MANILA: Situated on the largest island in the Philippines; Luzon, the city of Manila has much to offer tourists in terms of historical buildings, eye-catching scenery and the hustle and bustle of a typical metropolitan city life.
Recently, on an organised media excursion to visit Manila’s places of attraction, a visit to the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial was a timely reminder for us not to repeat the atrocities of World War II. Located in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City in the Metro Manila area, the total site spans 152 acres and comprises 17,097 headstones in memory of US personnel amongst others who perished in the last world war.
Among some of the significant sections within the memorial grounds include the Wall of Missing where engraved tablets honour 36,286 missing in action (MIA) personnel, including 21 Medal of Honour recipients.
In addition, visitors should not miss the ten-foot high mosaic maps that detail the important campaigns during World War II in the Pacific theatre of operations.
An imposing chapel representing the sculpture of St George, an American warrior fighting his enemy, the dragon symbolises the ideals for which he fought for; liberty, justice and country.
Perhaps, the most beholding sight of the Memorial are the graves, in the formation of eleven burial plots arranged in concentric rings around the Memorial. The majority of these headstones were quarried and fabricated in Italy with a small quantity originating from Romblon in the Philippines.
It is also the largest cemetery site administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission in terms of number of graves.
Mention the name Dr José Rizal, and most Filipinos will attest to him as a national hero, as he was the most prominent advocate for reforms in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era. There are quite a number of historical sites of interest in Manila with regards to Rizal, but none more important than Rizal Park and Fort Santiago within the old walled city of Intramuros.
Rizal Park, otherwise known as Bagumbayan or Luneta, was the site of Rizal’s execution on December 30, 1896 and the Declaration of Philippine Independence from American colonial rule on July 4, 1946.
Today, one can see the Rizal Monument in addition to lush landscaped gardens and Filipinos from all walks of life enjoying themselves with family gatherings or a stroll within the park grounds.
Its location overlooks the iconic Manila Bay where scores of yachts belonging to Manila Yacht Club members are berthed.
History buffs and tourists in general should not miss out on paying a visit to Intramuros, literally ‘within the walls’, signifying the walled enclosure nature of the area in Spanish colonial times.
During colonial times, only select classes of residents were allowed to reside within its walls.
In modern times, it houses one of the oldest churches in Manila, the San Agustin Church. The present building was built in 1587 by Juan Macias, a soldier and architect. Construction was completed some nineteen years later with its vaulted ceiling and dome painted by two Italian artists.
Its predominantly baroque style signifies the influence of European architecture during the times of its construction.
Visitors today gain entrance to the San Agustin Museum, which was formerly a monastery serving as the living quarters of Augustinian friars through the old porter’s lodge where a 3,400 kilogramme (kg) bell stands.
The bell was taken down from the belfry in 1927 after being damaged in the 1863 earthquake that afflicted it.
Furthermore, the tomb of the founder of Manila, Miguel López de Legaspi is located within the church which also exudes old-world charm through its 19th century chandeliers, pulpits, side chapels, tombstones on the flooring and three-dimensional paintings done in 1875 on the ceiling of its dome.
As one steps out of San Agustin Museum, one will notice Casa Manila, a ‘colonial lifestyle’ museum, which is run by the Intramuros Administration, a government agency created in 1979 to restore Intramuros and to rehabilitate it after the last world war caused its deterioration.
At Casa Manila, one will find shops on the ground floor where antiques, art objects and souvenirs are readily available for sale.
The walls of its ground floors are made of adobe stones. During the Spanish colonial era, adobe or volcanic tuff was quarried from Makati and Meycauayan in the Bulacan province for building materials.
On the other hand, the uppermost living quarters were made of wood, deeming it less hazardous than stone during earthquakes.
Last but not least, a trip to Manila would not be complete without a visit to Fort Santiago, a defence fortress built for López de Legazpi. One of the oldest Hispanic stone fortresses in the country, it was the site of a Tagalog chieftain, Rajah Soliman’s ‘kuta’ (fort) in pre-colonial times.
Once a forbidding fortress during its heyday, it has been transformed into a relaxing place to spend a leisurely day in the presence of friends and family. One can stroll around the gardens of Plaza Moriones and the blossoming greenery of Plaza de Armas amidst historic ruins.
Within its grounds, one can see the Rizal Shrine, a reconstruction of the colonial period barracks where Rizal was confined during his trial for sedition. It currently houses a museum where mementoes of the hero can be viewed.
There are many artifacts and re-enactments of Rizal’s last days before his execution in the shrine.
One can opt from a multitude of Philippine tour packages starting from a three-day two-night Manila breakaway deal from RM299, or four-day three-night stays ranging from RM1,199, RM359 and RM479 for Manila/Tagaytay, Boracay and Cebu respectively.
For more information, those residing in Kuching can call Borneo Tours at 082-246422/417177 or Inter-Continental Travel at 082-256155. Alternately, residents of Sibu and Miri can call RH Tours & Travel Agency at 084-316767 and Tropical Adventure Tours at 085-419337 correspondingly.
Relevant information about the Philippines can also be found at www.wowphilippines.com.ph or by writing to the Philippine Department of Tourism at 206A, Block A, Mentari Business Park, 2, Jalan PJS 8/5, Bandar Sunway, 46150 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia; calling them at 03-56387288 or emailing [email protected]
As a key Asean tourism destination, the Philippines has much to offer; not only within Metro Manila but also the various outlying islands that promise a fun-filled lifetime experience worth one’s money. Mabuhay!