MAYBE it’s just hard to accept the truth.

It may have been the first thing that came to the minds of many when Francis Tolentino, chief of the Metro Manila Development Authority, reacted to an excerpt from Dan Brown’s new novel Inferno, describing Manila as the “gates of hell” through one of the book’s characters.

According to reports, the Da Vinci Code author said that the Philippine capital was full of horror, poverty and dark depression, with supporting details include “six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution [and] horrifying sex trade.”

Tolentino was quick to defend the city, writing a letter to Brown to say that the region serves as the “center of Filipino spirit, faith and hope.”

Obviously Brown latched into the controversy to further sensationalize the issue and boost his mediocre potboiler’s sales. But whether he really visited Manila may be beside the point. Brown seemed more familiar with Manila than Tolentino, the MMDA top honcho who could only wax platitudes if only to hide that the metropolis he’s presiding over is really, well, infernal.

I have nothing against Tolentino in his defense of the city as most of what he has said was also true. However, his platitudes bury the evident “dark side” of Manila, whose decay and decline worsen as each day passes.

No matter how we disagree with Brown, it is undeniable that Metro Manila is a classic case of urban mismanagement: roads are always jammed; rivers and creeks are clogged; pollution is terrible; squalor is unmitigated; sidewalks are practically non-existent; developers and contractors and public works build concrete eye sores without regard for aesthetics and ecology; drug lords, mafia and crime syndicates operate with impunity; the police are incompetent, corrupt, and deadly . . . Name the vice, Metro Manila has it.

Justin Bieber in, Mar Roxas out

The recent flash floods that put Metro Manila to a standstill and created chaos all over should indicate the extremes of incompetence of the MMDA, the public works department, the local governments, and the administration of President Aquino.

In short, Metro Manila is not fit for habitation. It is not hospitable to humans. It is inhuman and dehumanizing.

Challenges in today’s society make us forget our humanity. We destroy nature, lose self-respect and fail to accord respect to others. In Inferno, the main character sees “humanity [being] overrun by iths primal instinct for survival. When they face desperation… human beings become animals.”

Defensive words can never resolve anything, but even if I found his letter unnecessary and obviously he was merely joining the bandwagon, Chairman Tolentino pointed something out that we Filipinos should always remember. The resiliency and spirit of our countrymen never falter in times of need; they show their unity and hope against all odds.

Idealistic as it may sound, but if we have the faith, the will and the action, we can transform our dream of a better Metro Manila into a reality. We can just hope the day would come when the truth has changed, when, as Internet memes say, faith in humanity is finally restored.


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