Imperial Manila and the countryside 

By Joshua Corcuera

Daily Guardian columnist Alex Vidal had an article published in the same publication last Thursday, June 16, entitled “Little Manila? Why not Little Philippines?”

In the article, he shared that “a street corner in Queens, New York City has been officially recognized as Little Manila Avenue.” However, many Filipinos in that area spoke Cebuano, Waray, Hiligaynon and came not from Manila, but from various places in Visayas and Mindanao. Ultimately, Vidal suggested the word Philippines instead of Manila. “If China has the Chinatown and Korea has Koreantown, why not Philippine town or Little Philippines?” Vidal asked his readers.

Personally, I agree with the suggestion of the columnist—there are several instances where Manila has been perceived to be the representative of the entire Philippines, whereas the entire country is diverse in reality. While Manila is a fairly good place to live with its bustling and lively way of life, it seems unfair that the entire Philippines will be represented by this city alone. As someone born and raised in Manila and as someone who has appreciated the noise of the capital city, I still remain curious and amazed of cultures and traditions outside Manila.

The Philippines is a melting pot of cultures with tens of ethnicities such as the Ilocanos in the North to the Bicolanos in the other end of Luzon; from the Cebuanos and Warays in the Visayan islands to the Maranao in the country’s southern island of Mindanao. Moreover, only about 13.5 million people live in Metro Manila according to the 2020 census, while the population of the entire country is at around 109 million. Further, the Philippines has produced several popular figures in sports, the arts, entertainment, and literature that are renowned globally—some of them came from Manila but many of them came from other places.

With all these facts, is it fair that Manila alone would be synonymous to the Philippines? It seems unfair to be candid.

What is also unfair, though, is the fact that economic growth and development appears to be concentrated in the capital region. Sure, the Philippines as a whole has a vibrant economy that keeps on growing, but it cannot be denied that Metro Manila benefits enormously from such growth, while other regions grow at a slower pace.

The best schools and hospitals tend to be in Metro Manila, which is unfair because all Filipinos, including those who are outside Metro Manila, deserve equally good education and healthcare. Access to electricity and water as well is also an issue; some provinces have to deal with water shortages and brownouts frequently, while these problems are not extremely bad in the capital region (except for the cost of utilities, perhaps). The minimum wage in Metro Manila (P 570 per day) is also the highest in the country, other regions have much lower minimum wages with some as low as about P 300 per day.

This reality has been described by the term Imperial Manila and as put nicely by national artist Nick Joaquin, “When Manila sneezes, the Philippines catches cold.” Another common proverb says that, “not a leaf can fall in our country without Malacañang’s permission.”