin islands/the countryside, alms to describe in somewhat schematic fashion the ambivalent and polarizing attitudes Filipino writers have assumed toward the city. Adopting a chronological mapping out of the terrain, we begin before Manila’s founding, from the eighth century to Magellan’s arrival in 1521, when commerce and trade with China, India, and desultory European merchants flourished. The growth of coastal towns into trading centers testifies to a rupture analogous to the transformation of Manila not as a Muslim citadel but as terminal of the galleon trade linking Mexico and Europe to Asia.
Before the Spanish adventurer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi defeated Rajah Sulayman, the Muslim ruler of two thousand souls of Maynilad, in 1571, the settlement around the Pasig River was a flourishing ecumenical trade center from the fifth to the thirteenth century. Merchants from Arabia, Siam, Borneo, Java, Sumatra, Malacca, India, China, and Japan brought cargoes of silk, porcelain ware, damask, colored glass beads, iron censers, lead and tin exotica, and other merchandise bartered for abundant products procured from the interior. After destroying this nexus of nomadic trails, a convergence of quests and pursuits, the Spaniards built a medieval fortified town, an insular fortress surrounded by moats and turreted walls ten meters thick with batteries. Called “Intramuros” (“within the walls”), only members of the Castilian upper class were allowed to live inside its perimeter. This Asian outpost of the Spanish empire, a springboard for trade with China and not, as originally conceived, for raiding the spices of the Moluccas, was awarded a royal coat of arms by King Philip II and christened “El Insigne y Siempre Leal Ciudad” (the Noble and Ever Loyal City).3 Not arms but trade and commerce finally battered down its walls whose four gates opened up to the exuberant boroughs of artisans and producers– native “indios,” mestizos of all races, and foreigners. When the United States captured Manila in 1898, it was already an “open city” that would much later on experience, in 1944, the most massive and indiscriminate devastation in recent history’ by both Japanese and American forces competing for hegemony (Constantino 1975, 54-56; Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970, 79-80).
An existentialist reading of Manila as the site of a moral dilemma, the vicissitudes of a metaphysical doubt, has been rendered in the story “I, Suliman” by Adrian Cristobal (1975), a leading technocrat of the Marcos dictatorship circa 1972-86. For Cristobal, Manila is only a copy of the absurd universe of Kafka or Camus which occasions Sohman’s stoic quest for self-fulfillment. In a sustained interior monologue, Solliman mechanically orders the burning of Manila as a solitary decision, to prevent the “seat of our happiness” from being “the cursed prison of our race.” The city serves only as a pawn in the game of competing wills or monads. Cristobal establishes an ironic equivalence between the city and subjective freedom, identifying the city’s destruction with a personal heroism based on the will to risk one’s life in a struggle predestined to defeat. This is less a diagnosis of the inadequacy of the tribal formation than of the uprooted Manila intellectual’s resentful dream of power evaporating in mock-heroic impotence. Characteristically, Cristobal is trapped within solipsistic idealism as he attributes the Spanish conquest to their single-minded devotion to faith, an irrationalism of which an ostensibly religious writer such as Nick Joaquin would not be found guilty.4
From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, Manila failed to emerge from the cocoon of Intramuros, the “Walled City” environed by numerous churches, with its suburbs functioning as country seats for the aristocratic peninsulars (Spaniards born in Spain) and as quarantined sectors for certain aliens such as the Chinese. For two years, 1762-1764, the British occupied Intramuros. revealing thus the internal contradictions of Spanish hegemony over the archipelago. But the literature produced by the friars, as well as the reproduction of medieval romances, saints’ lives, sermons and commentaries on the Gospels, etc. in an atmosphere of censorship and inquisition, failed to articulate or even hint at the long-smoldering contradictions in the city, as witnessed by the innumerable deadly skirmishes and feuds between the secular office of the governor general and the religious orders.
One incident, the central exhibit of this fatal cleavage in the power bloc defining the city’s primal unity, was the assassination of Governor Fernando Bustamante y Bustillo (1717-1719). His honesty and fidelity to the king impelled him to challenge the undisputed hegemony of the friars, provoking the latter to murder him in his palace within the Walled City.
An extremely multifaceted, self-conscious narrative, formerly ascribed to Father Jose Burgos (1860-1872), the first nationalist martyr of the Bustamante affair is found in La Loba Negra (The Black She-Wolf). This work spans the period 1717-1726 and revolves around Bustamante’s attempt to purge the city of corruption, specifically the friars manipulation of the galleon trade and their tampering with the public treasury. It appears that the city officials then were extorting bribes from wealthy citizens, as evinced by the testimony of a Dutch observer describing Manila circa 1717 which is incorporated into the text of the narrative:
It’s a big city protected by a strong wall surrounding it The houses arc large and beautiful. . . . The inhabitants, mostly Spaniards live a life of ostentation and leisure with nothing to worry about. Most of their foodstuffs and general merchandise are brought over by the Sangleys [Chinese merchants] who come from China and who own attractive and well stocked stores displacing a lot of clothing brought over by their ships and some caravels from New Spain Gold and silver coins are in abundance and foreign exchange is a thriving business
A seaport which the natives called May-Nilad is washed by a swift and treacherous river the Mapagsic, somewhat big and navigable (Agoncillo 1970 2 3)
The writer thus disrupts the myth of the city’s original unity with the intrusion of a Protestant (Dutch) conscience, emptying the plenitude of the city as symbol of harmony between church and state.
In the fable’s analysis of the ordeal and killing of the king’s representative, the city assumes the form of a labyrinth of masked, frocked, or hooded conspirators staging a putsch, with the churchyards, streets, and plazas serving as the theater for an inquisitorial pogrom. The syntax of intrigue cancels any transparency of motivation. With the city depicted as a microcosmic altar for the sacrifice of the king’s surrogate, the widow and children of the murdered governor proceed to carry out their vow of revenge by retreating to the countryside. Their strategy recapitulates Legaspi’s outflanking and centrifugal move to isolate Soliman.
A year after her pilgrimage away from the city, the widow (or her daughter) metamorphoses into the legendary outlaw, the “Black She-Wolf,” displacing the Sty’s control of the countryside and doubling the friar’s rule of terror by her own incarnation of what has been repressed: the real historic contradiction between the Filipino masses and the exploitative institutions of the church, agents of Spanish colonialism. The black she-wolf’s reprisals assume the magnitude of a natural force, a figure of nemesis resolving social contradictions in practice and giving substance to the law of mercantilist competition deprived of pietistic rationalizations. The method of quasichronicling events is meant to demystify the notion of divine intervention in history: calamities assault by pirates, and pestilence devastate Manila and its suburbs between 1720-1725, “years of dark terror and criminality stained by persecutions between Spanish civilians and religious.”
Since Manila up to 1870 served primarily to support the lucrative Mexico-Philippines galleon trade for the benefit of the church and a tiny stratum of bureaucrats, it virtually existed as an island unto itself–a trope suggesting the profound discrepancy between the ideology of Christian salvation and the practice of the friars throughout the islands. The concurrence of thriving commercial activity and disintegrating civic unity, the crisis between secular administrators and religious orders, and later between Spanish and native priests, intimating sharpening class antagonisms underlying the crisis, is powerfully registered by the landscape drawn at the end of La Loba Negra amid the irrepressible terror inflicted on the church by the female victim-avenger-the concrete vehicle also of the mute, aggrieved millions tilling the soil and supplying food and other necessities to the city.
Manila . . was in the zenith of her commercial life. In her bay were anchored many ships flying the flags of different European and Asian countries. There were large and commodious homes on her principal streets, and business was brisk. The citizens as well as the religious were secretly carrying deadly weapons on their belts under their capes. There were bloody encounters among them, often resulting in death, while Manila sparkled on the horizon as one of the most prosperous cities of the Orient. The documents we have before us, however, show that two-thirds of the Islands were completely neglected so that Manila authorities were not aware of events in these places until alter a year. In many places, the little rulers kept administering their respective territories and sitios, practising their own laws and their ancient religion which was partly Muslim and partly Hindu from India, where it was propagated to the last confines of the islands of Malaysia and Polynesia (Agoncillo 1970, 4b-46).5
The situation described above persisted, explaining in part the British capture of Manila in 1762-1764, until the mercantile system which had artificially isolated Manila from international contacts was phased out by the reforms of Governor Basco y Vargas (1778-1787).
The year 1834 saw the opening of Manila to world trade, exposing the “walled fortress” sensibility to the dynamic pressures of expanded commodity production. From 1809 to 1846, with thirty-nine merchant firms owned by English, American, and French entrepreneurs operating in Manila, the city burst out from the cloistered atmosphere of Intramuros and pursued the adventure of commodities through the arcades and bazaars of adjoining districts such as Binondo, Quiapo, Paco, etc. In parallel course, the Filipino imagination unshackled itself from the bonds of medieval romanticism and adopted the liberal and democratizing outlook of realism prevailing in nineteenth-century Europe.
A little less than fifty years after the fall of the Bastille and the rise of the European bourgeoisie as the ruling class of industrialized and urbanized nations, an epic romance by Francisco Balagtas entitled Florante at Laura (1838) was published. Using an elaborate allegorical plot (to escape official censorship), Balagtas dramatized the duplicitous stratagems of an individualist usurper who seizes control of a feudal city, Albania, from its rightful heir. The heir Florante is offered as a prey to ferocious beasts in a nightmarish jungle, the absolute antithesis to the city as the fountainhead of love, beauty, wisdom, joy. Ironically, Balagtas is supposed to be attacking the city, Manila, and what it stood for; but his adherence to the Greek idea of the city-state and its ideals of decorum, proportion, and civility, seems to undercut his intention until we realize, on deeper probing, that the city he seemingly acclaims is the space of treachery; the space of predatory competitiveness, avarice, and greed for power; it is the space where individuals can conceal private selfish motives through stylized manners, conventional gestures, formulas of speech and thought. In the city, the inhabitants are easily duped by charlatans and demagogues, coaxed to act as a rebellious mob (see stanzas 378-79). Not that Balagtas is trying to render Le Bon’s psychology of the crowd into metrical romance. Himself victimized by the landlord elite, Balagtas targeted not the fact of a hierarchic, sacramental order but rather its degeneration, its subversion by putative or nominal guardians. Disintegration of this civic, hierarchical system–the source of peace, love, harmony, creative self-fulfillment–will yield only the reign of the brute, the reign of lex tallonis.6
It is not surprising at this point to observe our interpretive model of two possible modes of representing the city, the metaphoric and the metonymic, grounding itself in the historical transition of Manila from the “Walled City” resembling Balagtas’s “Albania” to the dispersed commercial/trading center adumbrated in La Loba Negra. In the same breath, we perceive the emergence of the classic disparity implicit in those modes between the classical conception of the city which informs Balagtas’s allegory, and the romantic critique saturating the text of La Loba Negra. In the latter we may recall the tendency to valorize the primitive as a “return of the repressed” and the nihilistic repudiation of the degenerate ethos of the city. (Balagtas succeeds in thwarting this possibility by the ruse of inventing the character of Aladin, the chivalric Moor, who rescues Florante from the emblematic beasts and helps him recapture the city, thus validating the hierarchical order and legitimizing absolute monarchy.)
We encounter at this point a vast amount of didactic writing–the ubiquitous example from the anthologies is the collection of moralizing letters by Fr. Modesto de Castro entitled Urbana at Felisa (1864)–with the all too familiar motif of the city as the diabolic snare or trap for innocent, virtuous maidens venturing from pastoral retreats. In this context, the world (read: Manila) abounds with sinful temptations, so that transactions with the Other must be performed in strict obedience to church-sanctioned rules of conduct and propriety. In other words, without a patriarch-oriented hermeneutics and code, the city is a many-layered text of puzzling insinuations and ambiguities to be deciphered at one’s own risk. We are now at the threshold of the modernist interpretation of city experience.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the paradigmatic and centralizing role of Manila, its dream of becoming the womb and matrix of Renaissance virtu and Roman piety, has been severely undermined by the emergence of petty commodity production, competition between import-export middlemen or compradors, and the concentration of the principalia (the native elite) on cultivating export crops. For the elite, the city now becomes a constricting playground good only as a jumping-off point for travel to and study in Europe. While it was the city-born and -bred worker Andres Bonifacio who would rally the masses at the city outskirts, inspired by such books as Hugo’s Les Miserables (1862) and Sue’s The Wandering Jew (1845; Sue’s forte was the Parisian underworld milieu), it was the principalia’s offspring, Jose Rizal, born and raised in the province of Laguna but educated in Madrid, Paris, and Berlin, who would privilege the city as the historic social text, the veritable palimpsest, of class contradictions.
In his first novel Noli me Tangere (1886), Rizal charted the trials of a creole ilustrado as he falls victim to the repressive maneuvers of the religious orders in the bucolic setting of his hometown San Diego. The novel begins with the protagonist Ibarra’s arrival in Manila from Europe, discovering “the phenomenon of an unchanging city in a country of uncertainties” (Rizal  1961, 21). Immediately Ibarra learns the tragic fate of his father, accused as a heretic/ freethinker, and whose body was condemned to lie outside the Catholic cemetery. Before shifting the narrative to San Diego, Rizal (in chapter 8) unfolds the city’s signifiers as indices and symbols of class conflict. However, unlike the dilettante flaneur of Baudelaire’s time apprehending the decay of the interieur in the department store’s labyrinth of merchandise (as Walter Benjamin [1969, 155-200] has acutely noted), Rizal’s embattled hero surveys the panorama of crowds. He anticipates the coming of a chain gang of native prisoners based on childhood memories:
The prisoners were usually tall men with stem faces, whom Ibarra had never seen smile but whose eyes flashed when the whip fell whistling across their shoulders. . . Once in his boyhood Ibarra had witnessed a scene that had struck his imagination. It had been high noon; the sun’s rays fell mercilessly. Under the poor shade of a wooden cart lay one of these unfortunates, unconscious, his eyes staring wide. Two of his fellows were silently putting together a bamboo litter, without anger, without sorrow, without impatience–that, it was said, was what the natives were like. You today, our turn tomorrow, they seemed to be telling themselves. People hurried by without a glance; women passed, looked and went on their way; the sight was common enough, so common that hearts had grown calloused. The carriages rolled by, their varnished bodies gleaming in the rays of a brilliant sun in a cloudless sky’. He alone, a boy of eleven, newly arrived in the city’, had been touched; he alone, he felt sure, had slept badly because of it (Pizal  1961, 44).
It is thus that the narrative reflects from the surface of the city landscape the agonies and resistance of the populace, splitting the character’s sensibility into discordant fragments, allowing the submerged historicity of the city to problematize his stance of detachment. The doubling of the protagonist’s consciousness allows him to glimpse the materiality of dreams, hopes, memory itself in the presence of human labor.
To his left, from the cigar factory at Arroceros came the rattle and clatter of the women cigar-makers heating tobacco leaves. . . . He imagined the women 5 lively chatter the broad jokes, so reminiscent of the distinct of Lavapies in Madrid where other cigar women noted and put the despised policemen to rout with ribald laughter The Botanical Garden dispelled these pleasant recollections an odious comparison put before his eyes the botanical gardens in Europe, in countries where it cost much money and determination to make a leaf grow or a bud Rower. . . Ibarra turned his eyes away and saw to his right the old city of Manila surrounded still by its walls and moats like an undernounshed adolescent wrapped in her grandmother’s finery (Rizal  1961 45 46)
In Rizal’s second novel, El Filibustn’ctmo (1891), the city becomes the testing ground for realizing Simoun’s (Ibarra in disguise) plan for revenge. The city becomes thick, equivocally plural and dense with dissonant character types, ramifying into diverse and multiple locations. But Simoun’s scheme to rescue his former sweetheart Maria Clara from a convent collapses with her death, resulting in amplifying the general atmosphere of chagrin and bitter disillusionment of many Filipinos, illustrated vividly in the youth Isagani’s “bitterness for his unrequited love” so that even the interminable port works (outside the Walled City), to which in other times he had dedicated no less than three odes, appeared to him absurd, ridiculous, puerile:
The port, ah, the port of Manila, a bastard that from the moment of conception had brought only humiliation and shame to all! If at least, after so much sacrifice, it were not to turn out a disgusting abortion! (Bizal  1962, 194).
Rizal’s imagery and comparisons in the preceding two quotations convey an explicit devaluation of the city from its mythical stature. Just as the Noli introduced the hierarchical structure of society at a dinner party in the city, the Fili’s climactic episode occurs during a wedding feast in the same house where the city’s high secular and religious officials would be assembled.
I would argue that Rizal could envision the conspiratorial and pustchist scheme of Simoun, the masquerading ironist fabricating revelations behind the scene, only in the city because by offering infinite possibilities of chance encounters, coincidences, fortuitous and accidental happenings, Manila generates the conditions for the individual subject disappearing and merging with the interplay of collective forces, social classes, in order to trace the path of his/her personal destiny. This also explains why the city is the principal arena where games, performances, tricks, and illusionary inventions of all kinds I emphasize the episode of the talking mummy in chapter 18 can thrive naturally, so to speak, though all are contrived, with their impact transgressing normal routine and exposing the truth of social domination. Although Rizal concludes Simoun’s quest with his suicide, with the organic life of Nature in the background naturalizing his death, it is the city of Manila that we sense seething underneath and convulsed with all the unresolved conflicts temporarily pacified by nostalgic utopian longings. For Rizal, imprisoned in Fort Santiago and executed just outside the Walled City, it is the political struggle for control of the city that will elucidate the truth of ideas vis-a-vis objective reality, and the power of will. For who commands the city, determines the destiny of the whole nation.
Despite massive popular support for the 1896 Revolution against Spain, it failed to seize the city chiefly because the vacillating ilustrado leadership of the revolutionary forces temporized and trusted the invading U.S. army to liberate it for the Philippine Republic. It took the intellectual-critical energies of a whole generation to recuperate Rizal’s insight that Manila determines the fate of the nation insofar as it extracts the wealth of the laboring masses in the countryside.
The cardinal lesson gained in the period before the seizure of Manila in 1898 by the Americans and the Sakdalista revolt of 1935, apart from the fact that the city cannot survive without its parasitism on the peasantry, is the need to analyze the concrete forces germinating within the city trade unions had been organized, the petty bourgeois intellectuals had grown in alliance with the proletariat. These developments rendered obsolete the artist’s quest for an ideal synthesis of the European city in an Asian setting, given the formation of a comprador merchant class and with it the seeds of national and class solidarity between the workers in the city and the peasants in the rural hinterlands. But for a few years, especially the first two decades of American domination, Filipino writers ignored the peasants as potential revolutionary allies and concentrated on the plight of the city worker.
Except for the untypical aestheticist cataloguing of local color in such works as Ninay (T885) of Pedro Paterno, we can sum up by saying that the city for the Filipino writer in the nineteenth century signified the locus of power, the unifying metaphor that short-circuits the infinite substitutions of instinct and desire. When the United States supplanted Spain as the metropolitan power in 1898, the city ceased to be the goal of the revolutionary force–or what was left of it after General Agninaldo, the Republic’s president surrendered–and was converted into the arena of working class struggles as they coincided with the ideological resistance of seditious playwrights such as Aureho Tolentino, Severino Reyes, etc. But it was in the novels of Faustino Aguilar (Pinaglahuan, 1907) and Lope K. Santos (Banaso at Sikat, 1906) that the city recovers its metonymic potential; that is, its function of establishing those intricate mediations between private or psychic obsessions and the imperatives of class struggle.
From the twenties to the forties, when Filipino writers strove to wield English as an expressive medium, the city loomed as a felt absence, an unknown integer whose plural significations coexisted with all the empty longings, disillusionments, resignations of peasants and young people in love trapped in villages and farms. Examples of this genre range from Jose Garcia Villa’s “Footnote to Youth” (1933), Paz Marquez Benitez’s “Dead Stars” (1925), Delfin Fresnosa’s “Tragedy at Lumba’s Bend” (1937), and Juan Laya’s novel His Native Soil (1941). The trend is broken by Narciso Reyes’s “Tinuhuang Lupa” (1943) where the retreat from the city occupied by Japanese invaders brings about a rediscovery of authentic national identity through contact with the soil, folk customs, organic impulse, etc.7
Only in three writers–Arturo Rotor, Hemando Ocampo, Manuel Arguilla–do we find the realistic transcript of city experience treated as a means of projecting the totality of social life which has been hidden, occluded, or suppressed in the immediacy of pure feelings or abstract notions. Rotor remains the only Filipino writer in English who has seriously described the lives of prisoners (see, for example, “Convict’s Twilight,” 1937) as a critical mirror of the whole society, an antithetical image to the predatory individualism of the city (Yabes 1956, 298-308; see Rotor 1937). In contrast, the elegiac celebration of urban pathos, the pathos of workers’ lives circumscribed by physical need, scarcity, and exploitation, find expression in the stories of Hemando Ocampo (for example, “We or They,” 1940), and continued in the postwar stories of Serafin Guinigundo, Andres Cristobal Cruz, D. Paulo Dizon, Teodoro Agoncillo, and the generation associated with KADIPAN, an organization of Tagalog writers in the universities.8 For his part, Arguilla (1940,175-99) attempted to explode the profit-centered milieu of the city by a relentless diagnosis of the panicked sensibilities of petty bourgeois characters fighting to survive and maintain their dignity (see his “Caps and Lower Case”); Arguilla’s 1940 collection of stories, How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Stories, signaled the exhaustion of the pastoralizing trend in Philippine writing; and heralded the advent of a cosmopolitan openness on the eve of the Japanese occupation of Manila. Such a decisive event, such as the British capture of Manila in the eighteenth century, released energies directed to the revival of Tagalog as the viable medium of expression and communication. On the other hand, the destruction of Manila by Japanese dynamite and U.S. bombs precipitated its crystallization into myth precisely because of its loss.
The single Filipino author who has elevated the city of Manila into archetypal stature is Nick Joaquin. In his famous essay “La Naval de Manila” (1943), Joaquin asserts that “the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy” of the Filipino nation was created by Spanish colonial tyranny, not by the people’s struggle for liberation. And it is Christianity, its doctrine of free will, that freed us from pagan custom and taboo, “the tight fixed web of tribal obedience.” The Spanish legacy is embodied in Manila whose patron saint, the Holy Virgin of the Rosary, is responsible for miraculously saving the city in 1646 from the clutches of Dutch Protestant heresy. The city preserves “the prime work of Christianity,” namely, “the awakening of the selt, this release and expansion of the consciousness” Joaquin 1964, 32).- The city then symbolizes Christian freedom emblematized by the annual celebration of “La Naval de Manila,” a religious procession in honor of the Virgin. Without this devotion to the Virgin, Joaquin alleges, Filipinos will not possess “a sense of infinity,” of “being at home in history.”
Together with the least for the Virgin, Intramuros or (he Walled City represents, for Joaquin, a standard to measure and judge the quality of modem progress. The choral narrator of Joaquin’s play, A Portrait of the Artist at Filipiino, apostrophizes Manila as the antediluvian, paradisal origin before the Fall:
Intramuros! The old Manila, The original Manila. The Noble and Ever Loyal City.
To the early conquistadores she was a new Tyre and Sidon; to the early missionaries she was a New Rome. Within these walls was gathered the wealth of the Orient–silk from China; spices from Java; gold and ivory and precious stones from India. And within these walls the Champions of Christ assembled to conquer the Orient for the Cross. Through these old streets once crowded a marvelous multitude–viceroys and archbishops; mystics and merchants; pagan sorcerers and Christian martyrs; nuns and harlots and elegant marquesas; English pirates, Chinese mandarins, Portuguese traitors, Dutch spies, Moro sultans, and Yankee clipper captains. For three centuries this medieval town was a Babvlon in its commerce and a New Jerusalem in its faith. . . This is the Calle Real–the main street of the city, the main street of the land, the main street of our history. Through this street the viceroys made their formal entry into the city. And on this street the principal families had their town houses– splendid ancient structures with red-tiled roofs and wrought-iron balconies and fountains playing in the interior patios (Joaquin in Casper 1966, 312).
The house of Don Lorenzo Marasigan (and it is the house which defines time and space, interpellating subjects to take up their positions in society), where survivors of the 1896 Revolution gathered every year to watch the Naval procession, functions as “the conscience” of the city, upholding traditional civic virtues against commodity-fetishism and the reified exchanges of the market. World War II destroys the house so that, with the influx of displaced rural folk into the city, it is left to the artist (personified by Bitoy) to preserve the city now only as a trope of the imagination:
It is gone now–that house. . . . It finally took a global war to destroy this house and the three people who fought for it. . . . They died with their house and they died with their city–and maybe it’s just as well they did. They could never have survived the death of the old Manila. And yet–listen!–it is not dead; it has not perished! . . . Your city–my city–the city of our lathers–still lives! Something of it is left; someihing of it survives, and will survive, as long as I have and remember—I who have known and loved and cherished these things! (He stoops down on one knee and makes a gesture of scooping earth.)
Oh Paula, Candida–listen to me! By your dust and by the dust of all the generations, I promise to continue, I promise to preserve! The jungle may advance, the bombs may fall again–but while I live, you live–and this dear city of our affections shall rise again–if only in my song! (Joaquin in Casper 1966, 38l-82)
With allusive eloquence, Joaquin is endeavoring to recapitulate in his art the Platonic evocation of the ancient city, implicitly invoking Legaspi’s founding act of fusing the king’s secular power and the priest’s divine-magical wisdom, the military machine and religious mythology. Lewis Mumford (1967, 13) reminds us of this utopian function of the city in history.
As Fustel de Coulanges and Bachofien pointed out a century ago the city was primarily a religions phenomenon; it was the home of a god and even the city wall points to this super-human origin; for Mircea Eliade is probably correct in inferring that its primary function was to hold chaos at bay and ward off inimical spirits. This cosmic orientation, these mythic religious claims, this royal preemption of the powers and functions of the community are what transfoirned the mere village or town into a city: something ‘out of this world,’ the home of a God . . . The city itself was transmogrified into an ideal form–a ghmpse of eternal order a visible heaven on earth, a seat of the life abundant–in other words utopia.10
What I suggested earlier as a binary opposition between the city and the countryside may serve to organize my comment here on Joaquin’s novella, The Woman Who Had Two Navels. The chief protagonist, Paco Texeira, born and bred in Macao and Hong Kong where East and West interpenetrate, succumbs to the spell of postwar Manila residents Dofia Concha Vidal and her daughter. Manila serves the twin function of metaphoric vehicle for reconciling contradictions, or alternatively a synchronic device to advance Paco’s quest for self-fulfillment. I quote the beginning of a long passage to illustrate this point:
By the rime he met the Senora de Vidal he had become deeply interested in Manila and was ready to be interested in any woman who most piquantly suggested that combination of primitive mysticism and shek modernity which he felt to be the special temper of the city and its people: pert girls dancing with abandon all night long in the cabarets and fleeing in black veils to hear the first Mass at dawn boys in the latest loudest Hollywood styles with American slang in their mouths and the crucifix on their breasts streets ornate with movie palaces and jammed with traffic through which leaf crowned and barefooted penitents earned a Black Christ in procession–and always, up there above the crowds and hot dust and skeleton ruins and gay cabarets: the mountains, and the woman sleeping in a silence mighty with myth and mystery for she was the ancient goddess of the land (said the people) sleeping out the thousands years of bondage; but when at last she awoke, it would be a Golden Age again for the land: no more suffering; no more toil; no rich and poor Joaquin 1972, 174).
Joaquin’s later stones, such as “Candido’s Apocalypse” in which the pressures of urban middle-class one-upmanship are registered in the main character’s adolescent revolt against adult norms, and particularly “The Order of Melkizedek,” Joaquin’s prophetic or utopian impulse drives him to incorporate the primal, mythical impulses of the countryside into his vision of a resurrected Manila.
In stories such as “Guardia de Honor,” and “May Day Eve,” and “Summer Solstice,” the city occupies the foreground as an actor or protagonist in a drama of cross-purposes and epiphanic reversals. Manila seems to approximate Henri Lefrbvre’s (1971, 205-6) notion of the rediscovery of the Festival, though in another context. Custom and tradition channel erotic drives into ritual and ceremony inseparable from the city’s corporative life: “In October, a breath of the north stirs Manila, blowing summer’s dust and doves from the tile roofs, freshening the moss of old walls, as the city festoons itself with arches and paper lanterns for its great votive feast to the Virgin” Joaquin 1972, 123). While the city, in “May Day Eve,” presents family tradition and memory as agencies resolving the characters’ moral predicaments, in “Summer Solstice,” Joaquin contraposes to the patriarchal order of the Walled City the feminine aspect of the countryside, in this case the Paco suburb of 1850 where the primitive rite of the Tadtarin, centered on a fertility cult of a mother goddess, restores in a dramatic moment the pre-Spanish ascendancy of women in society. At this point, one may note how this centrifugal movement to the outskirts of the Walled City symptomatically betrays the cracks and fissures in Joaquin’s myth.
Both the allusion to the female profile of the mountains in The Woman Who Had Two Navels and the resuscitation of the fertility goddess in “Summer Solstice” can be interpreted as Joaquin’s unconscious attempt to exorcise the negative, the contradictory force opposing the patriarchal city, instead of being read as an indictment of the myth and an affirmation of the primitive. We can see Joaquin confronting the historical contradictions already grasped by the author of La Loba Negra, by Balagtas and Rizal, but his way of resolving such contradictions proceeds by an effort to absorb and institutionalize the irrational, the repressed. In “The Order of Melkizedek,” the sectarian movement trying to revive a pre-Christian cult of a fertility god uses as headquarters an old nunnery in the Walled City. Joaquin’s point of view Sid Estiva, absent from Manila for ten years, sketches the decline of the city, the loss of homogeneity and cohesion:
This way, thought Sid, jol4ng through downtown, a Manila his backside did not recall. If I closed my eyes, this could he the dirt road to a childhood summer in the provinces. But how shut eyes as agape now as then at the primitive? Rizal’s image of the city as a frail girl wearing her grandmother’s finery no longer fitted; this was a dirty old broad got up all wrong in a ye-ye girl’s clothes. The old city walls that came into view across the soiled air and a bridgeful of chaos astonished with their look of calm and dignity Joaquin 1972, 219).11
This montage or juxtaposition of temporal layers, a metaphoric substitution as static as Ezra Pounds’s ideogrammic style, informs the thematic layout of Joaquin’s other stories–“A Pilgrim Yankee’s Progress,” “The Mass of St. Sylvester,” “Three Generations,” etc.–and though the city unfolds a thick, multilayered grid of contradictions, the glory of its past affords a mystifying and transcendental mechanism to obscure and cancel those real-life conflicts, tensions, antagonisms. The war constitutes a turning point where the city as a metaphor for Jerusalem disappears, buried by the acute sense of time as a process of cyclic unfolding or a quasi-allegorical spiral where periodic climaxes of self-discovery serve merely to reinforce familial and clan pieties. It might not be altogether premature to conclude here that Joaquin conceives of the Filipino experience as so many varied permutations on the historic predicaments and moral crises that transpired in the Walled City of Intramuros, but this time, spatially, the stage has moved to the plush, gentrified suburbia of Metro Manila once inhabited by farmers with carabaos and wooden plows. For all his subtie skill in deploying time shifts and loops in his narrative sequence, Joaquin could not insert in his text the reality of what in the seventies Intramuros contains: the monumental headquarters of U.S. transnational corporations–the totality of global monopoly capitalism. Circa 1990s, Intramuros reflects a postmodern pastiche of the local and global, with Japanese products (electronics mainly) dominating a landscape of dilapidated government buildings and unconscionable pollution everywhere.
Myth and metaphor could not survive the literal annihilation of its support; reduced to ruins, Manila becomes dispersed in a constellation of gratuitous images signifying alienation. Manuel Viray’s poem “Elegies,” for example, fashions a montage of impressions laid out in metonymic sequence. “The past is a scar,” descants the poet in an unwitting riposte to Joaquin: “Here in the hard city block summer/Brings rank smell of estero and your smile…” (Viray in Agcaoili  1971, 314). Another postwar poet, Amado Unite, engages in a similar rendering of the city as an epitome of what Lukacs termed “reification,” the reduction of human relationship to the mechanical connection between things:
Not one window now may mend
My manhood my house by the street
Of slow and rapid transit and
No door define or divide me
A secret and definite geography.
Yet they hand a blue anomaly between
My walldog and the oblique day.
I can not fly them, house or manhood,
In the dead and dessicated city.
-“Manhood in a House in Cahildo”
(Viray in Agcaoili  1971, 309)
Occupied by the Japanese military forces on 2 January 1942 and relinquished by them reluctantly in February 1945 not without fierce hand-to-hand combat, Manila was wiped out by both the enemy’s incendiary and the liberator’s bombs. Next to Warsaw, Poland, it was the most gutted and devastated city of the war. Millions suffered atrocities, tens of thousands were killed in Intramuros. Under the stress of utter privations during the war years sprung a solidarity hitherto absent in the Darwinian milieu depicted by Arguilla and Ocampo in the thirties, a communal unity vividly captured by Amado V. Hemandez in his article “Pasko ng 1944 at Iba pang Mga Araw” (Christmas of 1944 and Other Days). I translate his original Tagalog (Cruz 1970, 188):
More than at any other time, the old walls that divided the citizens, walls of three levels and classes obtaining in pre-war Manila, collapsed under the force of circumstance. In the ordeals of misery suffered by the majority, and amid hovering perils, the owners of property were forced to step down on bare earth and mix with the ordinary people. In those days, quite unexpectedly, the power which money and material possessions commanded faded away.
This leveling of status, however, concealed within it the sharpening of class dissensions, as shown in Hernandez’s epic chronicle of the war Bayang Malaya (1969) where villages under guerrilla control displaced Manila as the organized reservoir of energies, wills, dreams. In his earthy notations of city life, exuberant market scenes and comic-farcial festivities particularly in slum areas such as Tondo (a radical shift in spatial and aesthetic orientation in contrast to Joaquin), Hernandez reaffirms the self-renewing folk energies and dynamic futurism of the plebeian and proletarian majority which, in Mikhail Baktin’s cogent commentary, informs the fantastic urban allegories of Rabelais.12
Hernandez’s militant empathy for the underprivileged, outcasts and victims of class exploitation defined the aesthetic and moral sensibility of a whole generation of writers in the sixties and seventies: for example, Ave Perez Jacob, Lualhati Bautista, Levy Balgos de la Cruz, and Rogeho Ordoflez. Manila, in these writers’ conceptions, displayed itself as the microcosm of the class-divided social totality in which personal compulsions coalesced into coHective responses, but in the same breath these committed writers located within it those recalcitrant and disruptive forces that challenged the hegemony of the dominant elite who owned the material structures in the city, who controlled not just the physical artifacts but als4 the psychic patterns of life. In Hernandez’s novel Mga Ibong Mandarqgit (Birds of Prey, 1969), and stories such as “Langaw sa Isang Basong Gatas” and “Ipinanganak ang Isang Kaaway ng Sosyedad” (c. 1955) and his prison poems in Isang Dipang Langit (1962), the decentering of the city as the goal and object of the struggle unfolds, culminating in the dispossession of squatters from their ancestral land as private urban housing encroaches. This topographical fusion of individual predicaments and the hidden mechanisms of capital investment and extraction of surplus value in Hernandez’s art eclipses the banality of petty bourgeois opportunism recorded in the superficially urbane fiction of Kerima Polotan-Tuvera and Gilda Cordero-Fernando, proving once more that the significance of the city in literature inheres in its metonymic, temporal dimension.
Before concluding, I would like at this point to explain why Manila is the only Philippine city that has preoccupied Filipino writers in addition to what I have already said. The empirical evidence insists on the following: the Manila urban complex is today the country’s most populous and most industrialized region. As the prime market and manufacturing center of an archipelago of seven thousand islands, it has experienced far greater growth in the last three decades than the whole nation in terms of population and purchasing power. Two-fifths of more than eleven thousand large-scale manufacturing establishments are found in the Manila area; they employ more than half of the total work force, and about two-thirds of all women workers (Cutshall 1964, 74; see also Wernstedt and Spencer 1967, 142, 276-78).
As distribution center, Manila’s foreign trade surpasses in value that of all the other ports of entry combined. With the huge amount and variety of managerial talents, the abundant supply of diverse skilled labor; with the terminus of transportation lines located there; Manila as a conurbation of over twelve million (compare the 1939 population of 623,493) easily functions as the administrative, educational, financial, cultural, and commercial center of the nation. Formed not by the industrial revolution but by colonization and imperialist annexation, Manila as the primate city–the most Westernized in monsoon Asia, according to one geographer–has preempted other sites in the Filipino imagination in its dual role of centralizing, paradigmatic authority and as interlinking, syntagmatic influence.
In the seventies up to January 1981, the crisis of Western hegemony over the Third World reached a critical stage in the victory of the Indo-Chinese people’s war against imperialist aggression and in the upsurge of popular resistance from Iran to Zimbabwe and Nicaragua. In most of these underdeveloped regions, the theory and practice of proctracted people’s war, first formulated and applied by Mao Zedong in China, spelled the doom of the neocolonial cities by the revenge of the countryside, and by analogy’ the overthrow of the metropolitan power preying on these cities. For the Philippines, the strategy was proposed by Amado Guerrero in his epochal work Philippine Society and Revolution (1971).
Chairman Mao’s strategic principle of encircling the cities from the countryside should be assiduously implemented. It is in the countryside where the enemy can be compelled to spread his forces thinly and lured into areas where the initiative is completely in our hands. In the countryside, we can develop several fighting fronts, ranging in quality from guerrilla zones to base areas. We can turn the most backward areas in the countryside into the most advanced political, military, economic, and cultural bastions of the revolution. We can create the armed independent regime in the countryside even before defeating the enemy in the side cities (Guerrero 1971, 282-83).
What underlies this perspective is the key principle of uneven development of the social structure whose articulation in literature oscillates between metaphoric and metonymic tracks.
In the late sixties and early seventies, the idea of the city as an immense prison (a mutation of the image of the besieged Intramuros, and later of Fort Santiago where the national hero Rizal was held before his execution and where thousands of guerillas were tortured and murdered by the Japanese) informed the writings of political prisoners such as Edgar Maranan, Jose Maria Sison, Fr. Ed de la Torre, etc. Before martial law was imposed in 1972 and converted Manila into a militarized bunker, the city’s atmosphere as an anarchic jungle where each pedestrian resembles a rabid wolf stalking the streets pervaded the works of Rogello Mangahas, Jose Lacaba, Ricardo Lee, and others. This mood and motif attain melodramatic scenario in Edgardo Reyes’s novel Sa Niga Euko rig Liwanag (1966), replicating the recurrent romantic theme of chaste woman from the villages lured and raped in the city and the naive, trusting youth from the province driven to roam the alleys like a beast with fangs bared (Reyes 1966, 54).13 We thus recapitulate here the moment in La Loba Negra where, metonymically, the contagion of violence and corruption in Intramuros engenders the fierce Black She-Wolf the precursor of Joaquin’s iconoclastic heroines, encircling the city from the countryside.
In the late seventies, Manila continued to suck in the uprooted and dislocated masses of 65 million. This entailed a tremendous acceleration of density (particularly in slums where over two million people live and two thousand persons occupy a hectare or 2.47 acres) and exhaustion of resources. According to 1977 World Bank statistics, 39 percent of families (90 percent of slum dwellers) in Manila subsist below the poverty threshold of US$250 per person (Christian Science Monitor, 18 September 1980, 836). Under the Marcos dictatorship, where profits from export industries determined priorities, the policy of maintaining a steady supply of cheap labor by uprooting and dislocating millions of peasants guaranteed the perpetuation of the vast slum areas. One can speculate that this invasion of the city may be deemed a mock rehearsal of the encirclement strategy. But there is more than a rhetorical nuance to this sociohistorical upheaval, for historically the authoritarian regime of the ancient city based on its military machine was limited and “passively challenged by the archaic, democratic, life-conserving village culture that has always embraced the larger part of mankind” (Manuel 1967, l9-20).14
Should we then abolish the city, as Blake, Thoreau, William Morris, and others have argued? Or should we capture it?
Filipino partisans of the progressive imagination reply: when the producers and creators of social wealth have begun to mobilize their transforming powers, even as the writers arc remolding their consciousness and linguistic practice, the city will finally lose its privileged position as a machine wielded and directed by a parasitic minority, an oligarchic elite subservient to transnational corporate interests, and eventually become a hospitable and ferule milieu for human reason and desire. By then, the city as the primordial symbol of a lost metaphysical plenitude will disappear, yielding to the city as the metonymy or narrative of a self-renewing praxis in which the objective, dynamic, and sensuous world–the raw material and produce of collective action–will provide the conditions for abolishing the historic demarcation between city and countryside, the outcome of social development from feudalism to capitalism. This revolutionary praxis will resolve the contradiction between intellectual and manual labor, allowing the imagination its playful transcendence over nature in a process by which the city metamorphoses into its Other, the garden of worldly pleasures. One poetic evocation of this dialectical promise may be glimpsed in a poem by Maria Jovita Zarate entitied “Kalatas Mula sa Lunsod” written in the late eighties:
Pinadadarang ng mga mararamot no balita
at mabatutna na grinita
ang aming pakuhipaginaggak dito so tonsod.
Ang arning pahkitaka- pug-en/atm so raga tonsangan.
Iwaitisgaywoy namin ang toga bandito rig psgbabali*rvas
sa pabrika’t pagawnan rig psgsasarnantaia,
so toga esters’t paso/i rig priganrobop
sa toga p/nsa ‘C liwatan rig prigintubos
(Zarate in Aguila, Agulto, and Valerlo 1989,108).
The selfish news and flourishing memory
inflame our struggles here in the city.
In the city streets our combat will intensify.
We shall wave high the banner of revolt
in factories and shops of exploitation,
in the sewers and gutters of poverty,
in the plazas and commons of redemption.
It would seem that the infernal city of patriarchal domination portrayed in Lualliati Bautista’s Bata5 Bata. . . Pa’ao Na Ginatea? (1983), or the more treacherous labyrinths of the street urchins poignantiy drawn by Ricardo Lee in Si Tatarig at Mga Himata ng Ating Panahon (1988), will soon be liberated by columns of angelic, dark-skinned warriors approaching from all directions. If this vision indeed materializes, what would we find in Manila? In February 1854, the great Russian writer Ivan Goncharov (K 8541 1975, 12) visited Manila for ten days and was astonished that instead of confronting “a poetry of disintegration” (especially after catastrophic earthquakes), he witnessed order, cleanliness, and abundance in Intramuros and its surroundings. But the native women uncannily disturbed him: “The quick-eyed Tagal women, busy in their huts or around about them, suddenly raise their eloquent eyes to gaze at passers-by with either a question or a taunt or whatever it may be.” And in the cigar factory, Goncharov encountered again those questioning gazes: “How many heads swung around toward us, how many black, arch eyes turned on us! All were silent and none said a word, but their eyes functioned very effectively and their hands even more so. . . . However, strict propriety was observed in the factory. The Indian women do not laugh or talk; they have only the right to pound” (Goncharov F18541 1975, 40).15 After a century and a half we still hear the pounding of those women in the markets, homes, factories, tourist fleshpots, government offices, and military prisons of greater Manila–a bondage soon to be overtaken by the avenging furies of the villages and farms that the city has long ravished and laid to waste.