MAY 27, 2013 (PHILSTAR) FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno -Few have actually read Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, when MMDA chair Francis Tolentino began ranting about a description there of Manila as the “gates of hell.” Tolentino was soon joined in that rant by Palace mouthpieces who have a propensity for commenting on everything, including the marital problems of movie stars.

Abigail Valte, grabbing the opportunity to talk about something other than Taiwan (although with the same vacuity), expressed the thought that readers of the now-controversial novel will not believe the things said there. Good grief, this is a work of fiction. Belief has nothing to do with enjoying fiction. Maybe the postponement of doubt, but never belief.

Before Tolentino began ranting about a work of fiction, demanding an apology from its author, I had intended to use this weekend column to do some ranting of my own about how Manila is a city incredibly cruel to its citizens. He preempted my own rant, pushing it to the bottom half of this space.

In the spirit of full disclosure, let me state here that I am a great admirer of Dan Brown. His Da Vinci Code is thoroughly absorbing, a tribute to the adage that a work of fiction becomes compelling when it skillfully weaves fibers of truth into the fabric of good storytelling.

I have not read Inferno, but will do so soon. I doubt if Tolentino actually read the novel, where, I am told, the description of Manila as the “gates of hell” comes in the course of narrating the tragic story of a foreigner who dared wander into the city’s streets. Manila figures merely as the milieu for personal trauma, which is probably apt.

Maybe the author might have chosen Dhaka or Kigali as his setting, but that will be too stereotypical. Manila is appropriately cosmopolitan and deliciously pernicious. It has a veneer of glass and chrome overlaid over truly barbaric human misery.

I hope Dan Brown does not yield to Tolentino’s demand for an apology. That will cause me to lose some respect for this outstanding novelist.

Just as well, I hope Tolentino desists from repeating that demand for an apology. It will only make him look silly. After all, it is his principal responsibility to make Metro-Manila a more habitable place --- a task where failure is glaring. Tolentino, and the Palace, are beginning to sound like the crazy mullahs who issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie for completely sober things he said in Satanic Verses.

The quality of life of Metro-Manilans will not improve because the MMDA chair rants against adverse foreign comment. It will only improve if the MMDA chair does a better job at his post.

Since James Fallows wrote in a very literate American magazine about Filipinos being afflicted by a “damaged culture”, our public officials seem to have assumed it is part of their duties to rant against foreign writers making adverse comment about us. It is not. The job of our officials is to work hard enough so that adverse comments will eventually ring hollow.

Otherwise, it will be the unwarranted official denials that will ring hollow.


The thought hit me midafternoon last Wednesday as we boiled in standstill traffic along C-5: Metro-Manila has deteriorated into a torture chamber that wrings the life out its citizens. It is polluted, crime-ridden, infra-deficient and simply unkind to everyone.

Eventually, it took us all of two hours to make it from Taguig to Pasig. The week before, to avoid the perpetual jam along Edsa, I decided to take the MRT from Quezon City to Makati. I regretted doing that. Not only is the walk longer than the ride in a hot summer day, passengers were packed like lower forms of life shipped to be slaughtered. On the trip back, I had to wait out four trains before the crush of humanity finally carried me onto a wagon that was at least moving.

That same day, my therapist was held up on a bus in busy Cubao, losing all her hard day’s earnings. Robberies, not to mention assassinations, occur daily in this urban jungle with increasing intermittence.

Last Wednesday, it dawned on me as I observed commuters crowding the streets to grab a ride and as vendors pleaded on my car window to buy stuff I did not need all because they were hungry: of the scores of cities I have been to and lived in through my life as a wanderer, Manila is most cruel on its inhabitants.

In Manila, sidewalks are freely stolen, inconveniencing pedestrians brave enough to walk. More, we have a score of missing estuaries, which explains the flooding that happens when rain falls.

This is a congested metropolitan area without a proper dumpsite for its trash. A few months ago, a slight downpour caused flash floods in Quezon City. The culprit, it turns out, were garbage trucks from the City of Manila dumping hospital wastes into waterways.

Although the mass transit problem stared us in the face for decades, our officials have not treated it with a palpable sense of urgency. No new rail lines will be available this decade. Although there are enough bidders, the skyway projects (the only solution to scarce road space) are stalled. C-5 remains incomplete. No work has been done to make C-6 a reality.

The next Ondoy will be deadlier — mainly because nothing has been done to solve the problem. Northrail and the circumferential road around Laguna de Bay will never happen under this administration. Our airport remains a nightmare.

Forget about integrating fare and transfers between and among our rail and bus lines. Tolentino cannot even imagine that.


Manila, gates of hell? MMDA fumes By Mike Frialde (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 24, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino yesterday joined the bandwagon of critics slamming Dan Brown for his latest novel “Inferno,” in which the author describes Manila as the “gates of hell.”

Tolentino said he wrote Brown a letter telling him that his description of Manila was “inaccurate.”

“We write to you with much concern regarding your recently published novel ‘Inferno’ and its mention of Manila being defined by a number of terrible descriptions of poverty and pollution, among others, having ‘suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade’ and worse, being alluded to as ‘gates of hell’,” Tolentino said in his letter.

“While we are aware that yours is a work of fiction, we are greatly disappointed by your inaccurate portrayal of our beloved metropolis. We are displeased with how you have used Manila as a venue and source of a character’s breakdown and trauma, much more her disillusionment in humanity,” Tolentino added.

Tolentino defended Metro Manila as a “center of Filipino spirit, faith and hope.”

“Our faith in God binds us as a nation and we believe that Manila citizens are more than capable of exemplifying good character and compassion towards each other, something that your novel has failed to acknowledge. Truly, our place is an entry to heaven,” Tolentino said.

Tolentino invited the bestselling author to visit Manila.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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