A few weeks ago, a certain fury was unleashed by Filipinos. The gates have been opened and out came a flurry of statements in defense of Manila. Dan Brown’s latest novel, Inferno, already making a killing at the bookstores, had one of his characters depicting Manila as the gates of hell with its traffic jams, smothering pollution, and some details on its rampant sex trade. These descriptions have spurred and crept through our consciousness instantly triggering our defense mechanisms. Can we call it the just-add-insult-here reactionary machine ingrained in the psyche of Filipinos? TV shows, blogs, reports, and foreign celebrities have done this before; so why are we reacting this way?

First and foremost, Dan Brown is a fictionist. Warping truths is one of the techniques a fictionist has at his/her disposal to present reality, or to make the reading more inviting. And Brown continues to fascinate the world with his stories of conspiracies and controversies. Though his fiction and methods may be questioned, we can say that he knows his way around the business. Now, this depiction of Manila should be seen that way: a work of a writer’s imagination.

Reaction to this account is totally healthy. It is a sign that Filipinos really care about the way their city is portrayed to the world. This portrayal of Manila is also a depiction of Filipinos who make up the city. The reactions may vary, but all reactions point that the book itself is a catalyst for change, and this could be a change that will have an impact to us all. This may be another kickstarter for an impassioned understanding of how we view ourselves that will start from the inside-out. Beyond the veil of fiction, Manila has its share of the bad stuff: the dirt, grime, crime, and other unwanted things are part of us. We cannot escape the facts. But this does not mean we are hopeless like the souls in the various levels of Dante’s Inferno. By recognizing that it is not all about the garlands and all things beautiful, we are coming into terms with what we have, and what we can do about it.

An inscription reads as the poet Dante entered hell with his companion, the poet Virgil, and it read: “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.” But hope is very much alive in Manila. Those who will be coming here should meet people who have not lost hope in their capital and in their country. Of course, we prefer heaven, but sometimes there will always be a time for purging, and that comes with knowing ourselves clearly with conviction. Let us start by knowing our City of Our Affections.


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