I keep coming back to Manila
Simply no place like Manila
Manila, I'm coming home."
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, and named after indigo plants that grow in the area, 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 once- or twice-a-year trade fleet to and from Acapulco in Mexico, using some of the largest galleons in Spanish service to silver from the New World mines to Asia, along with some other items (possibly including the Far East's first chili peppers), and send Asian goods (and particularly Chinese goods) to Spanish America (and, sometimes, on to Spain itself).
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). The original four cities (Manila, Quezon City, Caloocan, and Pasay), were joined by 14 cities and towns excised from the province of Rizal along with Valenzuela, which was taken from the province of Bulacan. Most of the former towns would eventually gain cityhood in the 1990s and the 2000s, with San Juan (2007) being the most recent of them. For statistical purposes, the entities in NCR are grouped in districts based on the said original cities.
One thing notable about Manila is that it has virtually no main city center when it does not refer to the City of Manila itself, 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.
Population figures in the following section are based on the 2020 Census, while the congressional districts are based on the 2019 batch of the House of Representatives.
The Component Cities of Metropolitan Manila
City of Manila (Pop.: 1,846,513 / 6 Congressional Districts)
The oldest of the area's seventeen local government units, and one of the four original cities of the region. The city itself is generally divided into 16 districts:
South of the Pasig River are:
- Intramuros, the Spanish-era city and the original City of Manila note . Intramuros is Spanish for "inside the walls", a perfect description for the heavily-fortified city. It used to be the seat of civil, military and ecclesiastical power in the entire Philippines for much of the Spanish colonial period and is thus home to many historical buildings, including the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral, San Agustin Church (a centuries-old baroque church declared as a UNESCO Heritage Site), Palacio del Gobernador (where the chief executive used to reside before transferring to Malacañang Palace), the Ayuntamiento (the City Hall, where the Cabildo or city council of Manila regularly met) and Fort Santiago, an old military garrison and prison. It also plays host to a cluster of universities and colleges in the sides facing the city hall and the National Museum, but not to the same extent as San Miguel and Sampaloc (which form the bulk of the so-called University Belt).
- Port of Manila: The nation's main harbor. Built on largely reclaimed land, the area is almost entirely composed of warehouses and other shipyard facilities. It is also home to the country's Customs Bureau and the offices of The Philippine Star, one of the country's leading dailies.
- Ermita: the oldest settlement outside the Walled City, named so due to the presence of an old Chapel ("ermita" being a Spanish term for a chapel of ease) housing an image of the Virgin Mary said to provide protection for lost travelers. A buffer zone named Bagumbayan (Tagalog for "New Town", notorious for being an execution ground during the Spanish Colonial Period, separates Ermita from the Walled City), which was later repurposed by the Americans into a public park named after Jose Rizal, the most famous among the people executed on the site.
- Malate: The Kowloon to Ermita's Central Hong Kong, it is middle to upper-class area with an entertainment and shopping zone facing Manila Bay, complete with posh hotels and neon signs. It is also the site of the national sports complex, as well as the prestigious De La Salle University, run by the Roman Catholic Lasallian Brothers.
- Paco: now a middle-class residential-industrial area, it was formerly called "Dilao"* in reference to the Japanese Christian minority who fled Japan and settled at the area as refugees following the ban on Christianity imposed during the Tokugawa Shogunate. A statue of their leader, Ukon "Justo" Takayama, stands at the plaza in front of the old train station today.
- Pandacan: the home of Spanish-era playwright Francisco Balagtas, this largely residential area also where the city's main petroleum fuel depot was once located.
- San Andres, a middle-class suburb connecting Manila to Makati City, characterized by the presence of run-down tenement housing which makes it sorts of a middle ground between Gangsterland Tondo and the upscale Ermita-Malate area. Also has an exclave in Makati in the form of the Manila South Cemetery.
- Santa Ana, the easternmost district of Manila (with the banks of the Pasig river marking the city boundary) originally called "Namayan" prior to Spanish colonization, the old settlement became 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. Despite its reputation as a Wretched Hive, Tondo is once the oldest and most prosperous settlement in the region. Divisoria, a primary commercial center known for cheap goods, is straddles between Tondo and Binondo. It is also home to the main station of the Philippine National Railways.
- San Nicolas: a former upper-class suburb during the Spanish Era, it now mostly consists of office space and warehouses.
- Binondo: the oldest Friendly Local Chinatown in the world, established by the Spanish in 1594 to house Chinese traders. It is still home to a sizeable Chinese community and is famous all over the Philippines for its family restaurants serving cheap yet delectable Chinese (mostly Cantonese) food, as well as the annual Chinese New Year celebrations.
- Santa Cruz: a (former) major commercial center. Rizal Avenue, which runs through its center, serves as Manila's main gateway to the north.
- Quiapo, the real heart of Manila, both geographically and economically. This is the site of a Catholic shrine to a reputedly miraculous statue of Jesus carrying the cross, whose procession draws millions of devotees.
- San Miguel: the location of Malacañang Palace, the official residence of the national executive. Also was home to San Miguel Brewery, the oldest and largest brewery in Asia, before they relocated their offices in Ortigas and their beer brewery in Valenzuela. It also forms the eastern portion of the University Belt by way of their locations in Mendiola Street (itself a popular area for protests due to its proximity to Malacañang).
- Santa Mesa, a middle-class suburb; and
- Sampaloc, another middle-class area with a cluster of colleges and universities to the southwest, also known as the University Belt (amongst which is University of Santo Tomas, the oldest university in the country and in Asia).
Quezon City (Pop.: 2,960,048 / 6 Congressional Districts)
The largest city in the metropolis both in terms of geographical size and population, Quezon City was established in 1939 to replace Manila as the national capital, as the then-President and namesake of the city, Manuel Luis Quezon, as he thought that Manila is very susceptible to a naval attack due to its proximity to the shore note and remained the de jure national capital note until President Ferdinand Marcos reinstated the title to Manila in 1975. While building a new Capitol and Government Complex in Quezon City. Vestiges of its past role remain in the form of most government agencies still holding office there.
Its districts include:
- Diliman: the site of the new planned capitol complex, it is a flat plateau delineated into a quadrangle by four avenues running parallel with the cardinal directions: North Avenue, West Avenue, East Avenue, and South Avenue (renamed Timog Avenue, which means "South Avenue" in Filipino). In its center lies the Quezon Memorial Circle, which was originally planned as the site of the legislature, long since converted into a public park and memorial for the city's namesake, President Manuel Quezon, with the large pylon in the middle marking his tomb. Today, it is the site of many government offices (encircling the Quezon Memorial Circle, as weas originally planned,), two Government Hospitals (occupying the sites of what were supposed to be the Executive Residence and the Supreme Court Complex), the Quezon City Hall (housing offices of the city mayor and the local council) and the main campus of the University of the Philippines after it relocated from Manila in 1949.
Diliman is bisected by two major thoroughfares: the northern half of the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (a circumferential road which serves as the main transport corridor in the Metro) and Quezon Avenue (which connects Quezon City to Manila), the intersection of which is located dead center at the Diliman Quadrangle, effectively splitting the district into four triangular quarters, each named after the Avenue which runs parallel to them:
- North Triangle: site of the TriNoMa note Mall (built above the depot of the city's main rapid transit system), the main campus of the Philippine Science High School, and the Office of the Ombudsman, it is the only part of the quadrangle to remain underdeveloped, and exponential urban migration in the 60's and 70's caused it to be populated by large shantytowns. However, it is the the focus for a new development named "Vertis North" aiming to transform the area into a mixed-use financial, commercial and entertainment complex.
- East Triangle: also mostly residential, save for a good number of government offices and hospitals specializing in the ailments of the lung and the heart.
- West Triangle: Mostly residential, much of the land in this quadrant is occupied by two upper-class exclusive communities: PhilAm Homes (named after the Philippine-American Insurance Corporation, the original owners of the land) and the eponymous West Triangle Homes, where the old family home of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr is located.
- South Triangle: A middle to upper-class commercial and residential area, the South Triangle is home to the broadcast facilities of two of the largest television networks in the Philippines, ABS-CBN and GMA Network; and Timog Avenue, a large dining/entertainment strip. Also known as "Scout Area," due to its streets being largely named after the Boy Scouts who died in an air crash en route to the 11th World Scout Jamboree in 1963.
- Cubao: Was once home to the Radio Corporation of America's facilities in the Philippines until local businessman and industrialist J. Amado Araneta bought the land from RCA and built in it what was then Asia's largest clear-span domed indoor arena: Araneta Coliseum. The presence of the arena and the crowd-drawing events it hosted naturally attracted commerce in the area, transforming it into the Araneta Center, An entertainment and shopping district composed of shopping malls, hotels and dining establishments with the Araneta Coliseum as its centerpiece. Cubao is also home to the terminals of buses plying the provinces North and South of Luzon.
- Balintawak: nestled near the boundary with Caloocan, Balintawak was once indeed part of the former, until it was incorporated into Quezon City in 1939. The site of the historic "Cry of Pugad Lawin", an event in which the Revolutionary Andres Bonifacio and his companions tore their community tax certificates and declared war against their Spanish Colonizers, it is now the location of Balintawak Cloverleaf, which marks the gateway towards Northern Luzon, and the Balintawak Market, a good source of fresh meat and vegetables, given that Balintawak is the first stopover of large delivery trucks carrying agricultural produce from the farmlands of Northern Luzon.
- 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;
- Fairview and Novaliches to the far north;
- Batasan Hills: the site of the third planned Capitol complex, the brainchild of then-President Ferdinand Marcos, who was unfettered by the failed implementation of the Daniel Burnham (designating Ermita as the Capitol site) and Henry Frost (designating Diliman as the Capitol site) city development plans. Situated atop the highest hill in the city is the Batasang Pambansa Complex, the seat of the eponymous short-lived unicameral legislature, now the office of its successor, the House of Representatives.
- Tandang Sora: known in olden times as Barrio Banlat, this residential-industrial area was renamed in honor of Melchora Aquino, the "Grand Old Woman of the Philippine Revolution".
- La Loma: located near the boundary with Manila and Caloocan, the place is named after nearby La Loma Cemetery note , the first and oldest Catholic Cemetery in Manila note . The place is popularly known for its thriving culinary industry heavily focused on the lechon (roast pig).
- San Francisco del Monte: Popularly known as "Frisco" (taking cue from another San Francisco), San Francisco del Monte was one of the three Spanish-era villages in the area (along with Novaliches and Balintawak)that predate the modern-day Quezon City.
- Kamuning and Kamias: Composed of mostly residential communities, Kamuning was the site of the original Barrio Obrero (Workers' Village). GMA Network's studios border the area on the EDSA side.
- New Manila and the Santa Mesa Heights
- The Projects: eight suburban residential communities originally planned by President Quezon as main residential areas spread across the city.
Mandaluyong City (Pop.: 425,758 / 1 District)A middle-class city whose eastern end is an extension of Ortigas Center, and hosts its three malls — SM Megamall, the second-largest in the nation (and fourth-largest in the world); 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; to this day, when people say about "that hospital in Mandaluyong", they refer to that institution.
Marikina City (Pop.: 456,059 / 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.: 803,059 / 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.
San Juan City (Pop.: 126,347 / 1 District)A highly parochial city taking pride on 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.: 1,661,584 / 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.: 380,522 / 1 District)A low-lying city known for long periods of flooding and a noodle dish delicacy ("pancit") named after itself.
Navotas City (Pop.: 247,543 / 1 District)Malabon's neighbor and site of the Philippines' largest fishing market.
Valenzuela City (Pop.: 714,978 / 2 Districts)An economic-industrial city, majority of whose residents hail from provinces north of Metro Manila. Unlike the rest of the local government units which are formely part of Rizal, Valenzuela was taken from the province of Bulacan when the NCR was formed.
Las Piñas City (Pop.: 606,293 / 1 District)A quiet suburb bordering the province of Cavite. Its main claim to fame is its principal Catholic church, which boasts an organ with pipes made of bamboo.
Makati City (Pop.: 629,616 / 2 Districts)The Philippines' premier business zone; 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.
Muntinlupa City (Pop.: 543,445 / 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).
Parañaque City (Pop.: 689,992 / 2 Districts)A mostly quiet area of subdivisions and suburbs, and site of the southern half of a Manila Bay reclamation project, and home to the Philippines' largest casino complex, City of Dreams.
Pasay City (Pop.: 440,656 / 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 Senate, and SM Mall of Asia, the fourth largest mall in the Philippines, and the 11th largest in the world.
Pateros (Pop.: 65,227 / 1 District, shared with eastern 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.: 886,722 / 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 note 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. Currently home to the national stock market, which relocated from Makati and Pasig in 2018.
Manila in fiction
- The majority of Filipino movies and TV series are set in Manila.
- The Bourne Legacy: The final portions of the film is set in the capital of the Philippines.
- Invasion by Eric L. Harry mentions that the Chinese invading forces "raped" Manila. Judging by the use of the word, it can assumed what happened was a repeat of Dresden and Nanking combined.
- Last Resort: Two episodes were set in Manila. Notably, the scene where the two protagonists walk in a Manila neighborhood was merely a conspicuous CGI. The rest of the establishing shots used stock footage of pedestrians and traffic in the city.
- Pacific Rim: Manila was attacked by a kaiju twice.
- The Man in the High Castle and its TV series has Manila as part of the Japanese Empire, which have incorporated much of East Asia in this alternate 1962 where the Axis won WWII. In the TV Series, the German High Command planned to hit Manila with a submarine-launched nuclear missile during the first phase of attacking the Japanese Empire.
- Manila is a playable city in Mini Motorways, where you develop it by building motorways along and across Pasig River.
- The Thrilla in Manila was indirectly referenced by Lance Vance in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories.
Lance Vance: I'm the black killa from Manila!
- The comic book Trese and its animated adaptation are set in a Manila full of creatures and beings from Philippine Mythology.