Quiapo: New Life in Manila’s Old Downtown

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You can meet anyone and go anywhere from in front of Quiapo Church, if you can manage the crowds.

MY MOTHER SAID that when she was growing up and would ever get lost among the maze of Manila’s jeepney routes, one would simply make their way to Quiapo and restart one’s journey from there.  Being Manila’s largest terminus of jeepney routes, virtually the entire city was within one ride of Quiapo’s interchange at Plaza Miranda in front of the famous Quiapo Church.  Welcome to the old downtown, across the river from the picturesque tourist attractions of Intramuros and Rizal Park and into the heart of bustling Manila.

Perhaps it is not so easy to navigate now.  Within that generation, Manila’s population skyrocketed, and just like any other Third World city, a crowded junction is seen first and foremost by tourists as a petty crime risk and congested frenzy.  Due to the economic instability that plagued the Philippines in the late Marcos era and the country’s tumultuous road to recovery, most businesses preferred to bring their investments and opportunity to more greenfield land further out in the metropolis to Makati, now the financial and business hub of the country, leaving Quiapo and many of its historic streets in a half-derelict state, giving the feeling that virtually the whole city and its population left behind on the northern banks of the Pasig River are just that – left behind economically and socially by people who took their business elsewhere.

But Manila is a gritty city, and one must be equally gritty to survive here, especially if from the lower-middle classes.  Quiapo, as the old centre of activity, never dies.  Perhaps it may not be the upper classes, but those aspiring to make it still congregate here.  The churches.  The jeep riders.  The markets.  Everyone finds a way to get by – if many of Quiapo’s buildings are half-derelict, the other half show as much promise as the traders and workers who live there. And a new high-rise on one of the blocks signals the early emergents of a gentrification in the old downtown.  Because here, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

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