The Metropolitan Theater was designed by architect Juan M. Arellano (April 25, 1888 – December 5, 1960). He should have received the National Artist Award a long time ago.
I was at the renovated Manila Metropolitan last Wednesday, and relived my memories of what it was like as a teenager he introduced me to Beethoven performed by the Manila Symphony Orchestra conducted by Herbert Zipper. It was there that I attended my first Western ballet choreographed by Trudl Dubsky, the wife of Herbert Zipper. This is also where I watched my first Filipino-English play by Wilfredo Guerrero.
In the 1930s, Plaza Lawton was the focal point for streetcars. Two magnificent buildings dominated the Plaza – the Post Office, like a massive Greek temple and, across the expanse, perhaps the most beautiful structure in the country, the Metropolitan is now classified in the Rococo style, but I would love it. consider modern Filipino; it is so different from the Cultural Center which is massive, angular and reminiscent of fascist architecture under the Hitler regime.
There was not a single tree in Plaza Lawton until WWII – across the avenue, the sunken moat gardens of Intramuros and the massive walls.
But back to the Metropolitan. It was then the coldest cinema, colder than any of the Escolta and Avenida cinemas. In the mornings and afternoons, films were shown at the Metropolitan, and the evenings were reserved for concerts and stage presentations.
The acoustics of the old Metropolitan were superb. Fely Vallejo, the soprano, sang without a microphone. I was shocked by the new metropolitan interior; sounds garish to me, and the sound system running at full throttle could shatter an old eardrum like mine.
I met at the Met Yul Servo, the young actor who played the main role of Pepe Samson in his stage presentation at the Cultural Center, directed by this brilliant playwright, Rody Vera. I missed Yul, and now I know why. He had entered politics and is now a member of Congress representing the first district of Manila, Santa Cruz – the Bambang region. I told him that I spent four years there in the accessory of my uncle de Requesens, enrolled as I was at the FEU high school in Azcarraga. Yul told me about his agenda and his plans. He belongs to the new generation of politicians who are the hope of the country.
This week’s column begins with a presentation of the Metropolitan Theater, venerable by our standards, I’m glad it has been refurbished to show our people the creative way in which we can express the outstanding elements of our culture, and to define Filipino architecture in the hope that it emerges with its own unique identity, like Chinese or Japanese architecture, buildings that reflect our Filipino, our aesthetic. Aesthetically, there is a tendency to exaggerate, to fill the space – look at the Philippine garden in contrast to the Japanese garden. We love the bright colors and loud music that borders on noise. All these elements – how to integrate them in our buildings and in our houses without these innovations or architectural expressions distorting or hindering the function? What are the aesthetic sources, the roots of Filipino architecture – the Nipa house, the Ifugao house, the massive posts of the traditional Maranao house – is there still one?
The late Francisco T. Mañosa tried. I don’t really know the answers to these questions, and we can’t afford to experiment with so many new forms because once built they become permanent and become part of the landscape.
Gat Bonifacio Award
I was at the Metropolitan last Wednesday night because the city of Manila was celebrating its 450th anniversary. I also received the Gat Bonifacio de la Ville award as an exceptional Manileño. If only because I’ve lived in this city since 1938, I think I deserve it. A few words now on Andres Bonifacio. He is a true Filipino hero, just like José Rizal. The left tried to hoist him as its patron saint, higher than Rizal who “avoided the revolution”, compared to Bonifacio who started it.
This debate was all the rage in the 1950s, but it seems to be dead. I admire Bonifacio, there is no doubt about it, but I think he was too impulsive and careless, going to Tejeros without a strong contingent; in fact, he should never have accepted this meeting. There is no if in history, but if he had lived, the Pact of Biak-na-Bato with the Spaniards would not have taken place, and his Revolution would have triumphed. And now, in our truncated time, is the Revolution still a Filipino need today? I will say yes, and I will continue to define it in Marxist terms, the transfer of power from the oppressor to the oppressed.
Today, made worse by this pandemic, thousands of Filipinos are hungry, many only eating once a day. As I have said so many times, this poverty is the biggest lure in recruiting the Communist Party. But as I have also said so often, Filipino revolutionaries no longer need to resort to arms. The Communist Party’s protracted war is bankrupt, and a successful revolution can now be fought if we have more politicians like Manila Mayor Isko Domagoso, Congressman Yul Servo and the host of innovative young city politicians. I’m grateful to Mayor Isko for my award, but more for what he’s doing for Manila now, exemplifying what determined leaders can accomplish. With more like him, we can still see the Philippines joining the First World. So let’s use our ballots with caution next year.
American resolution against Duterte
Meanwhile, a US Congressional resolution passed by some Democrats “prohibits the sale of military weapons to the Philippines because they are used to kill Filipinos.” It reminds me of when I was lobbying against the sugar block. This is the work of President Duterte’s opponents in the United States. Our embassy in Washington can immediately counter this by sending pro-Duterte literature to the committees of the US Congress: Foreign Relations, Ways and Means, and Appropriations. In addition to our embassy in Washington, I hope the Philippines has a registered lobbyist in Washington.
But whether or not America helps us with weapons, we need them not only to end the NPA rebellion, but to defend our sovereignty. As I have suggested so many times, we should be able to build our own armaments like Korea and Taiwan. We already have the capacity to build fast ships and patrol boats to monitor our maritime territory. Ultimately, our defense is our responsibility.