Filipino culture

[OPINION] Ignorant Manilenyo

Amanda T. Lago
[OPINION] Ignorant Manilenyo


'Manilenyos are the lonely middle children of the Philippines. We aren’t part of a smaller tribe or community that we can share cultural in-jokes with.'

One evening as I walked back from buying cream cheese buns at 7-11, a man called out to me and asked me for directions.

Actually, I just assumed he was asking me for directions because I couldn’t understand a thing he was saying except for “manang,” which is like the Ilokano equivalent of “ate,” and which I really should remember to use more often here in La Union.

I told him I didn’t speak Ilokano and he motioned his hand dismissively, and for the rest of my walk I kept cursing my stupid Manilenyo self for not knowing how to speak Ilokano.

I currently live in the province where my grandfather was born. I actually saw his last name, my middle name, on gravestones at the local cemetery and got really excited.

I changed all my default addresses on Lazada and Shopee, so the move is pretty official. It’s the first time I’m living anywhere outside of Metro Manila, where I was born, and where I grew up, and where I always say I’m from when I’m traveling around the Philippines – often, to the disappointment of the people who ask.

Take for example this conversation I had with a trike driver in Butuan when I visited in 2015:

Saan ka galing (Where did you come from)?”
Sa Manila po (Manila)?”
Pero saan ka talaga galing (But where are you really from)?”
“Sa Manila po (Manila).”
Pero anong probinsya mo (But what province are you from)?”
“Ah wala po, Manila lang po (Oh, nowhere, just Manila).”
Ang lungkot naman nun (How sad).”

Well, what was I supposed to say? My parents were both born and raised in Metro Manila.

Sometimes my mom will lay claim to her Ilokano ancestry by pointing out how she reuses last week’s ulam in tonight’s leftover fried rice. But the truth is, she grew up one street away from where I did in the area of Makati that’s right on the fringes of the central business district and is now POGO central. (I feel a strange pride whenever I realize that I live in the same village where you can find SaGuijo AND that POGO nightclub that turned out to be a brothel.)

My dad grew up in Sta. Ana, right in front of an estero that in ancient Manila was probably used as a highway to transport goods. One of my dad’s favorite childhood stories is when his dad showed off his swimming skills in Manila Bay, only to emerge from the water without his dentures. Dad’s dad, Elmo Sr., whom I never met, was a Manila boy.

Dad’s mom, Lily or Lola Sta. Ana, was born in Atimonan, Quezon. She was orphaned at 13, and her kuya raised her and her ate in Manila, where he was studying.

Despite being born in La Union, mom’s dad was also a Manila boy – which I bet is one of the reasons why my lola married him.

Mom’s mom, Lita or Lola School, is from Noveleta, Cavite. When I was a kid, we would go to Noveleta for Undas and Christmas. I knew it then as this sleepy place where the adults would gossip and play bingo, and I would hang out in the botika that my mom’s tita owned, helping count the loose change and seeing what candies I could take with lola’s permission.

Mom always said that Lita always wanted to get out of the province. She had her sights set on Manila, so it made sense that she moved there the first chance she got. She met Primitivo while they were both college students at the University Belt, where me and most of my cousins would also go to college.

As a young married couple, they settled in Makati, in the same village where most of their descendants still live. Lita taught at St. Scho, and Primitivo worked at a bank in Escolta, and they would go on dates there (In fact, before she died, Lola was able to take us to the Chinese restaurant they frequented: Ramon Lee’s Panciteria.)

All this family history to say that my roots run deep in Manila, and nowhere else, and as the trike driver in Butuan said, “Ang lungkot naman (How sad).”

It is kind of sad because when you come from Manila, it feels like you come from nowhere. You’ve just always been there. There is no incredible journey or exodus to speak of.

Manilenyos are the lonely middle children of the Philippines. We aren’t part of a smaller tribe or community that we can share cultural in-jokes with.

We don’t speak anything else but the kind of watered-down Tagalog that sounds terribly plain when you hear the Tagalog of, say, Batangueños. (Technically, I am a Tagalog – but give me a novel or even an article written in full Tagalog and it takes me twice as long to read).

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It’s also sad because there seems to be some sort of animosity towards Manilenyos wherever we go in the Philippines. In my experience, it’s an automatic turn-off when people learn that you’re from Manila and ONLY Manila.

Maybe it’s the whole phenomenon of Imperial Manila, which I had to Google just now because I’ve heard it thrown around as a phrase and know what it means in context but never really bothered to learn more about it.

Let me quote from Wikipedia (I apologize for using Wikipedia; I have sinned against Henry Cavill):

“Imperial Manila is a pejorative epithet used by sectors of Philippine society and non-Manileños to express the idea that all the affairs of the Philippines, whether in politics, economy and business, or culture, are decided by what goes on in the capital region, Metro Manila without considering the needs of the rest of the country, largely because of centralized government and urbanite snobbery.”

My family history can attest to the imperialism of Manila. I mean, the reason why my family wound up in Manila in the first place is that my great grandparents had to leave their own home provinces (Camiguin and Cagayan) because all the opportunities were concentrated in the capital region.

Wikipedia also mentions “urbanite snobbery,” which is I guess where the animosity comes from, too. I guess most non-Manilenyos assume that Manilenyos are ignorant.

I am here to say that they would be absolutely 100% correct.

We are ignorant. But no one should take our ignorance as an insult. We’re ignorant about so many things – ourselves most of all. –

Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.