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Old Manila streets lose names to politicians

By Augusto de Viana
First Posted 02:41:00 06/24/2007

Filed Under: Local authorities, Culture (general), Monuments & Heritage Sites

MANILA, Philippines?Like old buildings and structures, old names of streets and public places are part of historical heritage.

For a city like Manila, which is celebrating Araw ng Maynila today, many streets have been identified with the history of the place and considered integral to its character. Many historical events occurred in the city?s streets, boulevards, avenues and plazas.

España Boulevard in Sampaloc district, for example, was the route of the country?s biggest funeral procession, that of the martyred opposition leader Benigno ?Ninoy? Aquino in 1983. From the late 1940s to the present, protesters and demonstrators walked here on their way to the gates of Malacañang. The University of Sto. Tomas was relocated on this street in 1922, and was the site of an internment camp for Allied prisoners during World War II.

España was able to retain its name reportedly because of a clause in the donation agreement between the City of Manila and the landowners who donated the land that the street as well as adjoining ones would be named after the Iberian country and its provinces. Otherwise, the land would revert back to the owners, the Sulucan Development Co. owned by the De la Riva family.

?Bigoted nationalism?

Unfortunately, many of our old street names have been changed. The country?s politicians, out of what the historian Gregorio Zaide once called ?bigoted nationalism and jingoism,? have been indiscriminately renaming streets, roads, avenues and boulevards. Renaming also appears to promote political and personal agendas as some public places have been renamed after politicians and public officials.

The result is a country that is erasing its historical heritage.

In Manila, the renaming of streets has been done often in complete disregard of their historical significance.

Take the historic Manila streets like the Escolta and Dasmariñas in Binondo. The name Escolta was inspired by the Spanish word ?escortar,? meaning to escort. The British commanding general passed through this street under heavy escort on his way to hand over Manila back to the Spaniards after Britain?s 20-month occupation of the city in 1762 to 1764.

Dasmariñas is named after the Spanish governor-general Luis Perez Dasmariñas who, after buying the fiefdom (encomienda) of Binondo, promptly donated to the Dominican friars a site for a church and parish house, established a mission for married Christianized Chinese and a hospital on what is now Plaza Cervantes.

Occupation, virtues

Other famous Manila streets are so named because of their association with certain objects. Tayuman Street in the district of Tondo was where the tayum plant was once abundant. Antipolo Street was where a tipolo tree once grew.

Other streets were named because of the trades and occupations that were once practiced there. Thus, Anloague was once a place of carpenters; Fundidor, the place of the foundry workers; Jaboneros, the place of the soap makers; Panaderos, the place of the bakers; and Labanderos, the place of the laundrymen.

Arroceros on the south bank of the Pasig River was where the rice warehouses were located. Aduana was where the Spanish customs house once stood. There used to be a street in Binondo called Fumadores. This was the street were opium joints were allowed by the Spanish colonial authorities, opium smoking being legally confined only to the Chinese.

Some streets in Sampaloc extolled the civic and moral virtues. Among these were Economia, meaning thrift and Trabajo, industry. The two streets adjoined each other and the location of the Trabajo Market in their midst made the names very appropriate. They seemed to have been meant to inspire those who were earning a living in the area.

Other streets similarly named are Lealtad, loyalty; Honradez, honesty; Firmeza, firmness or strength and Constancia, constancy.

Rizal reference

Many Manila street names have reference to the national hero, Jose Rizal. These are mostly located in Sampaloc. Among these are Blumentritt, after Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt, the Austrian professor and the hero?s close friend and intellectual kin who carried out a lengthy correspondence with him; Calamba, Rizal?s birthplace; P. Leoncio remembers his godfather, the parish priest who baptized him; Craig, after Austin Craig, one of his biographers; Retiro, which was inspired by his poem ?Mi Retiro? which referred to his place of exile in Dapitan. A street at the back of the University of Sto. Tomas campus is also named Dapitan.

Other names refer to characters in Rizal?s novels, among them Basilio, Simoun, Sisa and Crisostomo. Two streets are named after his pen names, Laong Laan and Dimasalang.

Some streets like Raon, Camba, Urbiztondo, Lardizabal and Gandara were named after Spanish governor-generals while others like Taft, Harrison and Forbes were named after American ones. In the Malate district, some streets were named after the states of the United States. One street was named after Isaac Peral, the inventor of a submersible. It has been renamed United Nations Avenue.

Azcarraga to Recto

Architect Juan F. Nakpil, later named National Artist, argued against changing the name of Azcarraga Street to Claro M. Recto Avenue in 1961.

?If we keep changing the names of our streets, there may come a time we may not be able to recognize our city anymore,? he lamented at one of the meetings of the National Historical Commission which deliberated on the issue. Nakpil was a member of the NHC board.

Among the arguments put forward for renaming Azcarraga was that the street was named after a Spaniard. Actually, Azcarraga was the name of two brothers, Marcelo and Manuel, who were born of Spanish parents in the Philippines which, by definition, made them Filipino. Of the two brothers, Marcelo distinguished himself in Spain, rising to become minister of war and twice prime minister. Filipinos should be proud of Azcarraga because he was a native of the Philippines who held one of the highest offices in Spain.

No consultations with NHI

Many of the street names of the city of Manila have been renamed even without consultation with the National Historical Institute, contrary to the provisions of the Local Government Code. Some of these include Arroceros which is now Mayor Antonio Villegas Street; Aduana, now Andres Soriano Jr. Street; Pepin, now Marzan Street and Constancia now Cristobal Street.

But the renaming of the streets began long before the enactment of the Local Government Code. P. Leoncio is now Quintos, Sr.; Economia is now Vicente G. Cruz; Trabajo is now Manuel de la Fuente, etc. All of these new names are those of local politicians.

By changing the names of the country?s historic streets, we are erasing an important part of our heritage. The indiscriminate renaming of streets and other public places must stop if we are to protect our heritage. Our political authorities should consider restoring the old but historic names.

(The author is chief of the research, publications and heraldry division of the National Historical Institute.)

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