A Day’s  Tour in Manila
Posted on January 27th, 2018

Shelton A. Gunaratne professor emeritus, MSUM

During my recent (end of September) visit to the Philippines, I spent a whole day—a Friday—with five Asian communication scholars led by Crispin Maslog, (Philippines) the chairman of the board of directors of AMIC (Asian Media and Communication Center), on a tour of traffic-congested and polluted Greater Manilla.  Our team included John Lent (United States), Peixin Cao (China), Professor Zulu (Indonesia), me, and my spouse.

Maslog informed us that considering our departure schedules the next day, he would take us to a few selected spots that might be of professional interest to us mostly in and around the old city of Intramuros, which eventually was absorbed into the sprawling megapolis of Manila.  Because of the unruly traffic mess in Metro Manila, even the hardiest traveler cannot hope to explore more than a fistful of the city’s tourist attractions in one day.

Maslog’s plan included stops at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Sampaloc, the Manila Bulletin building in Intramuros, lunch at the Bayleaf Hotel and Restaurant overlooking the walls of the old city of Manila known as Intramuros, the AMIC headquarters at the Philippine Women’s University, and the Philippine International Convention Center. Our leisurely tour of these few places took the entire day.

Starting from our hotel in Mandaluyong City (part of metro Manila) mid-morning, our experienced driver cut through the traffic mess and brought us to the UST campus in Sampaloc, the oldest university of the Philippines, and of the whole of Asia, with a current student enrolment of about 43,000. It is a private nonprofit Roman Catholic research university established in 1611. It currently holds the fifth rank in academic standing among the 67 universities, colleges and other mostly private, higher education institutes in the National Capital Territory (Greater Manila) alone. (The top four are the University of the Philippines at Diliman, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, and the U of P System.) I wondered whether Sri Lanka would ever allow the proliferation of such a variety of higher-ed institutions considering the recent fuss over SAITM.

The purpose of our visit to UST was to confer with Jose Arsenio Salandanan, chairman of the department of communication and media studies in the faculty of arts and letters, and a few graduate students about how the department has de-Westernized communication theory to be more in tune with a resurgent Asia.  The university supplied Subway sandwiches for the participants to munch for lunch if they felt any hunger pangs.

Maslog, now 87, told us that UST was his alma mater in the 1950s. After graduation, he proceeded to America, where he attended the school of journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota to get his MA in 1962 and PhD in 1967. Back in the Philippines, he served as the director of the school of journalism at Silliman University in Dumaguete City and as a columnist for the Philippines Inquirer, a national daily.   Then, in 1982, he moved to the University of the Philippines at Los Banos as a professor.  He has edited or authored 35 books so far, including two released in 2017: Martial Law Joke Atbp, and Deconstruct to Understand: Why President Duterte Speaks His Way.

Maslog seemed overwhelmed by nostalgic memories of his undergraduate days at UST that our visiting team must also sense and feel. He celebrated his pride of these memories by showing us the glorious past of his alma mater at the next stop of our tour: the old city of Intramuros (meaning ‘walled city’) founded by the Spanish invaders who conquered the archipelago in the 16th century and made it the capital of the Philippines in 1571. The UST began its life in 1611 as Colegio de Nuestra Señora del Santisimo Rosario in Intramuros, about 5km southwest of its present location in Sampaloc.

The Spanish colonial government erected Intramuros with a moat around it on the ruins of a Malay settlement at the mouth of the Pasig River. The wall was for protection against foreign invasions; and for 400 years, Intramuros became the center of Spanish political, religious, and military power in the region. But it was nearly destroyed by the Japanese and the Americans during World War II. The government restored it as a tourist attraction in the 1980s.

We learnt that the Philippines’ second oldest daily newspaper, The Manila Bulletin, had its beginnings in Intramuros in 1900 with Carson Taylor, an American, as its founding editor and publisher. We visited the spot as an obligatory media professional duty and enjoyed sipping a cup of Starbuck coffee that we bought from the commercial coffee lounge located on the ground floor of the two-storey Bulletin building on Recolletos Street.

Next, we went to the nearby Bayleaf Intramuros, a hotel and restaurant at the Muralla corner, Victoria Street, for a sumptuous lunch while relaxing in the restaurant’s sky deck, which offered an uninterrupted 360-degree view of the entire Manila Bay skyline. Although we did not have the time to join a walking tour of its restored historic icons—Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, San Ignacio ruins, San Augustin Cathedral and Monastery, Barrio San Luis, etc.– we had a bird’s eye view of the entire complex, including Rizal Park, also known as Luneta, from the sky deck.

While I was relishing my Filipino lunch with my Asian colleagues, I could not help but recall with pleasure the encounters I had with a few other walled cities in the world: Chester by the River Dee in northwestern England, Leeds in West Yorkshire, and Xi’an in China. Although each had

Its own charm and unique attributes, Xi’an offered the best value for money as one of the world’s largest city walls. It was the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army.

We left Intramuros about mid-afternoon and headed for 1743 Taft Street to visit the AMIC head office now housed in the Philippine Women’s University (PWU), about 4 km southeast of Bayleaf.

One member of our group, John A. Lent, a prolific author of communication-related books, had arranged with Maslog to donate to the AMIC archives four of his (Lent’s) books, as well as       communication artifacts and research notes he collected to write the book titled ‘Philippine Mass Communication: Before 1911 and After1966.’ The donation also included Lent’s typed and handwritten abstracts of 627 book and magazine articles he compiled in 1964-65.

Lent was interested in Southeast Asia as a young American researcher, and he lived in the Philippines and Malaysia for considerable periods of time in the ‘60s and the ‘70s. He was a pioneer in initiating the journalism and communication program at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). After I got my doctorate in 1972, it was Lent who was instrumental in getting my lectureship at USM in Penang. I also wrote the chapters on Sri Lanka for two of the books he edited: ‘Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific’ (1978) and ‘Newspapers in Asia’ (1982). After he retired from his professorship at Temple University, he has devoted full-time attention to editing and publishing the International Journal of Comic Art, which he started in 1999.

Obviously, Lent wants Asian researchers to look deeper into his contribution to Asian mass media education. Maslog wanted our tour group to witness the hand-over at a makeshift ceremony attended by AMIC staff and three officials of the PWU: Arts and Sciences Dean Olivia Celeste Villafuerte; Media Director Lyca Benitez-Brown; and Academic Affairs SVP Felina Young. This event took about two hours.

This left us to decide whether we should visit the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City further to the south, considering the sunset had begun. It was President Marcos who got the Brutalist- style PICC built in two years by presidential decree (starting in 1974, and inaugurating it in 1976). It became the venue for Miss Universe 1994.

Maslog kept to the original itinerary of ending the tour at PICC just to show us the scenic bay area along the coast. The darkness of the evening discouraged us from even getting off our tour vehicle when we reached the venue.

We returned to our hotel to get ready for the next day (Saturday) departure.   

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