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Portrait of the City and the Suburban Manila

Updated on April 16, 2014
Manila | Source

Manila is the capital and chief port of the Philippines. It is located in Manila Bay, a protected inlet of the South China Sea in southwestern Luzon island. The city's location makes it central to both domestic and foreign trade. Manila lies some 1,500 miles (2,400 km) northeast of Singapore, 1,000 miles (1,600 km) northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, and 700 miles (1,100 km) southeast of Hong Kong. It has a humid tropical climate, with little monthly variation from the average annual temperature of 80° F (27° C). The dry season, from March to June, is followed by heavy rains until November. Mount Pinatubo (active volcano) is about 50 miles (80 km) from Manila.

The City

Manila proper is divided into 14 districts, 7 north of the Pasig, 6 south, and 1 split by the river. Although the skyline is rising, extensive horizontal spaces remain packed with stores and street vendors.

Downtown Manila
Downtown Manila | Source

Intramuros, the original Walled City built by Spaniards near where the Pasig enters Manila Bay, was virtually destroyed by the Japanese in 1945. Of all its historic churches and government buildings, only the Church of San Agustín and Manila Cathedral have been reconstructed. The ruins of Fort Santiago, used by both the Spaniards and Japanese as a political prison, are a museum. The walls of Intramuros, 20 feet (6 meters) thick, are being restored. Within them are warehouses, shipping offices, and two colleges.

In an arc extending west, north, and east around Intramuros are the international piers of South Harbor, the interisland wharves of North Harbor, and the warehouses, retail stores, banks, ornate churches (Catholic, Aglipayan, and Iglesia ni Cristo), and well-attended movie houses of the San Nicolas, Binondo, Santa Cruz, and Quiapo districts. Within this crescent live many alien Chinese. Until the suburbs bloomed, the Escolta in Santa Cruz was Manila's most fashionable shopping street. Farther north, between North Harbor and the Tutuban central railroad station, is Tondo, the poorest and most densely populated part of the city. Farther northeast, retail stores have expanded rapidly into residential Sampaloc and San Miguel districts. The latter contains Malacañang, the palace for governors general and presidents since 1863.


South of the Pasig and east of Intramuros, stores also crowd Paco and Pandacan; but Santa Ana, to the southeast, has several expensive housing developments near its country club. Ermita and Malate, south of Intramuros and along the bay, are considered the most desirable inner-city residential sections. They also accommodate the post office, city hall, and national library on the edges of Rizal Park (an extensive renovation of the old Luneta parade grounds and promenade), the U.S. and many other embassies along Roxas (formerly Dewey) Boulevard, nightclubs, a spacious modern zoo, the Metropolitan Museum, miles of luxury hotels (many built for the 1976 International Monetary Fund—World Bank meeting), and the Cultural Center complex built on land reclaimed from Manila Bay.

The Cultural Center Building, dedicated in 1969, includes an auditorium where foreign artists perform, an experimental theater, a restaurant, and a fine-arts museum and music library. Around the structure have risen the Folk Arts Theater, an International Convention Center, and the Philippine Plaza Hotel.

Suburban Manila

Makati in Manila
Makati in Manila | Source

The outer ring of Metro Manila includes the urban zone on both sides of the Epifanio de los Santos Highway. This circumferential route begins at the Bonifacio Monument near the Malabon fishponds in the north and ends at Manila International Airport in the south.

Dominating that great arc are Makati, south of Manila, and Quezon City, in the northeast. Makati is a post-1960 maze of high-rises for banks, investment houses, and corporations, as well as several embassies. In the nearby Forbes Park, Dasmariñas, Urdaneta, and Magallanes sections are the guarded mansions of wealthy Filipinos. Quezon City radiates from the rotunda of the Quezon Memorial, built in honor of Manuel Quezon, president from 1935 to 1944. The city contains an increasing number of national government buildings. In 1949 the University of the Philippines was transferred from war-ravaged Ermita to a vast campus in Quezon City. Subsequently the Veterans Administration Hospital, the social security system, and agencies dealing with the sugar, tobacco, and coconut industries were located in Quezon City. The Interim National Assembly and its secretariat were added in 1978.


The administration of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos developed plans to relieve the crowding of Metro Manila by dispersing government functions, including the Quezon Institute (for tuberculosis) and the National Center for Mental Health, to the outskirts. In the process, increasingly valuable properties would be recovered for residential use. The dispersal plans, however, often went unrealized, and development even progressed in the opposite direction, as with the establishment of the Asian Heart Institute and the national Nutrition Center in Quezon City and Makati.

Meanwhile, strain on inner-city buses and "jeepneys" (colorful carriers adapted from surplus jeeps) has been lessened by Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City and Makati Commercial Center. The coliseum is a center for both popular sports and music, with shopping malls that became models for those in the Makati Center.


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