Manila: Ugly, Gritty, Raw, Stinky, and Crowded

These past weeks, Filipinos everywhere have been raising a mini-furor about the supposedly derogatory remarks that The Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy has made about our beloved capital, Manila in his interview with respected talk show host Charlie Rose last August 13. Near the end of the 50-minute session, Charlie Rose asked the director why he had chose Manila specifically as the latest setting of the nearly billion dollar film franchise.

His response, “We didn’t want to go to Europe. Bourne had gone to Europe. We thought about Latin America, Southeast Asia. There were several other films that were planning to go to Latin America. Pat Crowley, the producer, and I who’ve traveled all around the world on all these movies, we went and had a beauty pageant. We went to Jakarta, we went to Ho Chi Minh, we went to Manila over the course of a couple of weeks. And we landed in Manila and it felt so Bourne-ish. It’s just so colorful and ugly and gritty and raw and stinky and crowded.”

Taken at face value, it does sound pretty offensive but to add insult to injury, I must say that we can’t deny the truth of it. Compared to other capitals of the world, even in the so-called third world countries, Manila does appear to lack a certain charm that makes up for what the other cities lack in terms of technology and sophistication, not to mention the observation of basic sanitation practices. We have no extraordinarily dazzling architectural structures, quaint “Oriental” offerings, or exotic temples. Instead, our rich history has endowed us with religious tourist attractions such as the San Agustin Church in Intramuros, an actual UNESCO World Heritage site, which do not appear to be marketed as successfully as our neighboring countries’ tourist magnets, in my humble opinion. The formerly spectacular Manila Bay is engorged with garbage, as is the Pasig River, while Rizal Park’s protracted rehabilitation is uplifting but hardly inspiring. Sadly, even basic sanitation policies are not being strictly and effectively implemented in a lot of the areas, not to mention the rest of the country.

At best, Manila appears to project an image of an endless parade of malls, recreation centers, and other commercial establishments with a historical church here and there that serve as man-made oases for those eager for a respite from the occasionally unbearable hot and humid climate  and the noisy throng of the struggling masses living hand to mouth wherever they could. Add in the perennial traffic congestion and it’s no wonder why it’s such an “ugly, gritty, raw, stinky, and crowded” place.

On the upside, these were the very characteristics that drew Gilroy to the “Bourne-ish” and “colorful” Manila in the first place AND he actually commented that on the “great” but “dormant” film industry and infrastructure he found there that “wanted” them (the film) AKA we were eager to please. But that’s a small consolation in the long run especially if things don’t change. It’s easy to take offense and cry foul, and perhaps even call for a ban, such as what happened in the Claire Danes fiasco in 2009.

That  happened three years ago and although it’s far from realistic to expect that things would have made a change for the better somehow, I know I’m not alone in hoping that this would spur government officials to get off their butts and scramble to JUST DO SOMETHING about it, if only to save their own thick-skinned faces. And I don’t mean erecting walls in an attempt to hide the ugly side of Manila from the rest of the world, but something constructive with long-lasting and positive effects on the state of poverty in our country. Oh, well. We can always dream and hope the coming generations will be THE one to start the change.


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