QUIAPO: HERE I COME
To the Filipino urbanite, Quiapo elicits a particular social flavour. It is the epicentre of activity, the central business, and yes, criminal, if you may, capital of the country. No one is exempted from being victimized by felony in this side of the planet. Residency in this place does not confer a badge of exemption from its crude and at times fatal expressions. It is for a while a sacred place for the faithful; it is also a Peyton place only for the initiated. Try to walk on its street with your favourite necklace and it would be a goner after reaching the next bend.
If you needed anything from talisman to gadget, from exotic Chinese cuisine to musical instrument, from flowers to Good Morning towelettes, from pamparegla to pangontra-kulam, from military paraphernalia to motorcycle get-ups, actually everything under the sun are vended and splayed on sidewalks. For adventurers seeking thrills as in extreme exposure to danger, for those who wanted their adrenaline running the whole day, an hour in Quiapo as a virtual sea of hazards is a real delight. As a matter of fact, it is an immersion on threat rather than given a treat that greets the visitor. In this place, one can be a fanatic overnight and also an atheist the next day. There are as many as street hawkers as motels in every corner, as many scam artists as devotees either in the Catholic Church in Plaza Miranda or in the town Mosque adjacent the bridge. There are gambling joints and drug peddled alleys, side by side liberal hookers for every gender. It is the senior version of Pattaya in Bangkok, or Shinjuku of Japan. At night, it could also pass on as ancestor of Las Vegas.
Even at present, Quiapo, for all its pitfalls, is still the home of the best smoked ham in the world “Excellente” ham. The delightful mutton is housed in a humble store a few paces away from Plaza Miranda en route under McArthur bridge. Mamonluk mami house is still there. Globe Lumpia house is also a few steps from the mami establishment. Yuppies from nearby cities would flock to these gastronomic places and their day would be marked with satisfaction (even while proceeding in this place, they have the eerie feeling that they are like luxury cruise plying the route of Somalia waters!) A stone’s throw away is Raon Street (now Gil J. Puyat Street), where every electronic gadget from spare parts to musical instruments can be procured. It is the “Akihabara” (of Japan) here in the country. Anyone wanting to have the latest pirated DVD, the most recent porno material, cheap hardware tool or rewinding a defective electric fan, one can just stroll along the busy avenue.
The road is always at a standstill, a mixed traffic of all types of vehicles, from man driven pedicab to motorbikes, bicycle, SUVs, cargo trucks, tricycle, horse drawn carriers, name it, it’s there. Along the sea of humanity traversing the ultra and over crowded lane, only the snatchers can easily navigate the area without hassles at all.
For quite sometime, Quiapo’s Plaza Miranda was a flash point in politics. It has earned the axiom “Defend that in Plaza Miranda” if an issue requires national review. After it became a deadly ambush site (remember the Plaza Miranda bombing where almost the entire Liberal Party was wiped out in a single grenade explosion sometime in the early ‘70s), it has become an eerie sight and a haunted place since. To date, it is the dumping ground for those whose commerce is more on cut flowers and seeking divine counsel from itinerant fortune tellers dotting the place.
One cannot project himself as survivor or anyone charmed unless he goes through Quiapo unscathed. A period of immersion in this town is litmus test for endurance and well, an earned certification for being blessed. The ill fated Sodom and Gomorrah of Biblical times would look like a kindergarten playground compared with this hub!
For a time, Quiapo was the center of Philippine universe, until SM and Robinson Malls grabbed the attention of the present generation. Be that as it may, whenever in Manila, I still enjoy the thought of renewing my ties in this hell-of-a-place and feel thereafter a sense of being sainted.
For all the warts and halos in the place, Quiapo remained the soul of the past, a capitol of my forefathers, my personal Mecca and most likely the cosmos of my grandchildren and their successors ahead.