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Manila Series: Parks of Manila

The other day, I read the post of a friend who was ranting about how Manila can only be beautiful when seen from a specific light. I could understand what he means, because Manila is the center of traffic in the NCR. The poor are here in full force, the most corrupt policemen are here, and honestly, there is no discipline whatsoever.

But here’s something that I’ve discovered. You walk Manila. You don't drive it. It isn't the most walkable city in the world, but what can be seen when you do walk it is fantastic. And when you walk around the city, you don’t encounter the corrupt cops (because they’re going after the drivers), you don’t deal with traffic.

You can’t do anything about the poor, though. Unless they’re doing something productive, and not just begging, I avoid them. If they’re cleaning up trash, or something similar, then I give them cash.

The problem with this city is that people turned it into a port city. The rich moved away from its suburban corners after the war, and didn't take care of their lots. This is why there are plenty of squatter's areas here. This is also why Tondo, which is 1/3 of the fucking city, is gone to shit.

It doesn't help that people see it a chore to go to Manila, thinking that there’s nothing here. The thing is, everything is here. Most people just live far from this city. The fact is, some of the best food, the coldest beers, and the potentially nicest parks, can be found in this city. It’s all just hidden in a veneer of all the filth that can be found in it.

Let’s start with the parks, since people think that there is an insane dearth of parks in the metro. There are plenty of open public spaces that can be used on a daily basis by anybody – it just so happens that they’re mostly fairly hidden.

Plaza Raja Sulayman. From Wikimapia

Some of the most obvious: Luneta, the Mehan Gardens, the Lawton Forest Reserve, and Fort Bonifacio. There are plenty of other open spaces in the city, though. In Ermita, you have Plaza Ferguson (now the Plaza Nuestra SeƱora de Guia, which I find stupid) fronting Ermita Church. It’s not a fantastic park on its own, and I’d avoid it at night – as you should most parks in the country – but it’s a nice enough park. Down the street, closer to Malate, you have Plaza Raja Sulayman, which is practically the same as Plaza Ferguson – except that this park fronts Malate church, and is surrounded by the first big branch of Aristocrat, a Shakey’s pizza parlor, and across Roxas Boulevard, the Manila yacht club.

Closer to Paco, you have Paco Park, which is an old cemetery with a scenic park and a church at the center. While the grim reality of death isn’t exactly an endearing thing to consider, walking around Paco Park is actually a very nice idea for a date, especially considering the food places nearby. And then further down , near the Paco-Pandacan border, you have the Plaza de la Virgen. This plaza is right next to the busy Pandacan-Leon Guinto jeepney route, so it’s always busy. But the local government holds shows there quite often, and is a fairly nice gathering place.

St. Pancratius chapel in Paco Park Cemetery. Image from Philippine Weddings.

Away from this route, and closer to the Makati border, is the park called the Paradise of the Children of Manila (Paraiso ng Batang Maynila), which is a park and playground, modeled after the old playground fronting Manila Zoo. Then when you get to Pandacan, the first open plaza you will encounter is Liwasang Balagtas, which is the public plaza of the town of Pandacan. At night, the main fountain of the plaza enthralls its visitors with a lights and water show. Nearby is the first, and perhaps only, linear park in the city. This place is a combination recreational park and public space used by joggers and fitness enthusiasts, as well as students, and is right next to the Petron oil depot – the irony is not lost there.

I know that there’s more to Manila than just the southern part of it – there are plenty of hidden spaces in North Manila that I wouldn’t know of (simply because I live in South Manila), but places like Quiapo, Binondo, Sampaloc, and even Tondo have their own open spaces worth noting. Maybe I’ll get around to exploring it someday. But this is it, for the meantime. In my next post, I will be discussing the food places to be found throughout Manila. I should have a more comprehensive list by then, because I am fat, and I love to eat.


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