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Spirit of Malate

by Jullie Y. Daza

UNTIL Rep. Cristal Bagatsing of Manila’s fifth district told us about her Balik Saya project starting off with a design competition for the best “baro’t saya” look of Maria Clara, how many of us would’ve bothered to guess that Ermita-Malate is the home of 17 colleges and universities?

Such a literate constituency. Adamson U, Concordia College, De La Salle, St. Benilde, Emilio Aguinaldo College, Lyceum, Mapua, Pamantasan, Philippine Christian U, Philippine Normal, Philippine Women’s, Sta. Isabel, St. Paul, St. Scholastica’s, Technological U, Universidad de Manila, UP Manila.

In addition to these learning institutions, the district hosts at least a dozen art galleries and museums, including some of the very best that are quite popular with tourists local and foreign, from Roxas Blvd. to CCP, in and around the central bank and down to Intramuros. There are shopping malls, too, and hotels aplenty. Which makes Ermita-Malate a prime neighborhood. Pity, that the sidewalks are unwalkable, garbage is not efficiently collected, and the homeless have yet to find a home other than “their” park benches. One observation which Rep. Cristal might not have overheard: The vagrants of Malate appear to be better dressed than their fellows elsewhere.

Once upon a time between long ago and not so long ago, when Malate was the location favored by the affluent and the influential, it was the center of fashion as far as Pitoy Moreno, Ben Farrales, Christian Espiritu, Ernest Santiago, Aureo Alonzo, Caloy Badidoy and their best-dressed and most beautiful were concerned. Auggie Cordero and Mike de la Rosa have kept their ateliers going, around Remedios Circle. Inno Sotto used to stay in Syquia apartments, but no longer. Barge Ramos lives and works close by, but Gang Gomez is living the life of a monk in Bukidnon, Frederick Peralta has moved to Quezon City, and so on. Those addresses past and present tell the story/history of Manila, so it’s refreshing to hear Cristal reminding today’s designing women and men, students and seamstresses-in-the-making, to appreciate their “cultural heritage.”

I would like to see them reimagining Maria Clara’s fabled costume into a semi-fitted top with panuelo and flared sleeves worn over blue jeans, a look that will be compatible with leaping into an LRT train, buying flowers in Quiapo, then lunching at Cafe Ilang Ilang.

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