Sunday, June 28, 2009


Do you remember how then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza stonewalled on his rejection of a plea by cultural leaders and heritage conservationists not to demolish the old art-deco Jai-Alai building they claimed was a historical landmark? Atienza was in favor of a new hall of justice to take the place of an old edifice, perhaps a favorite hang-out once of our grandparents. He angrily scolded the civic leaders seeking retention of the original Jai-Alai building saying that these people had long neglected the structure until it became rickety and abandoned, where nothing about it was done. The former mayor said the building was an ugly reminder of its past as a gambling place where many lives were destroyed and the morals of the young were warped by gambling lords controlling the Basque Pelota games. This from a guy who moonlights as a valet for Manny Pacquiao, where gambling lords are known to bet heavily on the champ each time he boxes. Gambling as against justice for the people? Atienza argued no way would he give in to the demands of the petitioners to save a cultural heritage.

He may have a point here, but it is arguable. Many had said that if he really wanted a hall of justice, there was the old GSIS building right beside the Manila City Hall and several nearby government properties he could have easily asked for a song from Malacanang to build his proposed multi-million peso hall of justice.

The Jai-Alai in the 1930s and the 1940s wasn't just a gambling establishment. It was the venue for important official and social functions mostly at the Sky Room which was also a favorite place of President Quezon, and it was a place where important social events were held with the country's political, social and economic elite gathered, often led by the powerful Madrigal family which built the establishment. Jai-Alai then was not just a form of gambling. It was an elegant and genteel form of entertainment with all the fineries of European (Spanish) nobility, much like those seen in British peerage gatherings as the blue blood races at Ascot and the annual sculling contests between Harvard and Yale in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Atienza should never forget that Rome never tore down its famed Colosseum, which was the venue for glory gladiator fights, the massacre of Christian martyrs, and the scene of gruesome death combats by slaves to entertain blood-thirsty Romans. If the rulers then had the same time mindset shared by Atienza, that awe-inspiring ruins would be no more. Warsaw, Poland was the most destroyed city in World War II followed only by Manila. 83 percent of the city was bombed flat to the ground, and since then has risen to become one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Poles preserved all the remaining old buildings and went further by rebuilding those heritage edifices destroyed by the war. Even the cobblestones in most of the city were restored. As a result of such love for the past, the historic facade of Stare Miasto (Old Town) was reconstructed to include the impressive Royal Castle and Museum, and even the age-old royal apartments. They also restored Renaissance and Baroque Rynek Starego Miasta (The Market Square) even when there were others who urged these to be demolished.

Didn't they say, especially our old folks, that if you don't honor the past, there will be no future for you? But Atienza probably didn't have the time to be sentimental about the past long forgotten. He was too busy pushing to reach the top of the hill. And sometimes, when you have such apathy, you stumble.
Well, he's running for mayor again in Manila in 2010, perhaps not contented with his demolition jobs for Manila's historic edifices?

Remember the Mehan Garden? He tore it down too.

1 comment:

Jasper Greek Lao Golangco said...

As a child who grew up in downtown Manila, I can only reminisce about the beauty that was the Manila I knew.

I once joined a prayer rally held at the forest reserve in Arroceros, which Atienza also mercilessly had his way with.

The poor state of Luneta also serves as a tragic symbol of what has been lost. And with people like Atienza deciding on things like these, we will definitely lose more.