Fresco Filipinas: Manila

Most people have heard of the internet sensation “Fresco Jesus” but not many are aware of Fresco Filipinas. While the painting vandalized out of innocence and goodwill by an amateur artist old lady with goodness in mind to save her favorite painting and banned from the premises, can we say the same for Fresco Filipinas?

Fresco Filipinas is a word I just coined in lieu with the viral photos being posted on the internet. Like Frescho Jesus, it is a defacement of something beautiful like the country, the Philippines. In the hands of amateur artists? well not all are exactly artists and not everyone exactly amateurs, they could be people in a position with certain expected skills and plans to beautify this country. In fact, some are professionals even if not all are fully trained or schooled in the field of improving and maintaining the aesthetic beauty of the country and its metropolis. I’m not saying all politicians are contributing to the backwardness of urban planning and heritage building / maintenance of the country. Whoever thinks that way is just truly illogical. To say that is just absurd just as saying that Fresco Filipinas is painted by innocent hands of professionals and citizens alike.

The city of Manila is supposed to be the icon of the country. The airport is situated here and speaks a lot about how we handle our international visitors and how they see us. They are supposed to see culture and former colonial heritage but crime and congestion are the main landmarks of this city. Every heritage and landmark are filled with it. The proclaimed capital by the Spanish and was one of the most wrecked cities in the world during WWII by the American bombs killing both innocent citizens and Japanese soldiers. But not everybody knows that and not everybody knows what the walled city was before the Spaniards called it as “Intramuros”. Our history is painted by the colonizers and that is what is taught in most schools until, hopefully college or university level. Well, we know it was harshly destroyed by the war and renovations did have to happen but what happened to this formerly glorious city? Seems like taste went away with the bombs and the ruins.

Rococo is supposed to be an art form but in this case, it’s just a mish-mash of clutter against landmarks and heritage buildings. The Jeepney, a cultural symbol of Filipino ingenuity and resourcefulness, is an example of Rococo art work also symbolizes the 3rd world rococo style of the metropolitan. Congestion, traffic, bad drivers and air pollution. It is both a cultural icon and a defacement. A pride and bane. A convenience and a problem. The blame mostly points to the masses. The squatters, the uneducated who litter on the streets, pollute on the rivers and the canals, endanger the parks, the vandals and so on. They are the audience of the artwork who have grown with it and so used it and turned it to trash. They aren’t all that innocent. But they aren’t also the cause of much of the defacement of the city.

The second to blame are always the always corrupt often incapable politicians and/or government. From what I gather from this Inquirer article by Constantino Tejero entitled “How Manila has become a portrait of ugliness” (The article which inspired me to write down my thoughts in this blog), Urban Planning is almost non-existent in many areas of the metro. If it is, then it’s probably not effective except with the major trade and investment cities like Makati / BGC.    I guess I’m not alone in saying how politicians use Urban Planners in order to 1) fatten their wallets and/or 2) get the votes of the masses for the next election. There was a comment regarding when they wanted a celebrity-popular architect who is talented, yet inexperienced to urban plan. Why? it’s because she’s popular and the politicians can ride with her popularity to sky rocket votes. It’s very entertainment meets politics. From putting up an overpass to removing it within a year to create an underpass, to having trains built along heritage sites, not minding the regulations regarding historic sites to pursue poor urban planning, the list goes on.

While tourism is being chased by the government to boost up GDP and money in their pockets, officials thinking that it’s a win-win situation try to be clever in improving the state of the city. Sometimes these officials are putting on weak regulations and systems that will boost tourism in the short run. Remember the darn move of covering up the streets and the squatters with metal so the President of America can pass by without seeing the squatters? Hooray for the squatters anyway, the metal railings despite hurting their already down pride are getting money selling scraps. An increase of irresponsible locals and foreigners alike are expected with the increase of tourism, but how many of these regulations also protect the effects of increasing tourism in the country? Environmental degradation, human abuse such as child prostitution and the likes are again left behind.

Then there are those additions that are thought to increase the general efficiency of things. The bright lights of Manila and the hideous blue and pink lines of Metro Manila. I really cannot comprehend who in the right mind would allow such hideous monstrosity to be painted along the entire Metro Manila. Everything was just pink and blue. It was embarrassing and ugly to look at and those rails. I’d rather put up spiky plants on those islands to prevent people from crossing, I’m kidding of course. Then there’s Intramuros, the walled city of the squatters. The squatters are left alone and so are the developments of ugly buildings. In all honesty, the exterior or facade of the San Agustin Church is also hideous to me. Was it colored pink, peach or yellow  or all that was mentioned in contrast to the other gray masonry of the Church? It also charges money for the Museum entrance. I’m not sure how I feel about that. hmm. I was never charged with visiting the grand Basilicas of Rome but I think they charged for the Sistine Chapel?  Right outside the walled city of Intramuros, we have our ever popular and omniscient Jollibee, modern in design. I would love to see the entire Manila get a good renovation, to look historic. Sure it may not be as total a revamp as Paris was and is, it maybe similar to London where old meets new but old is wonderfully preserved. I’m just aghast to walk around Intramuros, squatters set up shops with scrap metals, buildings of different styles much using concrete, making this UNESCO protected city ugly and makes it loses its feel. I long for the day when you walk in the streets of Intramuros, to be protected as its citizens were and to get lost in the time of Colonial Manila.  They could have more than offices of random companies there such as small inns or maybe a library and a newly made garden or remade houses of the past. To go outside the walled city and still feel like you are in a protected cultural place where the buildings create a sense of harmony, identity and feel. Like you were walking on the glorious Manila of the pictures and the drawings of the old. Giving Carlos Celdran an entire playground for his magnetic tours. But even the Mayor washes his hands off the ugliness that engulfs Manila, but he is the one responsible for those tacky ultra-bright lights that looms over the entire Roxas Boulevard towards China town. So who is responsible for this city then when we don’t even know who’s responsible for its ugliness.

For Pico Iyer to once write many many years ago that Manila smelled like trash much to the angry comments by onion-skinned (sensitive) citizens, it can’t be that all blame is to go to the poor or the government alone. Some of these citizens showed no love in the first place but had their pride bruised upon such comments. Then we have those who cared but only shake their head in agreement (whether by honest agreement or only by association to this literary idol, take your pick.) This is an example of how pride isn’t always love and love isn’t always pride. Sometimes, the most seemingly innocent citizens are the ones who innocently / not-so-innocently vandalize the fresco that is the Philippines with their own paintbrush.

However I do not want to end my blog in a very negative tone. Of course, there have been improvements with regards to improving the general look of the city. Plastic bags have been banned (environmental issues are still debatable with more trees being cut, i don’t know if they address this problem) and the pink and blue lines have lessened. The tacky mismatched lights have become somewhat less tacky even if they have increased in number. Still, this ugliness that plagues the metropolitan is probably the reflections of a sick city that the national hero Rizal noted in his famous novels. I cannot end this in  a merry tone because it isn’t. I want my foreign friends to visit me that’s why they must visit the city but I mostly tell them they might have more fun and see more beautiful things when they go out of the capital. Sad, but true. Harsh, but real. I doubt these problems will be fixed in this generation because in reality, it has gotten worse.

That’s Fresco Filipinas, a glorious thing painted ugly and not out of innocence and desire to help. Where the Fresco Jesus was once not very popular, the city was. When the Fresco Jesus became an internet sensation, Manila wasn’t. Unlike the Fresco Jesus however, it is always being repainted. Various people with responsibilities are busy condemning others for the ugliness while washing their hands and failing because the other hand is trying to show off their skills and recreate-but failing the brush strokes and the colors of the painting to restore it to its former glory.


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