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Pinoy time may be acceptable to some but not at Manila City Hall tower

/ 07:24 AM February 18, 2018


The Manila mayors that clock setter Noli Sotelo had served may have regarded punctuality as an optional virtue, but all of them were obsessive in making sure that the four clocks on the City Hall tower told the same correct time, all the time.

Sotelo, 56, has been one of the steady hands behind the city’s tower clocks for the past 20 years.


Although “Filipino time” (or being fashionably late) is acceptable to most Filipinos, Sotelo recalled that all the mayors who occupied Manila City Hall since he started working for the city — from Mayor Mel Lopez to Mayor Joseph Estrada — were ticked off if any of the four clocks were less than accurate.

“No matter what happens, they told me, the clocks need to be on time,” Sotelo said.


The strictest mayors, he said, were Lito Atienza and, surprisingly, Estrada, who has become notorious for tardiness.

“My bosses said the mayors told them that we owe it to the people to ensure that the clocks are accurate and functioning properly. It mirrors how the City Hall works,” Sotelo said, recalling how his boss was reprimanded by Atienza when a major broadsheet published photographs of two of the clocks telling different times.

“The paper captioned it ‘Two Timer’ and the mayor didn’t like it,” Sotelo said, adding that it was the most embarrassing job-related instance he could recall.

‘Largest clock tower’

The tower, designed by Antonio Toledo, was completed in the 1930s. Its four sides face four major districts in Manila: Taft (Ermita), Intramuros, Divisoria and Ayala Bridge in Quiapo.

The clock was first unveiled in 1930 and is “the largest clock tower in the Philippines,” the city government said on its website.

Sotelo said it was during Atienza’s time that the clock was first renovated.


The second time was after Estrada won in 2013.  Estrada had the clocks upgraded and digitalized to ensure that they were always synchronized with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) for Philippine standard time.

“Now I just check the clocks once or twice a day because most of the time, they’re functioning properly. It’s easier now because of the improvements,” Sotelo said.

He recalled that before the upgrade, he and fellow clock setter Rogelio Botona, 54, practically stayed up in the tower the whole day.

“It was too tiring to go up and down the building whenever the clocks malfunctioned,” he said.

“We used to reset everything manually,” said Botona. “One person would fix the clock motors from inside the tower, while another person would watch from outside the City Hall to ensure that the glitches were fixed. We used to communicate using radio phones.”

But some things just never change.

The tower used to look like an abandoned warehouse full of court documents and smelled strongly of cat urine and rat feces. Estrada had the pile of documents removed. His administration plans to turn the tower into a coffee shop.

But when the Inquirer visited the tower, not one soul was working to see to the plan’s completion.

The first two floors of the tower had been turned into spacious halls, their walls decked with unused brand-new air-conditioners.

On the last two floors leading to the spiral staircase and the top level, where the clocks are installed, cobwebs and dusts draped the windows. Dirt was everywhere.

There’s no sound, except for the wind and the clunk of the clock motor that tells you a minute has passed.

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TAGS: Filipino time, Manila City Hall tower, punctualiaty
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