It was a noir state of mind when I spent my Holy Week afternoon in Colon Street. It made me think of the nature of things. My unexpected fascination with Colon began on a sweltering Thursday afternoon.
About a month ago, my Facebook Newsfeed was filled with photos of people rushing from one church to another to complete the required 7 churches for Visita Iglesia. It was a hot Maundy Thursday afternoon and I also planned to do the pilgrimage but I ended up being distracted by the sight of the busiest street in Cebu being empty of the usual traffic of vehicles and folks.
|An everyday scene in the heart of downtown Cebu.|
Walking the street of Colon reminded me of being in Quiapo, Ermita or even Escolta. Colon was a composite of Manila, the real Manila.
The air is grimy and dusty. There is a muskiness in the air that gives it character. You know you're in the center of downtown Cebu by the look of the buildings; of the crowds of vendors, students, bystanders, and commuters either hustling to their next destination or just loitering around.
Being in Colon on any given day, you could imagine yourself starring in that Lino Brocka-helmed film, "Manila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag". The grittiness of your surroundings, the blank expressions of people you encounter, the landscape that harkens days gone by; Colon is the perfect canvass for a Noiresque setting.
Dilapidated buildings, cinema houses that time has forgotten, storefronts peddling wares at bargain prices, sidewalk vendors displacing pedestrians; overwhelm your senses. When transversing Colon on foot, you feel like you're running for your life. Don't look back or stop unless you want to be left behind.
|Pedestrians crossing the oldest street in the Philippines|
I may sound melodramatic but that's actually what we advise folks when we go to these places. Don't bring your valuables, be alert, put your bags in front of you, go in groups, brisk walk, be mindful of the people around you; aren't these the things we say when we hear people going to Colon?
But it was a completely different story on that hot Thursday afternoon. When I alighted from the cab in front of Metro Gaisano in Colon, it was a whole new perspective for me. I could literally count the number of people on the street. Jeepneys and cars were scarce and if I wanted to, I could have done a pirouette on the middle of the street without being hit by a passing vehicle.
|An unusual sight to see in Colon.|
As I roamed the historic street of Colon, I told my friend that what's missing in us is the sense of civic pride. As the City of Cebu progressed and expanded its boundaries, citizens moved to the newer and less crowded parts of the Metropolis. Bringing with them their families and businesses.
There was an attempt to revive Colon and connect it to its past but even that idea was abandoned. The Women International League even set-up Historical Markers throughout the thoroughfare commemorating the vitality and importance of Colon but eventually these were neglected and abandoned.
We, Filipinos, are so adaptable to change that we can easily shed or discard the old in exchange of the new.
Is there room for sentiment? Yes, there should be. How can we clearly identify as Filipino if we forego our social and cultural past? In other countries, they embrace their Colonial past and use it to move forward. They do not destroy it. They use that as a guide or inspiration.
|Oriente Theater is one of the oldest theaters in Cebu.|
I know that progress and development are vital to the sustainability of a city or of a province but what I could not understand is the "I don't care" mindset that we have. It's never too late to change our outlook and attitude.
If Colon would be resurrected, picture it as the "Times Square" of Cebu. Neon lights and billboards, tourists taking their selfies and groufies, locals flocking to rehabilitated theaters, happy shoppers pursuing deals and discounts. Wouldn't that be a boost to the economy as well as to the morale of the community?
|The "Times Square" of Cebu|
Some facts about Colon: a popular photo postcard taken during the early American Period (1900s-1910s) identified Colon as the oldest street in the Philippines; the street was named after Italian explorer, Cristobal Colon (Ferdinand Magellan and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi were fans); the entire length of the street is almost two kilometers from end to end; Colon became the center of commerce and trade since the conquest of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1765; Lopez de Legazpi built the original town plan for Cebu.
Lastly, it has been a witness to hundreds of years of human history, culture and society.
Over the years, prominent personalities and families settled and lived along Colon street. Even schools and businesses were built here.
|Colon Obelisk Monument|
I'm glad that at least for Cebu, we dedicate a day or two in a year, for our celebration of the Philippine Heritage Month through Gabii Sa Kabilin which is held every last Friday of May.
I attended my first Gabii Sa Kabilin last year and I've been living in Cebu for a decade. It was a surreal experience for me. I could not have imagined the crowd of people who flocked to every site and event. You can feel the deluge of enthusiasm and excitement radiating from the participants. And that gives us hope for the future.
Feeling nostalgic? Here are some more of my posts about Old Cebu: 8 Vintages Postcards of Old Cebu and Colon Street's Forgotten Markers.