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Manila, Manila
I keep coming back to Manila
Simply no place like Manila
Manila, I'm coming home.
Manila, by the Hotdogs

When people (particularly foreigners) talk about Manila, the capital of the Philippines, they don't simply talk about a city — they talk about a conglomeration of seventeen local government units (sixteen cities and one municipality, under the aegis of the eponymous City of Manila), officially designated by the Philippine government as the National Capital Region (NCR). Like San Francisco, Manila is also a "City by the Bay", owing to its strategic location at the innermost end of a natural harbor.

Once a Muslim kingdom on the banks of the Pasig River (which drains from nearby Laguna de Bay) ruled by rajahs and trading with the Chinese, Japanese, Indians and Malays, Manila never went unnoticed by an island-hopping Spanish fleet, whose leader, Miguel López de Legazpi, personally led its conquest in 1571, and upon the ruins of the old Muslim kingdom he founded Manila as it is known today.

Manila flourished as the capital of the Spanish East Indies (which included modern-day Palau, Guam, the Northern Marianas, and the Federated States of Micronesia), including a two-year stint under British rule in 1762-1764, a product of the Seven Years' War between Spain's ally France and britain. Manila also flourished as the western terminus of a trade fleet to and from Acapulco in Mexico.

By the time the Americans occupied the Philippines as part of a peace deal with Spain after the Spanish-American War, what was considered Manila was but a fortified city (now the aptly-named Intramuros district of the City of Manila) on the southern bank of the Pasig surrounded by small settlements on a vast flatland. This setup gave the Americans the idea of giving Manila a makeover. Under Daniel Burnham, the same man who designed modern Chicago, a southern clearance for Intramuros was developed to become the national capital zone, with the capitol on the eastern end, facing Manila Bay to the west, and a granite monument to Jose Rizal, reformist executed by the Spanish on that same field on December 30, 1896, at the center. However, in 1938 then-President Manuel Quezon, fearing Manila's vulnerability to enemy attack, scuffled the rest of Burnham's plan (save the already-redesigned field) in favor of a new capital 10km to the northeast, purchasing land from the influential Tuazon family and naming it Quezon City.

And Quezon was oddly correct — in 1941, days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Manila was attacked by the Japanese. But that was just a foretaste of something even worse. Between November 1944 and February 1945 Manila saw the most destructive battle of World War II's Pacific front. The Americans retook the city, but at the cost of 1,000 Americans, 16,000 Japanese, and 100,000 civilians, and a city devastated beyond repair, surpassed only by Warsaw. After the war, reconstruction was hasty, and the result is a melange of subdivisions and shantytowns (colloquially called either "squatters" or the more politically correct "informal settlers") across the City of Manila and its neighboring cities.

Metro Manila as a political entity came to be in 1975 when then-president Ferdinand Marcos created the Metropolitan Manila Commission (now the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, or MMDA).

One thing notable about Manila is that unless Manila City proper is invoked, it has virtually no main city center, as each of its seventeen cities has its own functioning government. As a result the NCR is something of an urban planner's worst nightmare, with mayors frequently disagreeing on basic issues concerning the metropolis. The major thoroughfares linking the region include C-5 and EDSA (formerly Highway 54), remnants of the earlier American-era city plans. Its extensive urbanization also frequently leaves most of the metropolis at the mercy of floodwater and typhoons (as hurricanes are called in the Asia-Pacific region), not to mention parts of it sitting on top of a still potentially dangerous fault line.

Metro Manila's discordant nature, however, can also tend to work to its benefit. The City of Manila is the cultural and political center (and home to the President), while Quezon City houses most government offices (a vestige of being capital from 1945 to 1975). Makati and Taguig serve as the nexus of the Philippine economy, while Pasig serves as a viable alternative. Pasay is home to the metropolis' airport. Caloocan, Navotas, Malabon and Valenzuela to the north, San Juan and Mandaluyong to the center, and Pateros, Parañaque and Las Piñas to the south, are mainly middle-class suburbs, and southern Muntinlupa is home to the rich and famous.

The Component Cities of Metropolitan Manila

Population figures are based on the 2010 Census, while the congressional districts are based on the upcoming 2013 batch of the House of Representatives.
  • City of Manila (Pop.: 1,652,171 / 6 Districts): The oldest of the area's seventeen local government units. The city itself is generally divided into 16 districts. South of the river are Intramuros, the Spanish-era city; Port of Manila, the nation's main harbor; Ermita, site of the local government and the national judiciary; Malate, middle-class area with an entertainment zone facing Manila Bay, and site of the national sports complex, as well as the prestigious De La Salle University; Paco, middle-class area and once home to a Japanese minority; Pandacan, home of Spanish-era playwright Francisco Balagtas; San Andres, a middle-class suburb; and Santa Ana, site of the first Catholic church outside Intramuros. North of the river are Tondo, notorious Gangsterland and site of an extension of the Port of Manila; San Nicolas, former upper-class suburb; Binondo, the oldest Friendly Local Chinatown in the world, established by the Spanish in 1594 to house Chinese traders; Santa Cruz, a major commercial center; Quiapo, market district and site of a shrine to a reputedly miraculous statue of Jesus carrying the cross; San Miguel, home of the national executive; Santa Mesa, a middle-class suburb; and Sampaloc, another middle-class area with a cluster of colleges and universities to the southwest (amongst which is University of Santo Tomas, the oldest university in the country).
  • Quezon City (Pop.: 2,761,720 / 6 Districts): The most populous city in the metropolis as well as the largest in terms of size. Founded in 1939 to replace Manila as national capital (until Marcos reinstated Manila in 1975), vestiges of its past role remain in the form of most government agencies still holding office there. Its districts include Diliman, site of the local government, most national government offices, and the University of the Philippines, the nation's largest state-run college; Cubao, a commercial district centered on Smart Araneta Coliseum, the largest clear-span domed stadium in Southeast Asia; affluent West Triangle and New Manila; Loyola Heights, upper-class area and site of prestigious, Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University; Bagumbayan, upper-class area bounded by the Eastwood business area to the east and the home of the national police and armed forces to the west; subdivision-ridden Fairview and Novaliches to the far north; Batasan Hills, site of the national lower house; Bago Bantay, site of SM North EDSA, the largest mall in the Philippines; middle-class Tandang Sora, La Loma, Santol-Galas, San Francisco del Monte, Kamuning, South Triangle and Santa Mesa Heights; and the Projects, eight suburbs originally planned by President Quezon as main residential areas spread across the city.
  • Marikina City (Pop.: 424,150 / 2 Districts): A city situated on an earthquake-prone valley around the Marikina River, the city is most famous for contributing to 70% of the nation's shoe-making industry and its environment-conscious policy.
  • Pasig City (Pop.: 669,773 / 1 District): A residential-industrial city whose western end was transformed into the finance and commerce-oriented Ortigas Center, with upscale residences to the east.
  • Mandaluyong City (Pop.: 328,699 / 1 District): A middle-class city whose eastern end is an extension of Ortigas Center, and hosts its three malls — SM Megamall, the third-largest in the nation; Robinsons Galleria, site of a peaceful 1986 protest that ousted Marcos from power; and Shangri-La Plaza Mall, the branch of a high-rise hotel. Mandaluyong is also home to the nation's largest psychiatric institution, the National Center for Mental Health.
  • San Juan City (Pop.: 121,430 / 1 District): A highly parochial city taking pride of its self-sufficiency. The first shots of the Philippine Revolution were fired on a Spanish armory atop the hills of Pinaglabanan. The city's eastern side also hosts its only major shopping center in the upscale Greenhills area; coincidentally, many wealthy Chinese-Filipinos and their descendants also live around that vicinity.
  • Caloocan City (Pop.: 1,489,040 / 2 Districts): A city divided into two by nearby Quezon City (which was carved off some of Caloocan's territory) — a southern half, where the local government is situated, and the mostly residential northern half. Much of the city's commercial activity is centered in Monumento, a roundabout crossing in southern Caloocan surrounding a monument to Andres Bonifacio, leader of the Filipino Revolution.
  • Malabon City (Pop.: 353,337 / 1 District): A low-lying city known for long periods of flooding and a noodle dish delicacy ("pancit") named after itself.
  • Navotas City (Pop.: 249,131 / 1 District): Malabon's neighbor and site of the Philippines' largest fishing market.
  • Valenzuela City (Pop.: 575,356 / 2 Districts): An economic-industrial city, majority of whose residents hail from provinces north of Metro Manila.
  • Makati City (Pop.: 529,039 / 2 Districts): The Philippines' premier business zone and home to the national stock market; surrounded by a middle-class area to the west and north (site of the local government) and a lower-middle-class area to the east, the financial district is a zone of hotels, skyscrapers, shopping malls and upper-class subdivisions built around a former American-era airport.
  • Pasay City (Pop.: 392,869 / 1 District): A mostly residential city, Pasay stands out by being the site of Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the Philippines' principal airport (with some parts sticking out into Parañaque City), as well as a Marcos-era reclamation project (also extending to Parañaque City) to the west facing Manila Bay, including the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the national senate, and SM Mall of Asia, the second largest mall in the Philippines
  • Parañaque City (Pop.: 588,126 / 2 Districts): A mostly quiet area of subdivisions and suburbs, and site of the southern half of a Manila Bay reclamation project, and future site of the Philippines' largest casino complex.
  • Las Piñas City (Pop.: 552,573 / 1 District): Another quiet suburb, this time bordering Cavite province. Its main claim to fame is its principal Catholic church, which boasts an organ with pipes made of bamboo.
  • Pateros (Pop.: 64,147 / 1 District, shared with western Taguig City): The odd one in Metro Manila, Pateros is the only municipality in the region, as well as the smallest both in population and size. Its name alludes to either its duck-raising or shoemaking businesses that date back to the Spanish era.
  • Taguig City (Pop.: 644,473 / 2 Districts, one shared with Pateros): Originally a residential area, with many of its residents being soldiers and their families living near Fort Bonifacio, headquarters of the Philippine Army, Taguig got its big break when the Army sold large portions of its (mostly unused) land to businessmen, who developed the area into a viable alternative to Makati City. Taguig is also the site of two World War II cemeteries: one for the Americans (the largest of its kind in the Pacific front), and the other for Filipinos.
  • Muntinlupa City (Pop.: 459,941 / 1 District): The southernmost city in the area, Muntinlupa is something of an odd mix. The eastern area, facing Laguna de Bay, is a middle-class zone (with the southern part being the seat of local government), the northwest area is a bustling commercial-corporate zone centered around Festival Supermall, the west-central area is host to Ayala Alabang, an exclusive upper-class village, and the southwest area is a middle-class zone and site of New Bilibid Prison, the nation's largest penitentiary, built in January 1941 to replace the one in Santa Cruz, Manila (now Manila City Jail).
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