For the love of Manila Bay

Pia Ranada

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Over 3,000 sunset-watchers formed a human chain to protest against the Manila Bay reclamation last February 12

SAVE THE BAY, SAVE THE SUNSET. No to reclamation, say these sunset watchers. Photos and video by Pia Ranada

MANILA, Philippines – The Synchronized Sunset-Viewing event last February 12 against the Manila Bay reclamation started out like any other breezy afternoon in Manila Bay.

Cars passed through Roxas Boulevard without any care in the world. Vendors pushed their carts of chips and biscuits through the baywalk where scattered revellers walked around.

In Rajah Sulayman Plaza in front of Malate Church, some revellers wore large cameras around their necks. Soon, they began speaking to each other facing the bay and looking around for others like them.

In a few minutes, there were a dozen of them.

In a few more, the plaza was bound on all sides by crowds.

There was no apparent order to the affair. No battle cries or impassioned crowd-hyping.

Students still in their uniforms carried colorful placards that read “Save Our Sunset” or “No to reclamation.” Children biked through the square. The crowds chatted, hummed, and heaved under the late afternoon sun.

Then at 5:10pm, the crowd began to move. Many lifted their placards and flags as the multi-tendrilled throng crossed Roxas Boulevard to the baywalk.

THE STUDENTS' CRY. Students of nearby schools carry art project placards declaring their opposition to the Gold Coast reclamation project

There, they joined a line already formed by employees of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Slowly but surely and with a life of its own, the line extended itself from the Manila Bay Yacht Club to several meters beyond the part of the baywalk facing Rajah Sulayman Park.

Scattered organizers with yellow ribbons tied around their arms tried to spread out watchers to extend the line. Meanwhile, a group armed with drums and ukulele’s began playing songs. A couple of people joined in, sang along, and clapped their hands to the beat of the music.

GATHERED FOR SUNDOWN. Watchers wait for the sunset

Behind all this, literally and figuratively, was the light-bleeding sky where the sun was about to set. Golden light illuminated the boats in the distance while fog obscured the mountains beyond.

While waiting for the sun to set, the watchers sat on the baywalk chatting or munching on snacks from baywalk vendors. A group had gathered in front of a regal lady dressed all in white who had set up her canvas and easel to paint.

FOREVER IN LOVE WITH MANILA BAY. Betsy Westendorp paints at the Synchronized Sunset-Viewing. Photo by Melinda Gabuya

She was Betsy Westendorp, an artist known for her great love for Manila Bay. Of course, she was painting the sunset.

Manila Bay love affair

A LA CARLOS. Sunset watcher Jomar Carpena takes his stance for the Manila Bay sunset. Photo by Melinda Gabuya

The event was meant to be romantic, with people protesting that the Gold Coast reclamation will only ruin the “romance” of Manila Bay.

You can read about Department of Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez’s own thoughts on the reclamation issue here.

Rappler asked watchers about their love affair with the famous and historic bay, and here’s what they had to say:

Twenty-one-year-old Jomar Carpena, dressed in a blue and green barong and top hat ala Carlos Celdran (who also dropped by) said, “Mahal ko yung Manila Bay kahit mabaho siya (I love Manila Bay even if it stinks). That’s true love.”

LINKING UP. Friends and strangers hold hands for the love of Manila Bay

He also cited his environmental advocacy as a reason for his participation in the event.

Kapag nag-reclaim ng land, mahaharangan ‘yung mga natural waterway, mas babaha (If there is reclamation, natural waterways will be blocked which will exacerbate flooding).”

Patis Talaue said she loves Manila Bay not just for its view “but also because of its place in our culture. It’s already a part of me. I used to work in Parañaque and in PICC. I’m used to seeing it whenever I went to work.”

Touch the sky

SAVE THE BAY. Environmental advocates wave their flags against the Gold Coast reclamation

At around 6pm, organizers began telling people to stand on the baywalk. The sun was about to make its exit.

It was not exactly a synchronized affair. With the great size of the crowd and the “ushers” lacking microphones or megaphones, information and action came slowly and in bits and pieces.

But finally, a majority of the watchers were standing. By this time, the sky was a fiery fusion of pink, orange, yellow, blue, and lavender. Many raised their hands as if to touch the sky as the street band sang and played to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”

'WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.' A live band plays as the sun sets

An arm wave began somewhere in the line, undulated to the left but petered out before it got to the other end. But all eyes were facing the darkened sky.

Finally, the sun had taken its leave. Many watchers stayed to enjoy the cool breeze. Others dispersed in their own little groups to go home or eat dinner in the nearby restaurants.

As quietly and casually as it started, the event ended.

But the magnificent sight of over 3,000 people watching the sunset will live on, hopefully to remind all who have seen it of the great love they bear for Manila Bay. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.