July 4.

On this same day, 64 years ago, the United States granted the Philippines full independence. After trying unsuccessfully to make the country a colony, getting it involved in World War II, using it as their military base in Asia, and after shelling its mother city Manila to near dust, they finally decided it was time to let go. Left behind were more than 100,000 people dead. A city once hailed to be the Venice of the East was in ruins. Whole edifices, churches, and monuments left in rubble.

People forget that Manila was the 2nd most damaged city on the Allied side during World War II.

Carlos Celdran, Manila’s foremost advocate and most notable tour guide says that if Manila had not been destroyed it would be, "Nothing less than the most beautiful cosmopolitan city in Asia," He notes that the city streets were impeccable with neat lines that radiated outward from the city's center, "like the rays of the sun." There were a handful of 100 year-old churches right beside contemporary buildings and it had a modern tram system. Manila was masterminded by renowned architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham, who drew inspiration from Classic Greek and Roman architecture.

No wonder the nation was traumatized.  People found it too painful to talk about the greatness we’ve lost. Carlos Celdran calls it, “collective amnesia.”


Found photographs of Teodulo Protomartir have thrust the memory back into our consciousness. A month ago, Silverlens Gallery exhibited these photos in a showcase entitled, “Being There”. It is an amazing story told best by Jessica Zafra in her article for Philippine Star. I almost missed the whole exhibit had it not been for the urging of a friend, Ms. Kaity Chua to go. Sadly, I did not know about the talk by Carlos Celdran until the day after. So I pieced together what I could and I made these inspiration boards using Protomartir's original photographs.


If you look closely, you will find little droplets on the surface of the photographs. This is because the negatives were rotting in storage until they were rediscovered, saved, and digitized. Just like Manila, it's been irreparably damaged. But adversity has embedded character to the city and to the prints. I want to remember Manila in its heyday and use to that to dream up an even better Manila for someday.