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January 17, 2018 / emmanintheworld

#ReElect2019: Koko Pimentel

It’s the start of 2018…so let’s talk about 2019!

I know it’s a bit early to talk about the Philippine midterms (it’s 16 months away!) but there’s already a lot of buzz in the media about it. Privately-commissioned polls have already been released to generate interest for possible ‘senatoriables’. Senators up for reelection are commenting on every issue for that extra TV time. And, of course, fluff pieces and rumors about some candidates are slowly coming out.

Pro-Duterte figures like PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and radio commentator Erwin Tulfo are in the Top 12 of the recent SWS and Laylo polls even though they have not expressed their intention to run. Other newcomers in the Top 20 are Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista and Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos.

Now, it’s difficult to analyze the chances of non-senators in the race because they haven’t ran a nationwide campaign before. Surprisingly, being a member of a prominent political family does not guarantee a place in the Senate (although it’s a major boost to candidates).

For example, then-Representative Jack Enrile (1st District of Cagayan) was placing solidly in the middle of the Magic 12 (even reaching as high as 4th place) more than a year before the 2013 elections. But when the campaign season started he slowly fell in the rankings until he finished 15th. On the other hand, MTRCB Chairman Grace Poe had the opposite story. She wasn’t even included in the Top 15 of the polls before the campaign season but she gained enough support that she finished first, outperforming Senator Loren Legarda and Senator Chiz Escudero.

Because of this uncertainty, the following discussion would focus on the incumbent senators seeking reelection where actual data could be used as basis. Their vote shares in the 2013 elections and the results of the 2016 presidential election could provide insights on how they’ll perform in midterms.

Before diving into the discussion, some disclaimers have to be made. First and foremost, I’m not an expert on polling or political analysis in general. I probably will misinterpret some of the data so take my conclusions with a grain of salt. The purpose of this post is just to start the conversation on the midterm elections.

Secondly, keep in mind that I’m writing this with the assumption that the current political atmosphere (very pro-Duterte) would hold until 2019. There’s not a lot of pushback on the move to federalism and no effects yet from the first tax reform package. I’m sure that both issues would be front and center in the midterms but I’m still uncertain whether public sentiment would continue to be like this or if it would swing to the opposite direction.

Lastly, the shift to federalism has made the prospect of a 2019 midterm elections less probable. In the House of Representatives’ resolution for a constituent assembly, the reelectionist senators would have their terms extended until 2022. However, there would still be an election for each state senator. This is still a proposal, however, and anything is possible if the assembly is convened.

With these disclaimers out of the way, here’s how I think the reelectionist senators would perform given the current environment:

1. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III

Hometown: Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental (Region X)
Political Party: PDP-Laban
2013 election results: 14.7 million votes (8th)

Since Senator Pimentel was an incumbent seeking reelection (even if he only served a portion of his term) back in 2013, it’s not surprising that he was part of the Top 12 in the 2013 midterm elections. Since the 2007 senate elections, only three incumbent senators have lost the elections (Senator Ralph Recto in 2007; Senators Serge Osmena and TG Guingona in 2016). The odd thing is actually who sent him to the Senate (and who didn’t).

The 2013 voter breakdown per island group is 55.23% (Luzon) – 21.94% (Visayas) – 22.83% (Mindanao). A generic candidate with no political bailiwicks should theoretically have a geographic mix of 55-22-23. Since Pimentel is from Cagayan de Oro, I was expecting that his geographic mix would weigh more towards the Mindanao regions. His votes, however, is actually tilted towards Luzon more with a 58-19-22 mix. For comparison, the 2013 geographic vote mix of Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, a candidate from Bukidnon and is considered Pimentel’s political rival, is 50-22-27.

Pimentel couldn’t claim that he simply overperformed in Luzon because he only placed 3rd (113,779 votes) in his hometown, Cagayan de Oro. Zubiri actually got the top vote in the city with 133,506 votes. This is not the first time the voters of Cagayan de Oro rejected Pimentel. In 2001, he lost the mayoralty race by 50,000 votes to then-incumbent Mayor Vicente Emano. In fact, when Pimentel first took his oath as a senator back in 2011, he opted to do it in Mati, Davao Oriental instead of in Cagayan de Oro.

Fortunately for Pimentel, he did well in vote-rich areas like Davao Region (772,944; 6th place) and National Capital Region (2.1 million votes; 7th place). He’s expected to do even better in 2019 since these are areas which overwhelmingly voted for Duterte (1.84 million in Davao Region and 2.13 million in National Capital Region).

A strong showing in Davao and NCR would place Pimentel safely in the Magic 12. However, if he wants to finish in the top 3 or 5, he would need to increase his votes in Region III and Region IV-A (CALABARZON). He only placed 13th and 10th in the said regions.

Although it’s true that support for Duterte is strong in Central Luzon and CALABARZON, the number of 2016 voters for Poe is not far behind. These Grace Poe voters may have Duterte as their second choice, in which case Pimentel would be expected to rank higher compared to 2013. But, these voters may also be more willing to elect independent/oppoisiton senators as a check to the administration.

All in all, the Senate President’s high approval rating and close relationship with the president would be key factors in the coming midterms. It would help Pimentel increase his overall vote share nationwide and drive up the margins in specific areas (pro-Duterte areas like Davao and NCR). If the current attitude towards the administration holds until the 2019 midterms (if there would be elections), then Pimentel would be a shoe-in for 5th-6th place or even the top 3.

On the other hand, if public opinion towards the Duterte administration turns negative, then Pimentel would be greatly affected. The possible causes for such a swing are the tax reform packages, martial law extension, and the shift to federalism.

A backlash against the tax reform law (TRAIN) may occur as a result of higher prices. The urban poor, an important voting group in NCR and parts of CALABARZON, is the most sensitive to the tax increases since they won’t have as much tax savings as the middle class. The public may also not be aware and feel blindsided that there would be multiple packages for the tax reform.

The extension of the martial law in Mindanao could also look bad on Pimentel, given his leadership position. A majority (62%) of Filipinos already think that the extension is not needed. If the Supreme Court strikes down the December 13 ML extension, then it may spark questions regarding Congress’ (in)ability to be independent from the executive branch.

Lastly, Congress’ approach to shift to federalism would also have an  affect on public opinion. There’s a split between the Senate and the House on how to transition into a federalist government. Pimentel has already rejected the House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s (1st District of Davao del Norte) proposal to cancel the 2019 elections. It looks like senators are more wary of a fast transition compared to the representatives since they’re more exposed to public scrutiny.

Even with these possible roadblocks, Pimentel’s election should be easier compared to 2007 and 2013. His main priority should be to campaign with Duterte to increase his votes in Davao, CALABARZON, and Central Luzon.

 

Note: I’ll update this post with the analysis for the other reelectionists. Next up is Senator Sonny Angara

Source:

COMELEC 2016 turn-out data: http://data.gov.ph/search/type/dataset?query=election&btnSearch=

Rappler’s #PHVote 2016 election results: https://ph.rappler.com/elections/2016/results/map

Rappler’s Official Tally of the 2013 Senatorial Votes: https://www.rappler.com/nation/politics/elections-2013/features/rich-media/29126-official-tally-votes-2013-senatorial-race

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December 26, 2016 / emmanintheworld

MMFF 2016

Damn. The 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has now started and it’s definitely a different experience.

My usual MMFF routine is to watch one film with the family on Christmas Day and watch another one a week after if the buzz is good. But this year, I’m planning to watch almost all of the entries this year (still not sure about Vince & Kath & James though).

I’ll add my thoughts on the movies I watched below:

1. Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: #ForeverIsNotEnough
Director: Marlon Rivera
Writer: Chris Martinez

The (movie) crew is back and they’re creating a romcom this time around. With her character looking to make a comeback after a sabbatical from showbiz, Eugene Domingo is determined to make a record-breaking commercial success. However, her “suggestions” are exactly the opposite of what director Rainier (played by Kean Cipriano) had in mind for the film.

After the original Septic Tank made fun of Philippine independent filmmaking and how it was slowly becoming mainstream, the sequel made a 180 and looked at how different an indie movie is when compared to a mainstream movie.

In Rainier’s mind, The Itinerary will have Joel Torre as the leading man for his world-weary look and subdued acting.  But Eugene Domingo keeps on imagining Jericho Rosales in the leading man role since they have “chemistry”. She also wants new characters (“Kailangan may bakla!”), a theme song, and an origin story for the leading lady.

Obviously, the approach from an indie and a mainstream perspective is wildly different. Randomly adding Eugene’s suggestions-slash-tropes into the scenes that Rainier had in mind emphasized the absurdity of it all. Imagine your best friend suddenly calling you to dish out relationship advice (and ask for ube jam) at the exact moment when you made the decision to leave your husband. It’s jarring and funny as hell at the same time. You just can’t help but be exasperated with Joel Torre.

The contrast between Rainier’s home life and work life is also a nice touch from Rivera and Martinez. For example, the scene where we see Rainier for the first time ended with the camera panning out to capture him working while his wife and child are in the other room – you can feel the distance between the two. On the other hand, the scene where we first saw Eugene and Rainier together ended with a  groufie (with laughing sounds to make it realistic) in the spa resort.

The film culminated into a fight between Eugene and Rainier about mainstream vs indie movies. Eugene defended formulaic movies as moviegoers wanted a safe and predictable escape from their daily suffering. However, Rainier refuted this by saying that movies, or at least The Itinerary, should reflect the lives of ordinary Filipinos given how personal filmmaking is to the creators.

“Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2: #ForeverIsNotEnough” is a strong contender in the 42nd MMFF because it balanced being funny and thought-provoking. Although the arguments above are nothing new, I think it’s still very relevant and worth thinking over. Are the two sides really mutually exclusive? If not, how do we bridge this gap? Is it arrogance on the part of the filmmakers to treat their market as an afterthought?

2. Saving Sally
Director:Avid Liongoren
Writer: Charlene Sawit-Esguerra

 

The plot of this movie is simple enough: Marty, a comic book artist, is in love with his “weird and nerdy” best friend, Sally. Naturally, he can’t confess his feelings for her since he’s too shy and is waiting for the right moment. Sally, on the other hand, is an inventor who is too busy dealing with her home life and secret projects that she hasn’t noticed Marty’s affection for her.

What makes Saving Sally stand out is the animation. It’s obvious that the heart of the animation team was poured into this film since the flow of the drawings is so smooth. Plus, the animation is cleverly incorporated into every part of Marty’s life. He sees almost every character as a monster, which gives the production team space to draw random creatures out of thin air. There’s even one monster who is shaped like a penis – specifically a dickhead! Sally’s gadgets – from a floating night light to a automatic ironing machine – are also very creative and well-drawn. These gadgets are light and quirky enough that it didn’t feel too confusing when they’re all out.

 

On the scenes where the setting is also animated, the wit of the creators shine through. What is one of Marty and Sally’s usual hangout places? Sandara Park. What’re the names of the stores behind Marty when he was acting as the bridge for Sally and her boyfriend? “Martyr” and “Beh Botika Nga”. Little jokes like these made me chuckle and appreciate their attention to detail.

Saving Sally’s exceptional animation isn’t there just for the movie to be cute or fluffy. It also highlighted the moods of the characters in the scene. It’s an effective tool especially when Marty finally revealed his feelings for Sally.

The dialogue of the movie also sounds natural. Each character, no matter how little screen time they get, have their own distinct voices. Marty’s dad is ever-distracted with his toys while Tito sounds like…well, a joker of an uncle who never had a serious moment in his life.

Saving Sally knows what kind of film it is. It consistently avoided adding unnecessary drama to spice up the conflict between the characters. The movie is about Marty saving Sally from the monsters in her life, whichever form it may take.

At this point, I only watched two movies in the entire film fest but I’m already sure that this will be in my top 3 list.

September 5, 2016 / emmanintheworld

BRT: From TransMilenio to TransCebu

Everyone knows that the traffic in Manila is hellish. The highways become parking lots even if the rush ‘hour’ has long since passed. Public transportation is ill-maintained and disorganized. There are tens of thousands of vehicles that pass through the overcrowded EDSA, the main highways of Metro Manila.The situation is so bad that President Duterte wants the Congress to grant him emergency powers to solve this issue.

But what exactly should be done in order to solve the ever-present traffic problem?

One of the solutions that has long been proposed is the development of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in urban cities. The BRT is a system where buses have exclusive lanes (typically in the center of the road) to avoid mixed congestion. This is usually done at surface level, which basically means that BRTs are like subways on the street-level.

The benefits of the BRT, compared to the present setup in the urban cities in the Philippines, are obvious: (1) Unruly bus drivers won’t be able to clog traffic because of the dedicated lanes. In this setup, they are physically limited to a single lane and passengers can only board on specific terminals. (2) Colorum buses won’t be able to operate anymore since they would be prevented from entering the bus-only lanes. This should maximize the bus occupancy rate during the off-peak hours. (3) Private vehicle owners would be incentivized to use the BRT instead of driving the cars given that the bus lanes would have faster traffic flows. Buses also have priority in intersections, which would contribute to the commuter’s shorter travel time. (4) Unlike railways and elevated roads, the construction of BRTs should be faster and at a fraction of the cost since it is only surface-level. While the 16.9-kilometer MRT line in EDSA took 5 years before it was inaugurated, the time it took for the initial BRT line to develop, from idea to operation, was 36 months.

Perhaps the most famous example of this system is TransMilenio, Bogota’s 112-km BRT line. The world’s largest BRT system began in December 2000 and was so successful that commuters are saving 233 hours annually. Air pollutants are down by 40 percent since the implementation of the system. There was also an observed reduction in fatalities (92 percent), injuries (75 percent), and collisions (79 percent). That viral quote about the “rich using transportation” is also attributed to Enrique Penalosa, the mayor of Bogota who championed for the use of the BRT.

Given that the BRT system has been successful in many urban cities around the world, how are we not pushing for this to be present in the Philippines?

Well, there are already plans to develop a similar system in Manila and Cebu. President Aquino has approved a 12-kilometer Manila-Quezon line last December 2015. There are also talks of BRT systems in the present administration (one along EDSA and one replacing the LRT-2 line), though none has been finalized yet. Although these proposals could be at risk of being stuck in government bureaucracy, there is already a BRT project that should start construction soon: TransCebu.

The BRT system in Cebu City , which has an initial line of 11-kilometers, will start construction in 2016 and should be complete in 2018. This project is financed jointly by the Philippine government and the World Bank. The dedicated bus lanes would also have a total of 176 buses and would service an estimated 330,000 passengers daily.

With the way public works projects are usually handled in the country, it is worth checking if the implementation is up to international standards. The Metro Rail Transit, for example, had delays in every phase of the project because of perceived irregularities and lawsuits. From the awarding of the contract in 1989, the MRT project was in limbo until construction finally started in 1995.

According to the World Bank status report released on June 2, 2016, the Cebu BRT project was rated ‘moderately satisfactory’ on the both ‘Progress towards Achievement of Project Development Objective’ and ‘Overall Implementation Progress’. However, the risk attached to this project was bumped to ‘High’ from the ‘Substantial’ rating it got in the previous status report. The higher risk rating comes mainly from the Technical Design and the Institutional Capacity for Implementation and Sustainability categories. It seems like the bottlenecks are caused by lack of technical knowledge and slow decision-making (particularly on environmental and right of way issues).

In order for a smooth and immediate transition from the current setup to the BRT system, it’s important that the Department of Transportation and the Cebu City government look at TransMilenio as a learning experience. The Colombian BRT line has been lauded internationally given the agreeable partnership between the government and its stakeholders in its initial line.

An office under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) used TransMilenio as a case study for successful private-public partnerships (PPP). It attributed the BRT line’s success to a number of factors including the participation of stakeholders in the transport industry, the political and financial support for the project, and the allocation of technical support. The roles of the public and private sector are clearly differentiated. Both the Ministry of Transport and the city government work as regulators while a specific government-owned corporation oversees the construction and maintenance of the BRT system. Lastly, a private consortium controls the operations.The details of the operations are also defined between the bus operators, fare collectors, and the control center.

With the differentiated roles between all stakeholders, there is minimal gray areas where misunderstandings (and lawsuits) can take place. Financial equity has also been a priority during the consultations which may have contributed to the working partnership between the stakeholders. Private bus operators are also consulted from the start in order to ensure an agreeable deal given that the BRT may push some drivers out of business.

At the same time, we should also look at how TransMilenio is currently having problems scaling up its initial successes since critics from both inside and outside the systems are opposing its expansion.

The former deputy general manager of TransMilenio, Dario Hidalgo, said that the opposition facing the BRT line is caused by the lack of political support for the system. He said that former Mayor Penalosa’s opponents attacked TransMilenio because it was his pet project. It is also bucking under the weight of its own success since buses and terminals are now overcrowded with commuters. Hidalgo said that they didn’t prioritize high quality user experience when coming up with the cost scheme, which resulted to lower quality service during peak hours. Confusion over the routes is also possible given the lack of maps in each stations.

These are issues that the officials working on the Cebu BRT should study since it is easy to imagine it happening in the country. If the TransCebu project is perceived to be a pet project of a particular administration or political family, it would be criticized similar to the 4Ps (which was pushed as one of President Aquino’s tangible legacies). The development of the BRT should be user-based given that political support for it would also depend on public opinion. Quality service should be prioritized, even at the expense of cheap fares, since government subsidization could always be done.

There’s a lot riding on TransCebu since it is seen as a prototype for the Manila implementation. If done properly, this would not only solve the traffic but also usher in economic growth to both urban cities and the surrounding rural areas. With luck, Manila won’t be the “gates of hell” anymore.

July 27, 2016 / emmanintheworld

Irrational is Rational

Law and Order. Iron Fist. Emergency Powers.

Duterte supporters know that these are exactly what the Philippines needs. Corrupt authorities and incompetent leaders have done nothing in the face of drugs and crime. Pushers and addicts, along with the harm that they do to society, have been ignored for far too long. The drug lords that supply the poison that ruins each life it touches are allowed to live in luxury, whether they’re in prison or ‘the outside world’.

Don’t call them stupid for yearning for change. Before Duterte came, they have been slowly losing confidence in the ability of the government to provide a safe environment for their family. When others turned a blind eye, or perhaps took on a more active role, in the normalization of illegal drug use in the country, they resigned themselves to the fact that crime would be an inescapable fact of Philippine society.

That’s why Duterte is such an appealing figure for them. He’s not the usual politician who promises results. He’s the type of leader who will do everything, opinion of others be damned, just to provide results. For someone who wanted and expected change in a long time, this is something to look forward to.

Sure, they know that the vigilante killings are terrible. Innocents may have been shot and tossed aside. But, ultimately, the loss of some lives would be worth it if the hundreds saved from drug-related crimes are still alive and kicking.

Extrajudicial killings. Human rights violation. Martial Law.

Duterte critics, on the other hand, know all too well where this violence is headed. The blatant disregard for human life and dignity is familiar, especially for those who lived during the Martial Law. They know that if left unchecked, the Duterte administration would slowly turn into the Duterte dictatorship.

Don’t think that they’re just yellow zombies who are bitter about the May elections. For them, this goes beyond politics. Their protests should not be taken as a form of obstructionism to Duterte’s policies (a la Binay’s UNA during the Aquino administration) but rather as a defense of civilized society.

That’s why they’re so frustrated when Duterte supporters underestimate the effect of neglecting due process. It’s one of the few safeguards from injustice in this country and trivializing its importance would mean weakening our already vulnerable institutions. If Duterte supporters still advocate for the ‘iron fist approach’, then they’re just being zealots who refuses to think for themselves.

Sure, the government is finally having results in their fight against drugs. The mass surrenders and public naming of corrupt officials give Filipinos hope that a safer Philippines is within reach. Illegal drug use is shamed rather than tolerated. But, the senseless spilling of blood could and should have been avoided if the Duterte supporters took a moment to consider the consequences of their fanaticism.

July 26, 2016 / emmanintheworld

TraPolitics

ADJOURNMENT OF SESSION

REP. DURANO. Mr. Speaker, I move that we adjourn the session until May 23, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. I so move, Mr. Speaker.

REP.COLMENARES. Mr. Speaker, kanina pa po naghihintay ang mga tao dito, Mr. Speaker. THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Rep. Padilla). There is a motion to adjourn the session. Is there any objection? (Silence)

REP.COLMENARES. Kanina pa naghihintay ang mga tao dito for this historic moment to override, Mr. Speaker. Dapat tindigan po natin, Mr. Speaker, ang historic na override ng veto ni President Aquino, Mr. Speaker, sa SSS.

THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Rep. Padilla). There being none; the session is adjourned until May 23, 2016, at four o’clock in the afternoon.

It was 7:40 p.m.

 

The exchange above happened last February 23, 2016 and was the last day of the 16th Congress. This shows how the leadership in the Lower House shut down the efforts by Rep. Colmenares to have the SSS veto be overridden by a vote.

They shouldn’t have been allowed to ignore Colmenares’ objection to the adjournment. This is not how democracy works!

Note: This came from the Congressional Record here. There’s also a speech by Rep. Turabin-Hataman about the Bangsamoro Basic Law in the same file.

July 26, 2016 / emmanintheworld

The Third Man

It’s official. Sen. Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III is the Senate President of the 17th Congress of the Philippines. How did the guy who protested his way to the Senate become the Senate President in five years?

In his inaugural speech, Pimentel acknowledged the odd situation of him being elected to the top post despite being the only member of the PDP-Laban in the Upper House. He credited it to his fellow senators’ selflessness and willingness to try new approaches. In particular, he credited Senators Drilon, Sotto, and Legarda for making it all possible.

Obviously, the senators didn’t vote for him as an act of selflessness. Like a traditional politician, Pimentel was very much open to making deals in order to secure his goal even if it means making his party-mates vulnerable to criticism. In this case, he gave out powerful committee chairmanships to Senators Leila de Lima and Panfilo Lacson, notable critics of the new administration.

This is not surprising since Pimentel doesn’t really have a record of consistency and credibility.

Coming off the win on his 2007 electoral protest, Pimentel packaged himself as an opponent of injustice and advocate of the rule of law. As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, he supported the decriminalization of libel in the Philippines. No less than the United Nations Human Rights Committee has characterized the libel laws in this country as excessive.

He also said in a 2015 interview that criminals should be treated with respect and dignity as human beings. He pushed for reforms that would improve the efforts to rehabilitate and train prisoners for social reintegration.

However, Pimentel reversed himself in both cases. He withdrew his support for libel decriminalization in May 2014 in the aftermath of the Napoles’s affidavit on the pork barrel scam. He did this not just because he thought the bill wouldn’t pass the plenary; he wanted to use the libel laws to sue Napoles and some media outfits himself!

Pimentel also forgot his advocacy for criminals’ right to be treated with respect and dignity when he defended Duterte’s statements on media killings during the campaign period. His justification was that the Constitution doesn’t protect journalists from violence if they resort to violence.

Also, Pimentel was one of the few senators who pushed for a probe on media killings during the Aquino administration. In fact, he kept on calling for one even during the campaign period. However, he hasn’t provided any statement on the extrajudicial killings since President Duterte won the elections.

With these inconsistencies as his record, it’s especially hard to imagine him following the footsteps of leaders like Manuel Quezon and Jovito Salonga as the Senate President. Let’s just hope that he shapes up quick or else the Senate as an institution will be a mess for at least the next three years.

 

 

July 24, 2016 / emmanintheworld

Chinatown

If there’s one thing that is present in any diverse country, it is a Chinatown. The gate that symbolizes the friendship between the local Chinese community and the host citizens, Buddhist temples which attract both the religious and the curious, and hawkers selling cheap (and possibly unsanitary) street food are familiar sights to most people all over the world.

This is why it comes as no surprise that the different Chinatowns will be compared. Which Chinatown sells the cheapest branded bags? Which one has the must-visit restaurants? Which one has the best temples? And of course, which one is the ‘most Chinese’ of them all?

This is where Manila’s Chinatown comes in.

Filipinos know that Binondo, despite being the oldest Chinatown in the world, is not the most traditional of all Chinatowns. In fact, it’s full of contradictions. Just walk along Ongpin Street and you’ll hear Filipino tricycle drivers shouting at each other. Ube-colored firetrucks, possibly the best representation of Binondo itself, parked beside kalesas, a throwback to the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. Walk a few meters from one of the Chinatown gates and you’ll see Binondo Church, a Dominican church which also commemorates the first Filipino saint. These contradictions have a huge effect on the perception of Binondo as a legitimate Chinatown.

A few years ago, my Sociology and Anthropology professor organized a ‘City Senses Tour’ in Chinatown. One of the most common observations from the class was that exploring the place didn’t feel like going to China. Unlike other Chinatowns, any attempt to immerse in the Chinese culture would be hampered by distinctly Filipino influences. It also didn’t feel like any other Chinatown since the Buddhist temples are hidden instead of showed off as a point of attraction. In fact, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the country, Guan Sheng Fu Zi Temple, is inside a maze of buildings and back alleys.

The initial purpose of enclaves is to preserve and showcase the practices and values of a specific community. In that respect, Manila’s Chinatown is failing. But it is successful in something else: showing how culture evolves without losing its core values.

Perhaps, a perfect example for this would be the ube hopia of Eng Bee Tin. This pastry catapulted the third-generation family business into nationwide fame because it improved on the Chinese delicacy, using the Filipino ube, without losing its essence.

The beauty of Binondo is that it adapts. It doesn’t let itself be restricted by being a traditional Chinatown and is more than willing to look outside the box for ideas. In this lens, the constradictions of Binondo reinforces the fact that the district is alive and evolving.

Although Binondo is not the traditional Chinatown, it’s one of the ‘most Chinese’ in the sense that it knows how to adapt and keep evolving in this world.

P.S. One of the things that people often forget about Binondo is that it existed even before a Fililpino culture and identity was formed. It’s not just a ‘country within a country’ like other Chinatowns. Ours is a witness to Manila’s defining moments: from the Spanish occupation to post-World War II reconstruction. It’s possible that Ongpin Street is as integral to our nation’s history as EDSA itself.