I am a Manileño, in heart and in deeds. Having been born and grew up in my beloved City of Manila, its historic streets are my playgrounds; its alleys and sidewalks are my everyday walkways; its structures, buildings, halls, walls and tombs are my regular sights.
I grew up and still living in the crowded and frenzied market street in the boundary of Sampaloc, Tondo and northern Sta. Cruz districts popularly known as Blumentritt; spent my elementary days there; had my high school in downtown Sta. Cruz; and finished my college in Intramuros. In short, my whole life has been revolving in the city, with the old district of Quiapo in its midst.
Quiapo is usually portrayed and identified as one of the notorious districts of Manila. But whoever say that Quiapo is all ill-famed, do not know Manila by heart. One need not be a Manileño to see its beauty and understand its way of life. You just have to open your eyes, see beyond what you can see, feel the vibes and blend in. Quiapo is beautiful.
It is a melting pot of diverse culture, beliefs and religions, where Christians, Muslims and occultism meet and mix. Its heart, the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene or simply the Quiapo Church is one of the most popular churches in the Philippines with very large following due to the perceived miraculous attributes of the wooden image of the Black Nazarene. Every 9th of January, throngs of devotees flock to the church for the annual procession. Men, women and children, of all ages, social status and profession join the procession hoping to touch or have a glimpse of the image of the Black Nazarene cordoned by sea of men. For whatever prayer, purpose, belief or wish, devotees are one in waving their hankies while singing the hymn of “Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno” repeatedly. The same procession happens every Good Friday.
When I was a kid, we used to go there during fiesta. I remember sitting on my father’s shoulders so I can have a glimpse of the image as it enter the church while waving a white handkerchief, and on the way home, I always ask my mom to buy me a brown kalamay on the street of Carriedo.
Right outside the main entrance of the Quiapo Church is the historic Plaza Miranda, a popular promenade for political gatherings and usually occupied by merchants, shoppers, fortune tellers and by-passers on a regular day.
I have walked to the vicinity of Quiapo a countless times – the surrounding streets and alleys that are filled with shops, sidewalk vendors, bargain hunters, people begging for alms, students, tourists and all kind of people that you can think of. I have mingled with them since my childhood up to now.
Try walking around to reveal some of the best bargains: the optical stores in Evangelista and Paterno Streets; photo and camera shops and services along Padre Gomez, Hidalgo and their side streets; the native handicrafts under the Quezon Bridge; the wet market of Quinta; electronics in Gonzalo Puyat (formerly Raon), Ronquillo and surrounding streets; sports and music equipments in Sales, Gonzalo Puyat, Evangelista and Quezon Boulevard; the amulets, stones, charms and other herbal medicines around the church; and even the pirated DVD’s, CD’s and VCD’s in Elizondo. Not to mention the various stores, big and small, located in the underpass and in every thoroughfare of the district, selling garments, ukay-ukay, bags, shoes, gift items, fruits, plants and other novelty items.
You will not get out of the district with empty stomachs because Quiapo is also a haven for food trippers. More than the fast foods scattered around the area and the cheap street foods lined up in every avenue, Quiapo is home to some of the all time favorites: taste the city’s best lumpiang sariwa (fresh spring rolls) at Globe Lumpia House and the noodles of Delicious Restaurant both in Gonzalo Puyat; bring home some dried fish, the famous Excelente Ham, or dine in the Chinese restaurants in Palanca; or have a siopao in Ma Mon Luk in Quezon Boulevard.
On the other side of Quiapo Church, east of Quezon Boulevard, are more of Quiapo’s treasures: the San Sebastian Church (Basilica Minore de San Sebastian) along Bilibid Viejo, inscribed in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its Gothic architecture and for being the only all-steel church in Asia; the Majid Al-Dahab or the Golden Mosque at the end of Gunao Street, the largest mosque in the metropolis and considered as the center of Muslim faith in the capital; the Quiapo Pagoda also in Bilibid Viejo, built in 1935 by Don Jose Mariano Ocampo, popular for its mixed eastern and western design; the old houses of Bautista-Nakpil and Boix along Bautista Street (formerly Barbosa); the mansions of Paterno, Enriquez, Ocampo and Don Jose Sulpicios Orpilla and the ancestral houses of Zamora and Padilla, all in the heritage street of Hidalgo; and the old schools, universities and colleges nearby.
Quiapo… notorious, filthy, chaotic. But if you open your eyes, try to see beyond what you can see, feel the vibes and blend in, you will see the beauty of it and you will never look at the place the same way again. Because despite some of the negative images of the district, the everyday chaotic scenes and the bad elements roaming around, are treasures we often overlooked and neglected.
Quiapo… mystical, exotic and beautiful. It is the heart of the city. You may agree with me or not, but in one way or another, directly or indirectly, Quiapo is a part of every Filipino’s life, as it is a part of mine.