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Manila streets

Manila street names: they are (always) a’changing

Going by bike and exploring different routes has made me more aware of the names of streets. Filipinos are not known to be map users, and usually it takes experience to know if the street name has changed, or if it’s one way, etc. I often am asked while walking in Makati where a particular street is, and usually the old street name is refered to. For example, what used to be Alfaro in Salcedo Village is now Leviste, in honor of the Leviste guy living in a condominium in that street. Herrera St. is now Rufino, because of the Rufino building at the street’s intersection with Ayala. Interestingly, I was told that the names of the streets of Salcedo Village and Legaspi Village were those of the sailors accompanying the respective expeditions of Salcedo and Legaspi. That’s why you have all those Spanish names like Aguirre, Tordesillas, Gamboa, Valero, etc.

Amorsolo and Dela Rosa sounds Spanish but they are actually named after the great Filipino painters. I don’t know what the former street name of Dela Costa is, along which sits the Ateneo Professional Schools building, but it is was renamed in honor of Horacio dela Costa, the first Filipino head of the Jesuits in the Philippines. By the same token, the street in Ortigas where the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), run by Opus Dei, has been renamed to Escriva drive.

I don’t know who Nicanor Garcia is, but i still prefer the old street name of Reposo in Makati. It was so-called because of the cemetery alongside it, and indeed the tree-lined boulevard seems to be a place of repose. Rada Street has been (half-heartedly) renamed to Thailand St. This is where the Thailand embassy is, and I think this is part of an arrangement where a street in Bangkok has been named Philippines Street.

 Of course, old-timers still refer to Roxas Boulevard as Dewey, Buendia still seems to be the favored name, in spite of it being renamed to Gil Puyat. There is something about being comfortable with a name that resists change. What comes to mind now is the plan to rename Mapua Institute of Technology to University of Malaya, where even my dad signed a petition objecting to the name change.

They say that changing street names erases a part of our history, and it’s true. There’ an Inquirer article that further discusses this.

What’s also interesting is how we Filipinos (unknowingly) refer to the generic street rather than the actual name of the street. For example, Paseo de Roxas in Makati is referred to simply as Paseo . Avenida Rizal in Manila is referred to as Avenida. And Crossing refers to the intersection of Shaw Boulevard and EDSA. Of course, these are major avenues and they probably deserved to be called as “The Boulevard” or “The Street” or “The Crossing”. I guess that’s part of the evolution of language and local customs.

Speaking of language, I still remember as a boy when my mom and I would take a cab. To signal the driver to stop by the right, she would say “carga mano”, and to stop to the left of the street “carga silla”. These were the days when the streets were empty and you could stop at any side of the road. A little googling brought me to a site where Ambeth Ocampo explains that these terms were used during the times of the calesas. Now, of course, nobody uses it and a simple “para” is enough, notwithstanding whether to the left or right.

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