This week, 66 years ago, over 120,000 Filipinos died in the city of Manila. These Filipinos died as “collateral damage”, caught between the Japanese Imperial Army and the United States Armed Forces during World War II. General Douglas McArthur had returned to Manila just as he had promised. The problem is, he had returned without a plan. With the return of the Americans, the desperate Japanese began massacre-ing the Filipinos by the thousands. To stop the Japanese, McArthur decides to drop a bomb on the beautiful city of Manila, killing of course the Japanese, but along with them some 120,000 Filipinos and destroying the then booming, cosmopolitan city of Manila.
Once a year, famous Manila tour guide, Carlos Celdran, holds a special sunset tour of Intramuros called Transitio 1945. It is a short walking tour of Intramuros, a brief history of the Philippines for those with short attention spans. The tour ends with a concert with 1940’s music, an art installation exhibit and finally, the release of 120 sky lanterns to commemorate the 120,000 Filipinos who died in the 1945 bombing.
I’m not sure how different this tour is from the usual Intramuros tour by Carlos Celdran, but the significance of this anniversary is marked by a short prayer at the ruins of St. Ignatius Cathedral and the original Ateneo in Intramuros; as well as a stop at the San Agustin Church which is the only one of seven cathedrals in Intramuros that survived the war.
Celdran does not mince words as he tells the tale of Philippine history and explains how the mix of numerous influences has made the jeepney and halo-halo, epitomes of Philippine culture. He apologizes for the Manila that exists today, by telling a tale of the Manila that was, and how its heart and soul was extinguished in March 1945.
I very much enjoyed this nostalgic trip into 1940’s Manila. Despite the strange March rain, the tour was fun and the music was great; but the highlight of the night for me was the release of the sky lanterns. Though a couple got caught in trees and one threatened to burn the bell tower of the cathedral, one by one, the sky lanterns dotted the sky behind the Manila Cathedral. Wet weather, 40’s music, Philippine history and sky lanterns all combined to make it a memorable night.