Metropolitan Theater

Metropolitan Theater

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno (Left) and Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna (right) inspect the progress of renovation works inside (and outside) historic Metropolitan Theater. The refurbishment was done right in time for its reopening a day before the 450th Founding Anniversary of the Capital City last Thursday, 24th of June current year.

F. Sionil Jose

By F. Sionil Jose

The Metropolitan Theater was designed by architect Juan M. Arellano (April 25, 1888 – Dec. 5, 1960). He should have been anointed with the National Artist Award way back.

I was at the renovated Manila Metropolitan last Wednesday, and I relived my memories of what it was when, as a teenager, it introduced me to Beethoven as rendered by the Manila Symphony Orchestra conducted by Herbert Zipper. It was there that I witnessed my first Western ballet as choreographed by Trudl Dubsky, Herbert Zipper’s wife. It was there, too, that I watched my first Filipino-English play by Wilfredo Guerrero.

In the 1930s, Plaza Lawton was where the streetcars converged. Two magnificent buildings dominated the Plaza – the Post Office, like a massive Greek temple and, across the expanse, perhaps the handsomest structure in the country, the Metropolitan is now classified as rococo in style, but I would like to think of it as Filipino modern; it is so different from the Cultural Center which is massive, angular and reminiscent of the fascist architecture during the Hitler regime.

There wasn’t a single tree in Plaza Lawton until World War II – from across the avenue the Sunken Gardens of the Intramuros moat and the massive walls.

But let’s go back to the Metropolitan. It was the coldest theater then, colder than any of the movie houses at the Escolta and Avenida. In the mornings and afternoons, movies were shown at the Metropolitan, and the evenings were reserved for concerts and stage presentations.

The acoustics of the old Metropolitan were superb. Fely Vallejo, the soprano, sang without a microphone. I was shocked at the new Metropolitan interior; it looks gaudy to me, and the audio system working full blast could burst an ancient eardrum like mine.

I met at the Met Yul Servo, the young actor who played the lead role of Pepe Samson in its stage presentation at the Cultural Center as dramatized by that brilliant playwright, Rody Vera. I had missed Yul, and now I know why. He had gone into politics and is now a member of Congress representing Manila’s first district, Santa Cruz – the Bambang area. I told him that I spent four years there in my uncle’s accessoria of Requesens, enrolled as I was at the FEU high school in Azcarraga. Yul told me about his agenda and his projects. He belongs to the new generation of politicians that is the country’s hope.

This week’s column starts with a presentation of the Metropolitan Theater, venerable by our standards, I am glad it has been renovated to show to our people the creative manner by which we can express the outstanding elements of our culture, and to define Filipino architecture in the hope that it will emerge with its own unique identity, like Chinese or Japanese architecture, buildings that reflect our Filipinoness, our aesthetics. Aesthetically, we tend to exaggerate, to fill up space – look at the Filipino garden in contrast with the Japanese garden. We like bright colors and loud music that borders on noise. All these elements – how do we incorporate them in our buildings and in our homes without these architectural innovations or expressions deforming or obstructing function? What are the aesthetic sources, roots of Filipino architecture – the nipa house, the Ifugao dwelling, the massive posts of the traditional Maranao house – is there one still standing?

The late Francisco T. Mañosa tried. I really don’t know the answers to these questions, and we can’t afford to experiment so much with new forms for once they are built, they become permanent and part of the landscape.

                                    Gat Bonifacio Award

I was at the Metropolitan last Wednesday evening because the City of Manila was celebrating its 450th year. I was also presented with the City’s Gat Bonifacio Award as Outstanding Manileño. If only because I’ve lived in this city since 1938, I think I deserve it. Now a few words about Andres Bonifacio. He is an authentic Filipino hero, just like Jose Rizal. The Left tried to hoist him up as its patron saint, higher than Rizal who “shunned revolution,” as compared to Bonifacio who started it.

This debate was fashionable in the 1950s, but it seems to have died. I admire Bonifacio, let there be no doubt about that, but I think he was too impulsive and careless, going to Tejeros without a strong contingent; in fact, he should never have agreed to that meeting. There are no ifs in history, but had he lived, the Pact of Biak-na-Bato with the Spaniards would not have happened, and his Revolution would have triumphed. And now, in these truncated times, is Revolution still a Filipino need today? I’ll say yes, and I’ll continue to define it in Marxist terms, the transfer of power from the oppressor to the oppressed.

Today, aggravated by this pandemic, thousands of Filipinos are hungry, many eating only once a day. As I’ve said so many times, this poverty is the greatest lure in the recruitment of the Communist Party. But as I have also said so often, the Filipino revolutionaries need not resort to arms anymore. The Communist Party’s protracted war is bankrupt, and a successful revolution can now be waged if we have more politicians like Manila Mayor Isko Domagoso, Congressman Yul Servo and the host of innovative young city politicians. I am grateful to Mayor Isko for my award, but more for what he is doing for Manila now, illustrating what purposeful leaders can achieve. With more like him, we may yet see the Philippines join the First world. So let us use our ballots carefully next year.

                                US resolution vs Duterte

Meanwhile, a resolution in the US Congress made by some Democrats “prohibits the sale of military weapons to the Philippines because they are used to kill Filipinos.” This reminds me of when I was lobbying against the sugar bloc. This is the work of President Duterte’s opponents in the United States. Our embassy in Washington can immediately counter this by sending pro-Duterte literature to the US congressional committees: Foreign Relations, Ways and Means, and Appropriations. Aside from our embassy in Washington, I hope the Philippines has a registered Washington lobbyist.

But whether America helps us with weapons or not, we need them not just to end the NPA rebellion but to defend our sovereignty. As I had suggested so many times, we should be able to build our own armaments like Korea and Taiwan. We already have the capability to build ships and the fast patrol boats to oversee our maritime territory. In the end, our defense is our responsibility.

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