Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

The cathedral of the Catholic Church in Spanish Philippines was the central symbol of power in the community. The rich and the powerful preferred to establish their residences near the church. The aspiring rich wanted to live in strategic locations where they could see the church tower. The law-abiding and God-fearing poor lived very far from the church but they could still hear the sound coming from the belfry. The church belfry, therefore, was more than just a structure which reminded the faithful to attend church activities. Its more important function was to determine the geographical boundaries of the power of the church and state. Expanding the influence of the Spanish colonizers required the construction of numerous church bell towers. Rebels who resisted colonial and church authorities lived in the mountains where they couldn’t hear the sound of the belfry.

What is today’s equivalent of the belfry? There are three contenders: malls, billboards, and cell phone towers. Malls and billboards may be sprouting everywhere but they are concentrated only in city centers. Meanwhile, cell phone towers dot the cityscape and the countryside. They are ubiquitous, mysterious, and effective infrastructures of power. Like the belfry of our Spanish past, the modern cell phone towers send signals that only reach a certain distance. There is no super tower that can cover the whole archipelago. The poorest and remotest parts of the country continue to have weak cell phone connections. Cell phone signals are linked with modernity and progress which is why the building of cell phone towers receives high protection from the state. (Modern structures are forbidden in Chocolate Hills in Bohol – except cell phone towers, of course).

Then and now the poor are hypnotized by the invisible transmission of magic waves emitted by power structures: the belfry of the past and today’s cell phone towers. The belfry sound represented the presence of the church and the existence of God; the cell phone signals represent development and the existence of modern communications. In the past, rebels were feared and hated because they refused to honor God and His chosen representatives on Earth. Today, rebels are despised for thwarting progress every time they bomb cell phone towers.

Yes, the belfry promoted religion and spirituality but it was used to intensify the colonial subjugation of the pagan islands. Yes, the cell phone towers improved the delivery of communication in the country but they are false indicators of progress. Surrendering to the sound of the church bells affirmed the hegemony of the clergy. Using the cell phone signals made communication easier and information sending faster but profits are being accumulated somewhere and someone is monopolizing these profits; and Big Brother is spying on everyone.

From Ayala to San Roque

Trinoma means Triangle North of Makati. The reference point of the Ayala mall in Quezon City is Makati, the country’s financial center and economic mecca of the domestic ruling elite. Trinoma is located in North Avenue which is part of north triangle of Quezon City but it seems Trinoma owners disregarded the spatial link of the mall to the nearby west, east and south triangles of the city. Instead, the Ayalas preferred to make Trinoma a remote satellite structure of its power base in the Makati control room. Trinoma was built to spur the redevelopment of the north triangle area. Specifically, the plan is to build another business district (create a new Makati) and the north triangle is the chosen territory. The plan has the blessings of the money-hungry local government.

But north triangle is not an empty land. The San Roque community is located in north triangle. San Roque is now branded by the government and property developers as a squatter colony but this is historically inaccurate. Half a century ago, some of the Manila poor were resettled in the area around San Roque, which was at that time an agricultural community that reached up to Bagong Pag-asa, Novaliches and Bulacan. The resettlement center was later known as the residential community of Bago Bantay. Even the Golden Acres, a housing site for senior citizens, was constructed in the area. Schools were later established: Bago Bantay Academy (renamed as Quezon City Academy), San Francisco High School, Quezon City Science, and Philippine Science High School. The public space in north triangle was a housing and schooling center before SM and Trinoma invaded it.

Golden Acres is now SM property. The People’s Park was bought by Ayala which was converted into Trinoma. And now the government wants to demolish the San Roque community.

When Escolta became too small for the business elite, they moved their corporate headquarters to Makati. Then, smaller satellite territories were established in Ortigas, Fort Bonifacio, and Libis. Now they are targeting a new colony in Quezon City, north side of EDSA. The feasibility plan is completed, the financial package has been approved, and government approval has been secured – only one problem remains: the residents of San Roque won’t go away.

When Ayala constructed the Trinoma Mall, everybody commented about the competition it would engender between the SM and Ayala supermalls. Who will emerge the winner in the battle for mall supremacy: the old Spanish clan or the Chinese tycoon? Today, it has become evident that there was really no serious feuding between the two business empires. It was a friendly competition. The real conflict is only starting to unravel: the residents of San Roque on one hand and the capitalists on the other side. The residents belong to the working classes and they are supported by organized collectives. The capitalists are requiring the bureaucrat capitalists to speed up the demolition of the squatter community.

San Roque in North Triangle is the last bastion of proletarian might in the reterritorialized EDSA. It is one of the few remaining public spaces along EDSA which have not yet been invaded by capitalist vultures. It must be defended. Aside from asserting their rights, San Roque residents should derive inspiration from the heroic struggles of the Filipino people in EDSA. The Bantayog ng mga Bayani is located near the San Roque community.

Finally, the hypocrisy of the business community has been exposed. Habitat for Humanity? Gawad Kalinga? Corporate Social Responsibility? Show your love for the homeless poor by defending San Roque.

From Monumento to Mall of Asia

EDSA or Highway 54 is the most important and famous road in the Philippines. It is the site of two People Power actions. It connects the north and south expressways. The three biggest shopping malls in the world are located here. The police and military headquarters are stationed here. Financial centers are established in Makati-EDSA, Ortigas-EDSA and soon North Triangle-EDSA.

EDSA’s evolution was influenced by various contending forces in Manila society: the working poor, capitalist class, and the government. The working poor and capitalists can work together in order to topple an unjust government (People Power). But most of the time, the government is subservient to the demands of the business elite. They join forces so that they can silence and defeat the working class. Their executioner in EDSA is the MMDA.

It is funny, interesting, and symbolic that the EDSA boundary is represented by the Bonifacio monument in the north and Mall of Asia in the south. It signifies the ongoing struggle to define and redefine the meaning of EDSA. Bonifacio represents the plebian forces while Mall of Asia stands for the dictatorship of the capitalist ruling elite. Who is winning the war?

EDSA has a subversive potential and the ruling class is aware of it. The malls are there to hypnotize the poor and rechannel the political rage of the people into consumer frenzy. The MRT transports passengers from one mall to another but it doesn’t have direct station links to People Power monuments.

EDSA, the people’s highway, is quickly evolving into an anti-people thoroughfare. The state, afraid of the People Power past of EDSA, now prevents the people from walking, crossing, and marching in EDSA. The street which witnessed two fantastic uprisings in 1986 and 2001 is now a death zone for innocent jaywalkers (bawal tumawid, nakamamatay), and political protesters.

The struggle of the San Roque residents is a living monument to the people’s right to reclaim the EDSA highway. Do we want this historic space to be forever colonized by oversized malls, billboard deathtraps, and skycrapers? (When he visited Havana during the pre-revolution years, Sartre described skycrapers as “insane protuberances”).

Do people live along EDSA? Yes! If residents of Forbes, Dasmarinas, Corinthians, Philam and Mar Roxas in Cubao can comfortably sleep in their homes near EDSA, why deny this right to San Roque residents. They are Filipinos too. They are humans too. Demolishing San Roque would send a message that the residential space in EDSA is exclusively for the rich and powerful only. Rezoning EDSA is not wrong, but it should not be biased against the poor.

The immediate objective is to destroy the houses in San Roque. The real aim is to quash the fighting capability of the poor. And once the job is finished in EDSA, their next target would be the reclaiming of C5 and Commonwealth.

Defend San Roque! Long Live People Power!

Related articles:

Malling republic
Towers of desolation
North triangle
National roads
MMDA power

One Response to “From belfry to cell phone tower”

  1. […] From Monumento to Mall of Asia National roads Edsa and MMDA […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » Reclaim Edsa, the people’s highway

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