HomeManilavol. 7 no. 1 (2011)

Ermita: Would-Be Civic Center of the Republic

Fernando N. Zialcita

Discipline: History



With the change of sovereignty in 1898 and the expansion of Manila beyond the Walls, Ermita began to play a significant role not only in the city but in the emerging nation as a whole. As planned by the Americans and with the cooperation of Filipinos, Ermita became the site of a civic center extending from the Pasig River to Manila Bay. Here would rise government buildings: the City Hall of Manila and the offices of all the three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. Here too would arise the first State-run educational institution and the country’s foremost school, the University of the Philippines and alongside it the Philippine General Hospital. A large park was laid out around the monument to the national hero, Dr. José Rizal, as its core. The dream was that Ermita itself would be the core of the emerging Nation-State. Though destroyed by the bitter fighting of 1945, much of the civic center has been restored. But is it really the civic center of the entire Philippines today? Does it attract middle – and upper-income Filipinos to want to congregate in it? Or to walk through it? The answer is No. A walk about the Would-Be Civic Center reveals many problems that make it unattractive and that lessen its dignity. In turn these problems can be traced to deeper problems: (1) the tendency to privatize public space; (2) the disregard for visual symbolism; and (3) the inability of State officials to realize that the proper maintenance of government-owned spaces enhances their image before the eyes of the general public.