[OPINION] The abuse of space: Manila’s 1943 ‘Nyoka’ moment

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Oct 18 2019 04:51 PM

Quality of life as an objective of governance in behalf of its constituent communities is a constitutional mandate.
The leaders of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and its component local government units are expected to be aware of it. They may have read but disregarded it and a fat maybe, they did not understand it! Or, just do not care, quite evidently. The concept could simply be beyond their ken. A misfortune!

Here is what our Constitution states as Article II--Declaration of Principles and State Policies -- “Section 16. The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.”

I am afraid there is still no case law or jurisprudence in the annals of our Supreme Court that has had the opportunity to specifically adjudicate upon such an esoteric phrase as “the rhythm and harmony of nature.” Patently, there has been no judicial dispute where “Section 16” has been specifically invoked and elucidated upon. But that should not be an excuse for the spirit of Section 16 not to be embedded in day-to-day municipal governance, (nationwide, in fact), not to be a prevailing guiding precept and reasonable goal of everyday living.

I do recall, however, that about a decade ago, the Supreme Court did act upon a citizen complaint involving the clean-up and rehabilitation of Manila Bay. “The constitutional right to life, health and a balanced ecology” may have been invoked at the time but beyond the use of such quoted phrase, I do not recall any delineation, description or in the least an allusion to what “rhythm and harmony of nature” ought to mean in reference to the right to life, health, and a balanced ecology. That would have been a definitive precedent. But then, that instance had nothing to do with the more pressing, near-lethal malaise of Metro Manila and its principal cause: population overload!

I also recall that such citizen concern and action was a signal victory for the environment and the private litigants representing the general public. Unfortunately and truly sad to observe, no such rehabilitation and continuing clean-up is even permanently discernible today. Worse yet, speaking of the environment and ecology in Manila Bay, what used to be a delta or an islet formed over God’s time from mangrove growth, a spot of green as a bounty of nature, has been obliterated. It has been converted into a concrete bastion of gambling benefitting supposed Chinese “investors.” But, I digress.

Should not “rhythm and harmony of nature” encompass and really mean ordinary comforts of healthful living without duress from abnormality, shorn of artificially infused irregularity in work schedules, urban transportation, sleep patterns, meal times, availability of basic utilities, crime, grime, etc. What do we have local governments for? Must the Supreme Court even be called upon to interpret and intercede?

Does not Section 16’s precept actually mean “livability?” It is a fact that our constitution seeks to promote community well-being. Quality of life, even the barest of modicum, is a human right guaranteed by the Constitution. And in the instance of Metro Manila, an abject failure to see the forest but for the trees.
A couple of weeks ago, Rappler, a Philippines online news website, in observance of the 100th day in office for those elected during the last elections, convened a public colloquy (Social Good Summit #2030 Now) that included the topic “Making Metro Areas Livable.” Guests for this panel were newbie Hizzoners Joy Belmonte of Quezon City and Isko Moreno Domagoso of Manila. Urban planner Paolo Alcazaren was likewise in attendance.

The topic of “overpopulation” and “decongestion and population dispersal” was not at all spoken of. That silence speaks profoundly of either a predominating refusal or simple incapacity to understand the existential problem. Therefore, the inability to solve it!

For as long as our political authorities and administrators cannot accept that population overload, let us call it for what it really is: ‘abuse of space,’ is the root of Greater Manila’s perdition, the national capital region’s doom and demise is a foregone conclusion. Let me repeat for the nth time: Without decongestion and population dispersal, no solution will ever be forthcoming!

Obesity among humans is not only unhealthy, it is a killer. Being overweight causes inability to function properly, exacerbated by ensuing infirmities all of which lead to eventual death. Shedding off excess weight is the existential antidote that can prolong life. Don’t we all know that!

Now, let me reach out once again to a simple metaphor. The elevator. It has limited space. When the elevator is overloaded, it will not ascend or even descend. Some passengers must get off! It is the same with many instances of sinking ships in Philippine waters! Metro Manila is one such ship, one such elevator whose finite space has been overloaded now for decades. Metro Manila’s limited space has been abused for decades. Metro Manila is severe urban obesity and deathly overweight. Metro Manila must shed off!

And now you ask, who in heaven’s name is “Nyoka,” anyway? I thought you would never ask. Well, here goes.

In late 1943, Manila was submerged in typhoon floodwaters, diluvian in proportions indeed. I remember wading and waddling in waste deep (I was eight years old) waters along Alejandro VI, San Anton and Gastambide streets in Sampaloc. Obviously unperturbed, quite a number people went about their lives just as normal as they could have it, already into the Christmas spirit. In fact, many movie houses were in operation, after all, folks had much leisure time. One such was Cine Tivoli at Plaza Santa Cruz just across the church, Shrine of the Holy Sacrament.

That week’s Tivoli theater attraction, for Hollywood-starved wartime Manilenos, was a jungle girl flick, about a ‘female Tarzan,’ as it were, named Nyoka. “Perils of Nyoka,” the movie, was such a draw that no flood could prevent audiences from teeming to Plaza Santa Cruz. But floodwaters that afternoon had inundated all the seats in the ground level “Orchestra” section.

Movie goers, mostly adult males and boys, found it irresistible to climb over or move to the balcony section. (Or maybe theatre management simply allowed patronage the benefit of drier seats!) The movie house loft, “balcony section,” was popularly called “palco.” (Spanish for balcony is actually ‘balcon.’).

The balcony collapsed! (Bumagsak ang palco!) Dozens were injured with maybe two or three fatalities. Specifics of memory now elude me. That is a forgotten tale of Manila’s “Nyoka” experience.

Obviously the collapse was inevitable from sheer overweight, overload, overpopulation of moviegoing human beings concentrated within a limited space. Apart from calling it congestion or overcrowding, basically it was abuse of space.

Answer me this: Must Metro Manila await the return of Nyoka?



Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.